1Unless you've played his Newburyport JV teams or somehow been directly involved with the Clipper girls soccer program, then the name is unfamiliar. And after the Clippers play their final game of the season Saturday, win or lose, coach Siegel will be making his final appearance on the Newburyport High School sidelines after 15 years of service — 13 of which were spent as the girls JV coach. Also a chemistry teacher at the school, Siegel will be retiring from that position at the end of the school year.
Why might that matter, you ask?
According to head coach Robb Gonnam, who helped build the program to the powerhouse it is today, Siegel has been the single biggest asset — short of the players — in the growth and continued excellence of NHS girls soccer.
"We are of the same mind-set: The growth of the kids is the primary concern," said Gonnam, who nearly retired himself last year, but was prodded to stay on board by the NHS soccer community. "Wins and achievements are the natural consequence of the former, but you have to show sincerity and concern, which Ken exemplifies."
One of the biggest pieces Siegel has played to help out Gonnam and the program has been as the administrative liaison for Gonnam — who does not work for NHS — and the school, handling paperwork, dealing with academic issues, getting equipment ready like water and soccer balls, and keeping a watchful eye on the players in their day-to-day activities through school.
"By doing everything he does, he has allowed me for the last 15 years to concentrate on coaching," admitted Gonnam, adding the administrative side has never been his strong suit. "Ken is a tempering factor. I don't always understand the ins and outs of the school system, and Ken is great at that and can be a buffer.
"He also knows all the scuttlebutt that goes around the school," Gonnam continued. "I don't know if it is more predominant with girls, but that stuff is important and effects the girls, perhaps more so than boys, and I get that information first hand."
The consummate student of the game, Gonnam said he and Siegel have spent many a night after games, practices or even on the phone discussing different tactical situations of games passed by for hours at a time.
"He goes to Revolution games, he had season tickets to the women's professional league when they were playing. He watches how they warm up, how they change players around and tactical issues," Gonnam said. "He'll call me up afterwards in the postseason and we'd talk for no other reason than to chit-chat. He just has a tremendous interest in improving his ability to help the program, and you can't ask for anything more."
For the former college goal tender, this will be Siegel's second go at retirement, although not permanently, after first retiring from the Army. Siegel hopes to latch onto a school in some capacity closer to his home in Needham both in education and on the athletic fields.
Yet, the memories at Newburyport have been unique and the jokes are the same as they were 13 years ago.
"One thing I will always remember, his (Gonnam's) always complaining about how much time he puts into soccer and my constantly asking, 'who's forcing you?'" said Siegel with a chuckle. "It's an ongoing joke we constantly have.
"On the serious end, I am consistently amazed at how good he (Gonnam) is at what he does with the girls and how much he cares about them," Siegel said. "What he does on the athletic fields is what we try to do in the classroom — he takes kids and gets the most out of them by teaching them to be their absolute best all the time. The results speak for themselves."
In Siegel's estimation his job has been quite simple, consisting of three aspects: be an administrative assistant for Gonnam, coach the JV team the best he can, and identify girls who have the potential and desire to move up to the varsity team. And even with a a solid working knowledge of the game both as a former player himself and watching his son and daughter play the game growing up, the 65-year-old Siegel has learned infinitely more from Gonnam.
"I'd say I learned 80-90 percent more by working with Robb than I knew before because he's like a sponge," Siegel explained. "But different than a sponge because you don't have to squeeze him to get knowledge out; it just flows out of him."
Their players very much appreciate what Siegel has done for them both on and off the field.
"He's always a character on the team helping out," said Laura Muise, who got to know the coach pretty well from her junior year chemistry class, while also adding he was more laid back on the soccer field. "I think it's great that it's his last year because he always thanks us for winning, like the other day when he thanked us for winning on his 65th birthday. He gets to go out after a great season."
Muise also said Siegel has a running tradition, a challenge he sets down for the program every year.
"Every year we have a penalty kick contest with him in goal," Muise said. "If more than half our team can score on him, he buys us pizza. He's just really fun and a great guy."
Seeing the girls like Muise mature in the classroom and on the field from "silly" freshmen progressing through high school and life has been what Siegel has relished most and finds most rewarding.
"It's been a joy and an experience I will remember," said Siegel of the fine academic school he's been a part of for 15 years. "The last couple of games I get a little teary-eyed, which is funny coming from a big, gruff, former Army Ranger. I get emotional about doing this for the last time because I really like these kids and I am going to miss them. I wish the best for them in their future lives and I was glad to be a part of it."