Although he stepped down as Pine Plains’ field hockey coach in June, Dick Meilinger isn’t hanging up his whistle and trademark fisherman’s hat just yet.
Meilinger, who was the only male head field hockey coach in the region, will remain with the Bombers in a part-time role as a volunteer assistant to Debbie Beam, his former assistant and player. He said he made this decision in order to spend more time with his family.
“My wife’s been after me for about 20 years,” said Meilinger, 66, who coached 26 seasons at Pine Plains between 1985 and 2012. “I have grandchildren and I’d like to spend more time with them. I wanted to keep my hand in the action a little bit because I love the sport.”
Meilinger, a native of Voorheesville in the Capital Region, started as an elementary-school physical-education teacherand modified boys basketball coach in Pine Plains in 1969. Teaching elementary and high school at different times, he coached other sports, from softball to track and field to tennis.
“I truly believe I was blessed with all the athletes I had.” Meilinger said. “They always worked hard for me no matter what sport. But my first love will always be field hockey.”
In 26 seasons, Meilinger amassed 322 victories. His achievements coaching field hockey include eight straight Section 9 titles from 2002-09 and a ninth last season. Under Meilinger, the Bombers advanced to the state semifinals four times, won four Mid-Hudson Athletic League titles and numerous crowns in the now-defunct Bi-Valley League.
“He’s an outstanding mentor and coach and an outstanding person,” said Beam, who played JV field hockey for Meilinger in the early ’80s. “His knowledge is endless. He’s been a vast resource and a wonderful person to work with.”
Both of Beam’s daughters — Sarah, a June graduate, and Rachel, who is entering her junior year — have played for Meilinger.
“Having somebody nearby who’s got the experience is wonderful for a smooth transition,” Beam said. “Hopefully, he’ll be with us more than he’s not.”
Meilinger expects Beam, who coached three seasons at Arlington over a decade ago, to be successful.
“Debbie’s going to do a good job,” he said. “She’s going to have a nice team.”
Kim Lepore played for Pine Plains in 2007 and ’08 and graduated from SUNY New Paltz this May. She said she appreciated Meilinger’s dedication to the game and his teams.
“He organized clinics, club teams, youth teams, and even bringing in elementary-school kids to play,” Lepore said. “He’s very passionate about field hockey. He has a great sense of humor. He was great because he has such a funny personality.
“He was your friend, but he was definitely the authority figure. You had respect for him.”
Over 28 seasons, Meilinger did not coach in only two. In 1991, he had open-heart surgery to replace an aortic valve. In 1995, faculty members did not coach due to a labor dispute.
Meilinger said he takes great pride in the academic success of his athletes.
“In all the years, I had only two kids ineligible for a game,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of girls in the 90s with their averages and as valedictorians and all that good stuff.”
He also acknowledged the role of his assistant coaches over the years — Beam, the late John Solacco, Dennis Malloy, John Shanley and Cathy Gomm.
“They were excellent people to have on the staff, and they contributed so, so much to our program,” Meilinger said.
Pine Plains athletic director Jeremy Weber said he’s pleased to have Meilinger remain with the program in his new role.
“I am so glad that we still have him around, as he has been so instrumental in the success that Pine Plains has had over the last 25 years,” Weber said. “He is truly one of the best coaches in New York State history.”
Weber is confident that Beam will ably guide the Bombers to success.
“She has learned from one of the brightest minds and most successful coaches in the state,” Weber said. “Her biggest strength is her love of field hockey and working with children to develop them, not only as field hockey players but as student-athletes. Coach Beam has all of the tools and ability to continue the winning tradition in Pine Plains field hockey for many years to come.”