Greg and Cecelia Clippinger have been as tied to each other as they are to Carlisle High School.
One of the few married head coaching couples — Cecelia helms the varsity field hockey team, Greg the girls soccer team — in Cumberland County today, the pair have been together for nearly 30 years and with Thundering Herd athletics for nearly as long.
Greg played for the Thundering Herd boys soccer team from 1976 to 1979 and then moved on to Messiah College to play all four years for the men’s team, helping the team win the National Christian College Athletic Association Division III national championship in 1981.
Cecelia, a three-sport athlete at New Oxford High School in Adams County, originally played at the collegiate level at Shippensburg University beginning in 1981. But after her father’s death, she transferred to Messiah, graduated with a double major in physical education and science in 1986, and played on the NCAA runner-up field hockey team.
The Clippingers met in college, but they didn’t actually date until after graduation.
After Cecelia graduated and moved to Carlisle, Greg believes it was fate that he was the “only guy in town” Cecelia knew.
“So lucky for me, we ran into each other at one of my alumni soccer games and she mentioned that she was living in Carlisle,” Greg said.
They began hanging out.
“Then we ended up getting married within, like, a year,” Cecelia said with a laugh.
“So that’s that,” Greg said.
And that was that.
First tours of duty
The two have been coaching for quite some time.
Greg, 56, who has worked at Naval Support Activity Mechanicsburg in Hampden Township for more than 30 years, has around 33 years of coaching experience under his belt.
Cecelia, 55, a health teacher at Eagle View Middle School in the Cumberland Valley School District, has coached for about 25 years.
She got into coaching, like Greg, right out of college, starting as an assistant with Herd field hockey head coach Wendy Keller back in 1987 and stayed with it until 2000. She then took a job as an assistant coach at Dickinson College from 2000-01. And after a four-year coaching hiatus starting in 2011, Carlisle hired her in the summer of 2015 to rejoin the Thundering Herd staff under newly hired head coach Caitlin Brownley.
But Brownley quit 10 days before the start of the season and Cecelia stepped in as the new coach shortly before the opener.
She hasn’t looked back.
Cecelia is trying to lead the Herd back to the District 3 playoffs for the first time since 2010, although they will miss the postseason once again this year. The program’s last four trips to districts came in the 2000s while she was an assistant.
Greg began his coaching stint as an assistant with the Carlisle boys soccer team in 1985.
“I came out of Messiah really interested in the sport, and luckily, at the same time my former coach said, ‘Hey, Clip, would you be interested in coaching?’” Greg said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I’d love to.’”
Greg eventually became the assistant coach with the Herd girls team (1991-1993) and Messiah men’s soccer (1994-95).
He got his first head coaching stint in Carlisle with both the boys (1996-2001) and girls (1996–2012) programs, retiring — albeit temporarily it turned out — in the spring of 2012. During his tenure, both teams qualified for postseason play 19 times combined.
But Greg just couldn’t stay away from coaching.
In 2015 he returned to the girls team, replacing Lester Felician, who left after two years in charge.
“I don’t know if it’s over."
“I think, really, encouragement from coaches got me into coaching and staying with the sport,” said Greg, whose soccer team is 9-6 (3-6 Commonwealth) entering Wednesday.
“I think both of us got back into it because of the kids,” said Cecelia, who is trying to snare field hockey’s (2-11-1, 0-8-1 Commonwealth through Tuesday night) first division win this year.
No slowing down
Combined, the couple has 32 years of head coaching experience (27 for Greg with boys and girls separated as distinct years) and several decades more in assistant roles.
The parents of three children — Brooke, Josh and Breanne — may take their coaching duties home with them, but they both admit to never getting into a shouting match or butting heads about their work.
That may be because they are so busy away from home that there is hardly any time together during the fall.
“I don’t even know if there is an opportunity to butt heads,” Greg said with a shrug. “She asks me questions and I give her my ideas, but that doesn’t mean she takes it.”
