As a player, coach and administrator Calkins left a lasting impression
John Wooden once said, “Sports do not build character. They reveal it.”
Such is the case when it comes to Keith Calkins.
His passion for sports began early on and never relented. With each step in his athletic career, whether it was playing, coaching or governance, he took on bigger challenges and continually found success, respect and admiration along the way.
As a boy growing up on the Oregon coast, Calkins said he was always drawn to athletic competition, despite little interest in sports from his parents.
“I guess when I was very young, my older brother and I kind of matriculated to sports,” the now 73-year old Penn Valley resident said. “Had no (athletic) influence from my mother and father at all. They were not into sports. There was just something about being competitive.”
His love for sport never waned as he grew, going from a star college athlete on multiple fields to a highly successful coach to being a well-respected member of the United States Olympic Committee.
“I certainly enjoy athletics and I took the opportunities I had in leadership and governance, and it has been really rewarding for me.”
Calkins wrapped up more than 40 years in national and international sports governance in April, adding to a sporting legacy that stretches back to his youth on the playing fields in Chico.
THE EARLY DAYS
Calkins, who was born in Seattle and spent his early childhood in Oregon, where his father owned a small lumber mill, came to California in 1954 when his father changed careers and became an educator in Chico. Calkins attended Chico High School and then Chico State, where he was a four-sport star. He earned four varsity letters in football, was a team captain for three years and was an All-American in 1960 and 1961. He played three years of varsity basketball and was a team captain in 1960. On the baseball team, he earned two varsity letters, and was an All-American in the long jump on the track and field team. During his time as an athlete at Chico State, he earned a total of 12 letters.
LEADER OF MEN
After his playing days came to a conclusion, Calkins went right into coaching. He spent a year as a graduate assistant with the Chico State football team. He was then an assistant football coach and head wrestling coach at Montgomery High School before landing an assistant coaching job with the Chabot College football team. After several years as an assistant, Calkins was promoted to head football coach at Chabot in 1969. He would run the program until 1977, recording an overall record of 70-31-2 with five Golden Gate Conference Championships.
“He was a very good coach. He related well to young people,” said Dr. Bruce Werner, who was an assistant coach at Chabot when Calkins was there. “He’s a really dynamic person, always has been. He has great leadership qualities and if he’s your friend, he’s your friend for life. It’s one of the things I’ve really appreciated about him.”
Calkins not only had the respect of his staff in those days, but his players as well.
“Coach was always pushing everybody in a good way,” said Dennis Bragonier, who played for Calkins at Chabot before going to play for Stanford and the 49ers. “He was very motivated and very driven. We were very successful with him as the head coach. The two years I was there with coach, we never lost a conference game.
“He really wasn’t a yeller or anything. But, he would make you go over things until you got it right. He was never demeaning though, always very encouraging, but he didn’t allow for anything to be sloppy.”
Calkins said when it came to coaching, he followed a handful of simple standards that he held himself and his players to.
“As for coaching I believe in hard work, commitment, loyalty and trust.” he said.
Calkins added he is very proud of how many of his players went on to bigger and better things after their Chabot careers concluded, noting that 200 of his student athletes went on to four-year schools, 56 of his players went on to Division I schools and nine of them played in the NFL.
During his time as head coach at Chabot, Calkins experienced tragedy when his wife died of cancer in 1975 and he was left to care for their two young children. He said it became too difficult to coach and be the kind of father he wanted to be for his children, so he moved from the sidelines into administration.
With a doctorate in education, he took a job at Saddleback College as the Division Dean of Physical Education and Athletics in 1980. He was promoted to athletic director in 1995 and retired in 2001.
Calkins’ life in sports governance began in the 70s. He has held several positions with the United States Racquetball Association (1978-1997), the International Racquetball Federation (1981-2017), the Pan American Racquetball Confederation (1986-2007) and the United States Olympic Committee where he served for 22 years. As a member of the USOC, Calkins served in roles such as member of the Board of Directors, member of the Special Awards Committee, member of the Games Prep Committee, the Nominating Committee for USOC Officers and several others.
Calkins was influential in many things, but what he hails as one of his biggest accomplishments was getting Racquetball into the 1995 Pan American Games. Due to the efforts of Calkins, along with Luke St. Onge, Raquetball is recognized by the USOC and the IOC and has been played in the Pan American Games for the past 20 years.
“He’s very intelligent,” St. Onge said. “He has a great way with people and he uses common sense. He’s able extremely patient and able to see what the future can be.”
Calkins said he enjoyed his time within the world of international sports governance and is proud of what he has been able to accomplish.
“What I’m most proud about is being a part of the whole structure,” he said. “I’m really proud to have been a part of that.”
HALL OF FAME CAREER
His efforts on the field on and off have not gone unnoticed. Calkins is a member of seven different halls of fame. He was inducted into the Chico State Hall of Fame in 1988, the California Community College Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1989, the Chico Area Community Athletics Hall of Fame in 1992, the American Amateur Racquetball Association/United States Racquetball Association Hall of Fame in 1996, the Chabot College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2002, the Northern California Sports Association Hall of Fame in 2002 and the California Community College Athletics Hall of Fame in 2001.
As Calkins steps away from his role with the USOC, he said he will spend more time traveling with his wife Gigi, who he married in 1979. He said he will also work on his five acres in Penn Valley and travel.
“I play golf, but not as much as I should.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email email@example.com.
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