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Pete Calzia: Coach com-Pete

Veteran Hart coach steps down after nearly 30 years

Posted: June 3, 2013 10:30 p.m.
Updated: June 3, 2013 10:30 p.m.

Longtime Hart High coach and teacher Pete Calzia retired this year after nearly 30 years as a geometry teacher at the Newhall campus. Most recently he served as the school's varsity golf head coach and ASB director. Jonathan Pobre/The Signal

 

In October, Pete Calzia’s heart was out of his chest while a doctor was installing a new aortic valve into the longtime teacher and ultra-competitive coach.

Calzia experienced some dizziness during a walk near his home prior to the surgery. He went to the doctor, who told him he needed the valve.

My, how things mellow people out.

Calzia awoke, thankful to be alive at 61 years old, with a different perspective.

Or so he says.

The mellow lasted less than six months.

And though the Hart High varsity golf coach downplayed his competitive streak, those on the course could see the ultra-competitive coach come out.

He was a little moody around the golf course. His body language was at times a display of impatience. The juices were flowing.

Calzia says his goal was not to go out on top.

That would be selfish.

Yet with a talented Hart High varsity golf team, Calzia knew he had a chance to win a Foothill League championship in the final month before he retired from coaching and teaching.

In the end, his team finished in second place behind West Ranch High.

Calzia was disappointed.

Not in the fact that his team didn’t win a league championship, but because they didn’t do something to the best of their ability.

It’s in his name.

Com-Pete.

“It wasn’t, ‘I want to win championships or beat people,’” he says. “The competitive side came out. But my view of it is the disappointment of athletes not performing as they should.”


***

For those who have known Pete Calzia, golf was not the sport they would have pictured him coaching.

In geometric terms, Calzia, who taught geometry at Hart High School since 1984, and golf are not congruent.

The square-jawed, intense, humorous teacher/coach is a football man and a baseball man — sports that suit his colorful personality.

They were the sports of his youth.

The Calzia family was around in the Santa Clarita Valley’s formative years.

Pete Calzia is the grandson of Italian immigrants who moved to the Santa Clarita Valley and owned a vineyard in the 1940s when the area’s population was just 4,000.

He is the son of Lou Calzia, who was known in the Santa Clarita Valley as “The Glove Doctor.”

Lou earned the nickname from fixing area kids’ baseball gloves.

“He could make an old glove, a new glove fit your hand perfectly,” Calzia says. “He did it for no money. He did it for love.”

At a very young age, Calzia developed a reputation for being a tough guy and a stellar athlete, said Steve Neale, who is Hart’s highly successful swim coach and longtime teacher. He has known Calzia since the third grade.

“He played hard. He stood his ground. The little school-yard brawls, he was pretty well-respected,” Neale says. “But even back then, he always had a sense of fair play. He was never a bully, but a guy who could bully down if he needed to.”

Neale says Calzia probably doesn’t remember coming to his aid when the two were third-graders.

“He came to my assistance in a confrontation with a guy named Pat who was like twice my size,” Neale recalls. “Somehow Pete got involved. I didn’t know if he meant to. I had a good ally back then.”

Neale also recalls Calzia being a force on the football and baseball fields.

Calzia played in one of the Santa Clarita Valley’s most significant football games — the first varsity meeting of Santa Clarita Valley football teams.

On Sept. 9, 1969, Calzia gave the lead block for Jeff Huntsinger to score the game-winning touchdown in a 6-0 Hart victory over Canyon High.

In 1970, Calzia graduated from Hart and headed to USC to play baseball.

Not happy with the amount of playing time he received, Calzia left USC and came back to the Santa Clarita Valley to play for one of College of the Canyons’ first baseball teams. That led him to Cal Poly Pomona, where he eventually graduated from.

In his collegiate career, Calzia played for three college baseball Hall of Fame coaches — Rod Dedeaux at USC, Mike Gillespie at COC and John Scolinos at Pomona.

So it’s no surprise that Calzia got into coaching.

After graduating from Pomona, he went to Idaho and taught at a high school and coached football, baseball and wrestling.

In 1984, he returned to the Santa Clarita Valley to his alma mater, where he began teaching geometry and became an assistant varsity coach on the football (tight ends and linebackers coach) and baseball (pitching) teams. He made an impact immediately as a fiery leader.

“The one thing, even though he gets fired up, he’s a good motivator,” said Mike Herrington, who has been Hart’s varsity football coach since 1989 and was an assistant with Calzia prior to that. “Kids love him. They like when a coach gets fired up and is passionate about a game.”

Calzia had the same passion in baseball.

Maybe even more because it was a sport he loved so much.

He spent much of the 1990s as the junior varsity head coach of the baseball and football teams at Hart, but ended his baseball coaching career in 1995.

Calzia says he grew tired of the coaching style of who many consider the greatest baseball coach in Santa Clarita Valley prep baseball history — Bud Murray.

Calzia was an intense coach.

If he were angry, you’d know it — bulging steely eyes, lips protruding with his sharp chin in the air.

But he was quick to laugh after displaying that look, realizing maybe how funny it looked to the outside.

