AN APPRECIATION

Penny Calf, head coach, Walpole (Mass.)

One in an occasional series.

By Al Mattei

Founder, TopOfTheCircle.com

As the story goes, a group of British field hockey players were drilling students at Walpole High School at a field hockey camp, several years before the institution of Title IX.

While few remember exactly what skills or tactics were taught, one comment became immortal.

One Brit remarked on the tendency of the players to keep their heads down while dribbling the ball, remarking how much they looked like pigs rooting in dirt.

The teams took on the names of various porcine aspects: The Chitterlings, The Rooters, The Piglets, The Porkers.

Little did anyone know that the last name would stick, and become immortal in American field hockey annals.

These days, while every other sports team in the middle-class town of Walpole, Mass. are known as the Rebels, the field hockey team has adopted (and, quite proudly, too) the nickname Porkers.

As head coach, Penny Calf has been as happy as a pig in a poke. Her players have won nearly 300 games under her guidance, eight Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association titles, and adulation from the American field hockey community.

But in 2002, she announced her retirement at the team's February victory banquet.

''I knew that I couldn't do it for more than one more season,'' Calf told The Boston Globe. ''And it's going to be a rebuilding year with only one starter returning, a no-name team. The kids may think I'm dumping them, but I am actually looking out for them. I can't see their potential through, so I'm leaving now.''

She had given a very large hint at her stepping down immediately after winning the 2001 Division 1 state championship with a 24-0 record.

"It's probably time to step down, but I honestly don't know yet," she told the assembled media after that cold November evening. "The girls will be the first to hear about it when we have our banquet. That at least gives me some time to decide what I'm going to do."

Calf's husband died in the year leading up to the 2001 state championship, and has found herself in a kind of existentialist conundrum. She admitted that she immersed herself in field hockey that fall, not allowing herself to dwell on the grief of losing a life partner.

"I don't know whether I'm going to need the kids (players) or say that this was a wonderful way to finish," she said, indicating the joyous faces of her players as they celebrated on the field at Worcester State College.

If that celebration is the last image we get to see of Penny Calf, it is an appropriate one.

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