Porker pride: Calf inducted into NFHCA Hall of Fame

Jan 17, 2018 at 11:32 AM Jan 17, 2018 at 11:32 AM

By Mike Biglinwalpole@wickedlocal.com

As Dina Rizzo sees it, there's only one reason why she became a United States Olympian and a college coach - and that's Penny Calf.

"I was choosing between soccer and field hockey going into ninth grade, and it was the night before the first day of camp and I still wasn't sure what I was going to do," Rizzo now explains. "A bunch of my friends, including my best friend, were playing soccer. But Penny saw something in me at Porker Camp that summer, and told me I could be a special player in field hockey."

So that's where Rizzo headed. All-American careers at the high school and collegiate level followed, as well as a berth on the U.S. national and Olympic teams. Today, Rizzo is the top assistant for the Princeton field hockey team. She's literally made the sport her life.

"And it wouldn't be without Penny," says Rizzo. "She was really the deciding factor for me picking the sport."

A few months ago, Rizzo and one of her former Porker teammates - Tina McDavitt Mattera, the current head coach of Division III powerhouse Tufts - nominated Calf for the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Calf along with two others - Lock Haven head coach Pat Rudy and former Bryn Mawr head coach Jenepher Shillingford - were inducted at a ceremony during the NFHCA's Annual Convention last Thursday night in Lake Mary, Florida.

"It was out of nowhere," is how Calf described hearing the news. "I was pretty surprised. To me, field hockey is another lifetime ago."

Calf is one of the pioneers of the sport in Massachusetts, a true standard bearer of the Title IX era. She was an assistant and junior varsity coach for the legendary Sue Brainard starting in 1970, and stayed in that role until she took over the Porkers program in 1989. At that time, Walpole was a good program that had won one state title, in 1984.

But Calf lifted the program to unprecedented heights that still resonate today. In her 13 seasons at the helm, Walpole went an astonishing 274-12-7 and captured seven state titles. They were the team of the 1990s, winning six Division 1 crowns, including three in a row from 1994-96. The Porkers, led by Rizzo and McDavitt, were an unstoppable force - going 93-0-1 until losing in the 1997 Div. 1 South final to host Holliston in overtime.

"That was the pinnacle for us. I have a lot of good memories from that time," says Calf of that record run.

The coaching didn't end in the fall, as Calf also spent 26 years as Walpole's junior varsity girls' basketball coach - mainly under good friend Brainard, and, after her retirement, Steve Waisgerber - amassing over 350 victories.

Set to retire after the 2001-02 school year, Calf and her husband Jack bought a house in Bluffton, S.C., but that June her husband passed away. The Porker players were determined to give their grieving coach one last title, and they came through with her seventh championship in the fall of 2001.

Calf ended her 32-year teaching career in June 2002, moved to South Carolina and started a new life down south.

"I'm very happy here," says Calf. "I just wish my golf game was better."

Golf has always been a passion for the Calfs, as Jack was a regular New England area competitor and champion. Penny has followed in her husband's footsteps, becoming club champion at Moss Creek Plantation Golf Club in 2009 and 2010.

"It's a big highlight of my life," she says. "And I know the big boy is up there saying, ‘Jesus, I can't believe she's a club champion with that swing of hers.'"

Another highlight came last Thursday when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame, with a video introduction put together by former player Danielle Collins that was played before she was introduced by Rizzo.

"Three things really stick out for me about Penny," says Rizzo. "The first is she believed in respecting your opponent always. Second, she always taught us that whatever you put into it is what you'll get out of it.

"And the third thing was, it didn't matter how good you were - if you were a star player or were never going to play in college - she treated everyone fairly. I know now that isn't always the case, but Penny really did care about everyone. I didn't notice at the time, probably because I was the star player, but when I look back I sure do now."

It was a joyous, emotional night for Calf.

"It brought back lots of memories; it was terrific," she says. "I had to give a speech, and I think I flubbed like five times. There were 300 people there; it was a little different than the Walpole field hockey banquets."

McDavitt Mattera had to miss the ceremony due to the birth of her second child in December. But a handful of Porkers were on hand, with Collins (now the University of New England head coach), Rizzo, and Brainard (who lives in the same community as Calf), being joined by Judy (Collins) Larkee, captain of the 1994 state champs, who played at Harvard; Lisa (D'Amadio) Cropper, who won the 1981 national championship at UConn and is now head coach of the new field hockey squad at Dean College; and Jen (Brown) Quinn, the current Walpole head coach who won her first state title in 2016.

"It's good reflecting back. It was not easy; it took a long time to get to that point," Calf says. "Everybody who didn't go through Title IX, they just don't know how big a deal it was to get that equity."

"Did you see her record? Just 12 losses in 13 years - that's crazy!" Rizzo exclaimed. "She was such a motivator. She was so talented and gifted in that sport.

"She's a legend, and this is a fitting tribute to her - long overdue."

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