“He says he can hear my voice sometimes,” Cecelia said with a laugh from her team’s practice field in September, glancing over at Ken Millen Stadium while Greg’s team practiced in the stadium. “Having two coaches in the house is interesting because it’s crazy busy. We go from, basically, morning until night. We basically eat and then continue to do the coaching thing. It’s a busy season when we’re both coaching.
“Our coaching styles are very different, so it’s actually really great having each other to bounce things off of. I can give him a female’s perspective on things, and he has a lot of coaching experience and wisdom, so I rely on his feedback quite a bit on taking care of situations on the team, or players or drills even.”
Cecelia even jokes about Greg not really understanding how to work with his girls in some situations.
“He says, ‘Do you think they can do that?’ and I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah. They’re competitors. They can compete, they can train hard. Maybe not as fast as the guys, but they can train just as hard,’” Cecelia said. “But, it’s great to have another coach in the house and we really respect each other’s opinions.”
Right now, neither Clippinger is itching to leave coaching. Greg’s first retirement appears to be proof of that.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be in coaching, but we both got back into it for a good reason. That was to help the program and help these girls,” Cecelia said. “They’ve blessed my life as much as I have hopefully blessed theirs.”
“I think it really depends on the kids and where we are in our life,” Greg said. “You could say there are other things I want to do, but I enjoy this still and I think some of it is dictated by our work. I really enjoy the kids and I think there are great opportunities here, but if I’m not able to provide value to their experience, then I’m comfortable with walking away. I’m willing to stick through a process to hopefully see results.
“There’s always criticism from outside parties, but you just have to be confident in what you do and be focused on the end result.”
Balancing life and home
Since they both took up head coaching duties, Greg and Cecelia have spent most of their time out of the house and apart from each other. In Greg’s words, “We pay a mortgage on our home and we’re never in it.”
The balance between life and home is, admittedly, a tough for them to figure out.
They’re both doing something that they love and are passionate about, but at the same time, those jobs pull them away from spending time together as a couple.
However, they both seem to enjoy their hectic lifestyles.
“We’re both kind of workaholics, so we have talked about getting better at that,” Cecelia said. “We’re each other’s support systems, so we don’t ignore the subject [of coaching] because we both like it and throw ideas off of each other and it’s part of our life. Of course we have a family, we have a dog, we have other things going on, so we do a good combination of both. We both have other interests, and we both like to exercise and things like that.”
“We’re just thankful for good health and the energy to keep up with what’s been going on for so long,” Greg said. “I think that we’d want to emphasize: with whatever we’ve done, we put our heart into it. It’s not that we’re enjoying being away from each other, but we are enjoying what we are doing at the moment.”
They’re both quick to admit that they’re just like everybody else.
While Cecelia can easily plan out vacations to make up for lost time, Greg is more of a stay-at-home and sit-on-the-couch-and-relax type of person.
They have their ups and downs, their struggles, their arguments, and their hardships. They go through what couples who aren’t coaches go through, and they like to emphasize that is part of being human.
Greg’s mother died from cancer in the beginning of 2002. His father has been in bad health since then, Greg said. And Cecelia’s mother recently died as well, he added.
There’s been some tough things to go through during the coaching seasons, but they admit they always find a way through it.
“In our marriage, we’re both thankful to each other and forgive, and we’ve made mistakes, and we’re committed to each other, but it’s not a perfect relationship,” Greg said. “But we keep on going, and I think we’re stronger for it.
“There’s a reality to our marriage — it’s not just this perfect, blissful coaching pair where everything’s great. Our family struggles and we continue growing, and we’re thankful that we can be in each other’s corner.”
Simply put, they’re happy to have each other around. Even in small doses during the fall season.
“Honestly, I kind of like being with him,” Cecelia said with a laugh. “He’s just a part of my life. I’m sure I do enjoy some downtime, but I don’t think that I’ve ever really thought about that or said, ‘Gosh, I’m really glad I don’t have anybody around right now.’
“I’m glad to have him around as much as I can since we don’t see each other as often.”
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