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Remembering ‘Coach Sal’

By TODD SLISS
Submitted photo

Penny Sallinger with 1985 field hockey captains Jane Boyle Hentemann, Tricia Flynn McNiff and Wendy Brenner Block.

 

From 1970-2000, Penny Sallinger was a physical education teacher and coach in Scarsdale. She died in November 2017 at age 72, but current and former Scarsdalians didn’t find out until a small obituary placed by her brother appeared in The Scarsdale Inquirer earlier this month.

Sallinger’s former athletes from the field hockey, girls basketball and girls lacrosse teams were mixed on their appreciation for her style when they played for her, but there is no denying the positive impact she had on countless students-athletes in her three decades in Scarsdale.

Sallinger started Scarsdale’s girls lacrosse program in 1979 and coached the team until her retirement from teaching. The Raiders were 277-109-23. The team won Section 1 titles in 1980, 1987 and 1999.

Sallinger coached the field hockey team for 18 years until her retirement, going 234-54-51 and winning Scarsdale’s lone team state championship in any sport in the fall of 1996. In her final year, behind All-American senior Claire Miller, who went on to star at Princeton, the Raiders made the state finals as they had in 1997. The team also won the section in 1983.

Upon her retirement, Sallinger left both programs — she had amassed 511 wins between the two, the same number of wins Cy Young had — to her former players. Sharon Rosenthal coached the field hockey team from 2000-17, making the state finals in 2016, while Leigh Anne Boscarino (formerly Leone) took over the girls lax program in 2001. She coached the team for four seasons before moving to Illinois prior to the 2005 season.

Sallinger was a Massachusetts native and played lacrosse at Boston University. She played basketball and softball professional and began her teaching career in Massachusetts in 1963. After stops in Somers and Long Island, Sallinger settled in Scarsdale. In retirement she enjoyed an active life in Florida.


Tributes and memories

Tara Tolan Greco (Scarsdale ’87) was a two-year varsity field hockey player and a captain senior year. “Coach Sallinger commanded respect and instilled discipline,” she said. “My memories are suicides and Indian runs at Scarsdale Middle School field. We sang as we ran. Friday morning game day team breakfasts in team uniform. The cheering and camaraderie she encouraged between frosh, JV and varsity.”

Like many at that time, Greco played soccer in the spring for Art Resnick, who was another legendary Scarsdale coach.

Greco now has three kids growing up in Scarsdale. Her daughters, seventh-grader Madeleine and third-grader Alexandra, both play field hockey, ice hockey and lacrosse.

Jane Boyle Hentemann and Wendy Brenner Block were field hockey captains with Tricia Flynn McNiff in the fall of 1985. Hentemann and Block, who both live in Greenwich, Conn., put their heads together to write: “Penny pushed us. There was no doubt she wanted us to grow as athletes. For most girls at that time we never had a coach that wasn’t a parent. Our sports experience was all rec leagues, not the travel teams that exist today. Playing on a team for Coach Sallinger created an immediate bond with your teammates — practices were tough, she was tough and she was not happy unless we left everything on the field. Even with the bar set high, high schools sports made our Scarsdale High School experience complete. It is impossible to forget Penny Sallinger and the impact she had on us as young athletes. Although we may not have appreciated her enough as young girls, her legacy is long-lasting and she will be missed by countless women who were fortunate to be coached by her.”

Claire DiLorenzo Paquin (Scarsdale ’93) played field hockey, basketball and lacrosse and she captained the latter two teams. Sallinger was a volunteer assistant to Paul Celentano in basketball and Paquin’s senior year the girls went to the New York State finals.

“Coach Sal was tough — no one would say otherwise — but her toughness made us tough,” Paquin said. “We never dogged it. You couldn’t with her watching. She engendered an extraordinary work ethic in all her players.”

That applied to practices and games. Even running the mile in tryouts for field hockey and lacrosse. You were under six minutes or you weren’t even being considered for varsity. “Whether this was true or not, I don’t know,” Paquin said. “What I do know is that I ran it in 5:59, and I am not fast.” Paquin called it “the dreaded mile.”