Murray took intensity to another level — a style that made some kids fearful of him.

“I stopped coaching with Bud because of his style. I didn’t like the way he treated people,” Calzia said. “My love of the game was tainted.”

Calzia said two years ago he was setting up a winter formal dance for the Hart Associated Student Body (by then he became the school’s ASB director).

Murray happened to be on campus that day and asked Calzia for forgiveness, he said — an occurrence that meant a lot to him.

When Murray retired after the 1999 season, the varsity baseball coaching job opened up and Calzia got the fire back.

He applied for the position.

Hart went with Jim Ozella, who has been the varsity coach since.

“I wanted it bad, really bad,” Calzia recalls. “So much so that when I didn’t get it, I didn’t return to that baseball field, I didn’t go near that baseball field for five years. But I call it a real blessing. I didn’t get it. I have since come to believe Christ is my savior. God has had a hand in my whole life.”

His blessings include his wife of nearly 40 years and his high school sweetheart, Diana, and his two children, Andrew and Kelly, who are Hart High graduates. Recent blessings were his last coaching job and becoming the school’s ASB director.

“As a high school teacher, staff member, administrator, you can decide what role you play in students’ lives. I’ve never met a staff member who understood the value of students leading as much as him,” says Hart 2012-13 class president and varsity golfer Paul Schneider. “A lot of ASB directors take charge. I’ve never met someone who understands the value of learning lessons, whether it’s making mistakes or trials. It’s not always what you do in the classroom, but shaping people to be good people outside in society. It’s not about putting on good dances and rallies. It’s shaping the class to be people of character and then those people of character going out to the community and showing them to be people of character.”

Calzia found his calling when he became Hart ASB director in 2005.

Schneider says the best example he can give of Calzia being a different kind of ASB director was the longtime teacher’s Thursday leadership talks.

Calzia led the first few, then went hands off and encouraged his leaders to take over the talks so that students could learn from their peers.

As a golf coach, the high-strung coach on the quiet course worked.

He took over the program in 2007, and mellowed, he said.

Calzia reasons that the fiery persona that he built was a facade, and many people who know him closely will attest to that. (Herrington mentioning what a big heart he has as Calzia has organized holiday dinners for the less fortunate.)

“I was in my early 30s, and yeah, I would say I was very moody. I wasn’t at peace with myself. I was more into what the world viewed me as opposed to how I thought,” Calzia says. “Here in 2000s, 21st Century, I wouldn’t call myself kick-back, but confidence in Christ.”


***

But golf?

“I’ve always been a fiery, intense guy. I would call myself always a competitive man. Not to the point of having to win, but to compete,” Calzia says. “The joy of wanting to compete, win or lose, the fun of seeing what the outcome would be. The first thing I realized in golf is not to take yourself personally. I didn’t want to judge myself by score, but how my players competed.”

Calzia wasn’t much of a golfer prior to taking the job, however he had been the JV golf coach for a few years before taking the varsity position.

And he got that job based off of a wealth of coaching experience.

He took over a Hart program that won four straight Foothill League titles and the 2006 CIF-Southern Section Northern Divisional championship.

Hart won a league championship in its first year with Calzia at the helm.

And though golfers say the coach in golf is different because he’s not guiding you on the course like a baseball coach would call signs or a football coach would call plays, Calzia made a difference immediately.

“Leadership,” says Johnny MacArthur on why his team trusted a golf coach with little golf experience. MacArthur was Hart’s top golfer during the league title year as a senior. “He was the kind of guy we would look at and follow and trust. He had been a coach and competed. We respected his history. Maybe not in a golf perspective, but in competition. Making the right choice. Doing the right thing. He was a big advocate of doing the right thing. Self-control. Honesty.”


***

No story on Pete Calzia can be told without his Caldogisms.

His nickname is “Caldog.”

His playful term for someone winding him up was “Bush Leaguer.”

There’s “Downtown Momma Brown,” — a saying he’d use when he’d get excited.

And of course “Ada-babe” when you did something right.

He says Caldogisms come from his zest for life.

Because he was a junior varsity coach for so many of his years, he didn’t have the notoriety of some of Santa Clarita Valley’s most successful coaches.

But varsity coaches will tell you what people like him mean,

“I think he instilled discipline and the idea that trying to be a perfectionist. Make everything you do perfect and to the best of your ability,” says Herrington, whose varsity teams in the 1990s were recognized as some of the best in California. Successful varsity players cut their teeth as JV players with Calzia. “He instilled a work ethic and discipline and taught those guys to be successful.”

Says Neale: “Without inspiring the right kids at the right time and teaching them fundamentals, there is no varsity program. Often times they don’t get the recognition they deserve. They could be much more formative in developing athletes’ skills and attitudes than varsity coaches.”

Calzia moved to Ventura before his retirement was official.

But the only thing that can take Hart out of Calzia is a doctor.

He is one of the school’s most recognizable figures.

Calzia says he will spend most of his days on a playing field — a golf course, doing the one thing he has always been known to do.

“I won’t stop having fun competing — dot, dot, dot,” he says.

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