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After 32 seasons, Whitcraft steps down as Avon Grove soccer coach

KENNETT SQUARE – Outside of Chester County, Dave Whitcraft is regarded as one of the preeminent coaching authorities for soccer goaltenders. But around here, he’ll always be remembered as the longtime, well-respected head coach at Avon Grove.

“As far as starting a foundation as a goalkeeper, he was the guy that could drive you to be an all-conference high school player and get you to college,” said Jon Crowder, who played for Whitcraft and is on Ryan Castle’s coaching staff at rival West Chester Rustin. “I would say that nationally he is known more as a goalie specialist than the Avon Grove coach.”    

Now age 57, Whitcraft has decided to retire from teaching and step down from his coaching post after 32 seasons leading the Red Devils. Also on his second stint as the Red Devils’ head baseball coach, he has not yet decided whether he will continue in that capacity.

“There is never an easy time because you always have young players in the pipeline that you want to see come through,” said Whitcraft. “But I was always told that I would know when the time was right, and the timing was actually perfect.”

Whitcraft was recently married to his wife Linda and has relocated from Delaware to Kennett Square.

“She and I are in the same situation where she recently retired,” he pointed out. “It was time for me to retire from teaching and coaching soccer. I’m going out on a very positive note. There are no sour grapes and no negatives at all.”

A physical education teacher at Avon Grove since he was fresh out of the Temple Master’s Program, Whitcraft clearly remembers interviewing for the job back in the summer of 1987.

“I had played both baseball and soccer all the way through and Avon Grove was looking for a health and phys ed teacher, and a soccer and baseball coach,” Whitcraft recalled. “I thought this would be right up my alley.”

As a youngster growing up in South Jersey, Whitcraft didn’t even take up soccer until his freshman year of high school. But the sport grew on him.

“I was sort of a fish out of water with the ball at my feet but I was athletic enough to keep the ball out of the net,” he explained. “Then I started gaining some technique and started to grow with it.”

Whitcraft excelled and went on to be a four-year starting goalkeeper at the University of Delaware. By time he graduated in 1985 he was the program’s career leader in shutouts (20) and saves (441). He was a three-time all-league and all-region pick and was voted the East Coast Conference Player of the Year in 1983.

“He was an All-American at Delaware. He brought that high-level knowledge from his own playing career,” Crowder said.

“Dave was an amazing athlete himself and he understood what it took to play at the next level,” Avon Grove Athletic Director Vanessa Robtison added. “It was pretty cool being on the sideline and seeing adults come back to see Coach Whitcraft because of the connection they made when they played for him.”

During his early years at Avon Grove, Whitcraft turned the program into a Southern Chester County League power. He also found time to play pro soccer for the Delaware Wizards in 1993-94.

“We’ve had some tremendous highs, like going deep into districts, and some lows — but I don’t want to get into specific years,” Whitfield said.

In the mid-2000’s, he was a driving force that brought a new turf field and stadium to Avon Grove just prior to its entry into the Ches-Mont league. He remembers opening the stadium with a victory.

“(Whitcraft) was always really well prepared for the opposition,” Crowder recalled. “He would go and watch Ches-Mont teams play when we weren’t playing. Even he would admit that it was shocking in the level of play between the SCCL and the Ches-Mont. But he adapted.”

In the mid-1980’s, Whitcraft started running a training camp for goaltenders. It eventually grew into the Dave Whitcraft Goalkeeping Academy, which was held every summer in Delaware until 2018.

“I figure that if I am going to make the break, it is going to be a clean break,” he said.

“He’s built the Avon Grove program from nothing,” said Crowder, who trained at the camp before high school and later became an instructor.

“We’ve been really good friends ever since I left Avon Grove, and now we coach against each other every fall. Dave is just a real stand-up guy. I would say he is, if not the best, one of the best coaches I’ve ever competed against. He is able to relate to his players and is able to make a difference in somebody’s life off the soccer field.”

Robtison agreed: “Dave is a dynamic leader. One of his biggest strengths is his ability to make sincere true lifelong connections with students, especially the ones who weren’t making connections with other adults.”

Earlier this summer, Whitcraft spent two weeks cleaning out his desk at Avon Grove. Getting rid of the paperwork was easy, but going through all of the photos? That took some time.

“When you go through all your memories, it all just starts flooding back,” he said. “There are former players and I got the chance to coach their sons.

“Seeing student-athletes as a third or fourth graders that have come to your camps and eventually play for you, it’s pretty rewarding to see they still have a passion and you watch them grow. To see them develop into fine young men and women, it’s kind of a microcosm of what life it all about.”

Crowder was a player during the change in leagues. He graduated from Avon Grove in 2008 and went on to play collegiately at Eastern University. One of his teammates was Joey Wendle, who is now the starting second baseman in the Big Leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays. Castle is another Whitcraft protégé.

“I’ve looked to (Whitcraft) multiple times in my playing and coaching career for advice,” Crowder said. “And since we play a similar schedule at Rustin, we talk to him about scouting reports and tactics. It’s really been a nice partnership to have for Ryan (Castle) and myself.”

When asked about career milestones, records and such, Whitcraft genuinely didn’t have a clue.

“I’m sure I’ve tickled the 300-win mark at some point but nobody ever kept track of it,” he responded. “I wasn’t interested in that part of it.

“I can be proud that when anybody played Avon Grove, no matter what our record, they would get 80-minutes of solid competition.”

Robtison said that Whitcraft bled Avon Grove maroon and gold and will be sorely missed.

“This was his second home and we are his second family,” she said. “I can’t speak more highly of Dave. He dedicated his entire adult life to our school, our kids and this community.”

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