Karpovich transforms job he didn't crave into 300-win legacy

November 08, 1990|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

Believe it or not, this is not the way Bill Karpovich planned it.

When he took the job at Calvert Hall he had no idea he would coach the school's soccer team for almost a quarter of a century. It wasn't even the position that appealed to him the most.

Tomorrow afternoon, when Calvert Hall faces McDonogh in the MSA semifinals, Karpovich will be going for his 300th win. It is a level that, according to soccer historians, has been reached by only about 30 to 35 high school coaches in this country and it is believed that Karpovich will be the first from Maryland to reach that plateau.

Yet he is not too embarrassed to admit that soccer wasn't at the top of his coaching priority list when he started at Calvert Hall in 1967. "In all honesty," he said, "baseball is my love. And I can't deny it now, because anybody who knows me, knows that's the way I am."

And anybody who knows Karpovich can understand his next line as well. "Things changed," he said, explaining the ease with which he's settled into coaching soccer -- and watching Calvert Hall's baseball team as a spectator. "I still go out and watch."

But not as closely, no doubt, as he watches his soccer team. This is Karpovich's 24th season as the Calvert Hall coach and he's trying for his 14th MSA championship. He's had two losing seasons -- his first year, and last year. If you guess this one would be special you've got a clue.

Karpovich plays down the personal aspects, but those who know him best, and longest, understand what makes the man tick. "He was intense . . . very intense, but very much under control," said Mickey Cochran, who coached Karpovich at Johns Hopkins and is now the keeper of soccer archives after retiring from Bowling Green University. "He had a great sense of humor and was somebody you always enjoyed being around."

Well, maybe not always.

"I was a senior on his first team at Calvert Hall," recalled Jerry Geraghty, "and nobody really knew him. Being seniors, we felt we'd have it pretty easy. We were getting ready for maybe our third or fourth practice and he told the [student] manager 'you can leave the balls in the locker room -- we won't be needing them today.' It was his way of telling us we weren't in shape. He was a strict disciplinarian. He was just learning then, and I think he learned along with us."

Karpovich had been a baseball and soccer standout at Patterson and Hopkins and spent two years working as an engineer before joining the faculty at Mervo in 1963. He says he wasn't any different than any other young coach.

"I was teaching and coaching junior varsity at Mervo and I was anxious to get a head [varsity] job," he said. He already had made the major decision, to leave engineering, so his preference in sports was incidental at the time.

"I decided to make a commitment to teaching and coaching," said Karpovich. At the suggestion of Denny Cox, a Calvert Hall graduate and later football coach at Johns Hopkins, Karpovich explored the possibility that led to his current job.

"Calvert Hall needed a math teacher and soccer coach and I said I wouldn't come unless I could do both -- and be considered if the baseball job came open," said Karpovich, who still teaches math.

Ed McCarron was the baseball coach at the time and when he stepped down, Joe Binder moved up from the JV to take his place. Binder and Karpovich have been friends for many years, dating back to their playing days. "Joe has done a great job and everything has worked out fine," said Karpovich.

Now in his 24th year, Karpovich was asked what it means to him to be approaching 300 wins. "It means being blessed with a lot of talent, being in an excellent situation, and working hard," he said.

"I'm pretty proud of it, to be honest with you," said Karpovich, whose teams play an average of 16 games a year. His 299-72-26 record computes to a .753 winning percentage -- or an .806 non-losing percentage, whichever you choose.

Karpovich has had chances to move to the college level, but has never been seriously tempted. "Sure, you think about it," he said. "And I've had college offers, but there was no reason to leave. The timing, the money, wasn't right, my boys were getting ready to go to Calvert Hall, I didn't want to leave the area. I have no regrets.

"I wouldn't trade what I've had for myself or for my family."

Three of Karpovich's four sons -- Paul, 26, John, 25, and Billy, 21 -- played soccer for their father at Calvert Hall. Mark, his other son, elected to run cross country, but now plays amateur soccer. John played with the Blast in 1988-89 and Billy is playing at Duke, where he is a senior.

Karpovich was asked if it was difficult to coach his sons. "I don't think it was any different than coaching other kids," he said. "They probably hated the ride home, but once we got there, we'd get back to what they were doing academically, socially. They all worked at my [summer] camp, and they're all still home -- so it couldn't have been too bad."

How much longer will he continue?

"It's pretty much year-to-year now," said Karpovich. "They were predicting I'd give it up four years ago when Billy left -- but we've got a great bunch of kids, and coaching is like teaching to me. The two are the same."

In the 1980s Calvert Hall won eight of 10 MSA championships -- twice enjoying streaks of four straight. Asked if this year could be the start of another run, Karpovich said: "I hope so. I think so. We've got a good club and the junior varsity is unbelievable -- they're undefeated and they've played everybody."

He doesn't sound like a guy who's ready to take his 300 wins and step down tomorrow, but at the age of 51 he doesn't sound like somebody who wants to stay on indefinitely. When the time comes to step aside, Bill Karpovich would like to be remembered for something other than 300 wins.

"I'd like to be known as a guy who coached just as he taught -- to work hard to fulfill potential, to be as good as you can be. I'm always going to push for that."

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