Whether you were a team captain or the last player on the bench, it didn’t matter. Sallinger had the same expectations for everyone and everyone was fair game for an earful.

“While this was at times difficult to deal with, in the end it actually created a wonderful sense of team for all the players,” Paquin said. “We were all in it together. It offered the captains a great opportunity for leadership, to take the younger players under our wings, to help them understand that we would make it through together.”

Paquin went on to play for the inaugural Duke women’s lacrosse team in 1996, something she said Sallinger was proud of.

“She prepared me well for that DI experience,” Paquin said. “My coach in college was tough, but Coach Sal was in a league of her own. She did truly prepare us for life.”

And behind the sometime gruff exterior was a smile Paquin will never forget.

“I do recall when I returned from college one year for an SHS alumni lacrosse game that she was all smiles,” Paquin said. “She had a great smile with a pretty gap in her front teeth.”

Certainly her two successors at Scarsdale were points of pride for Sallinger.

Boscarino graduated in 1989 and went on to play lacrosse at Villanova with fellow grads Cindy Hoey (’88) and Stacey Cahaly (’89). Sallinger came to see the trio play. “She was one of a kind,” Cahaly said.

Boscarino was a captain of both teams under Sallinger. She wondered why she didn’t get a holiday card this year from her mentor, whom she hadn’t seen in 10 years since visiting with her in Florida.

“My memories include her pouring water down our backs and having us run through puddles to help us get over playing in rain,” Boscarino said. “I remember her booming voice and laugh. I remember running fartlicks and her sending me to the wall to improve my lacrosse skills when I was a sophomore and she put me on varsity even though I couldn’t catch to save my life.”

That year Boscarino and Jessica Mosblech were Sallinger’s “Young Legs” for field hockey, and she used those legs to full capacity since at that time the field did have hard boundaries. “She would literally have us run to the fences at the middle school to protect a lead,” Boscarino said. “She was one in a million, that’s for sure.”

By moving from Edgemont to the Chicago suburbs due to her husband’s work, Boscarino didn’t have the chance to keep the lacrosse job long-term. She ended her tenure after a disappointing 3-13-1 season.

“I really thought I’d have that job for 20 years when I started,” Boscarino said. “What a privilege it was to take over the program she had built at my own high school. She left very big shoes to fill, and I definitely ran things differently, but her passion for coaching paved the way for Sharon and I to take over the reins.”

It wasn’t until a couple of years after Scarsdale got a turf field that the field hockey program switched from the middle school field to turf full-time at the urging of Rosenthal. It was a different game and the program had to be all-in when it came to turf. Rosenthal thinks the middle school field should be named in Sallinger’s honor.

Rosenthal was another field hockey/soccer player, so she only had Sallinger as a coach for one season per year, but those three months a year helped shape Rosenthal’s life for sure.

“Playing for Penny you had to work hard,” she said. “She was very clear on her expectations, what she demanded of you. There was no wishy-washy with her. It was very definitive. This what we’re doing and either you’re doing it or not. You really played because you wanted to play the sport.”

Not every player had a positive experience with Sallinger, and some even quit playing the sports she coached as a result.

“Everyone had different feelings about Penny, just like they do with coaches today, but you played because you really wanted to play that sport,” Rosenthal said. “She definitely taught you a lot of things, but she was tough. She was one of the toughest and I think that’s why we were so successful.”

Anyone who went on to play in college, like Rosenthal at University of Rhode Island, was ahead of the curve.

“When I got to college sports it seemed easier than the high school experience between Penny and Res,” Rosenthal said. “I felt like what they had me do on any given day was harder than when I walked into my first day at URI. I felt like it wasn’t so bad. With Res you were always running with a ball and with Penny you had to make a certain time in the mile or you weren’t making varsity. You were either in shape or you weren’t.”

You were either strong enough mentally and physically or you weren’t. And those who stuck with Sallinger were both.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of The Scarsdale Inquirer. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

 

April 6, 2018