Panther coach's farm provides refuge for student-athletes


THE EXTRA TIME spent at home during the pandemic allowed Katharine DeLorenzo to give more time learning about her sheep and chickens. The family’s hobby farm also became a place to which Middlebury College field hockey players could retreat as coronavirus cases rose in the fall. Independent photo/Brooke Rubright

Independent photo/Brooke Rubright

Independent photo/Brooke Rubright

GENE AND KATHARINE DeLorenzo and their sons, Perry and Doug, moved to an 1800s farmhouse in Cornwall last winter just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The location ended up being a refuge for Katharine’s Panther field hockey players.

CORNWALL — Katharine DeLorenzo wears many hats: daughter, sister, wife, mother, violinist, coach, assistant athletic director, senior woman administrator and most recently, farmer.

Growing up, DeLorenzo and her six siblings spent their summers in the northwestern Vermont town of Franklin. The siblings worked on several jersey cow farms owned by the Gates brothers, Charlie and Hugh. Katharine, the youngest of the siblings, found her time on the farm to be surreal.

“All I wanted to do was hang out in the calf barn, hide in the hay loft, or drive the tractor. It actually ended up being a bit of a romantic relationship. I spent plenty of time doing my fair share of work on the farm, but I especially loved the time where I could pick and choose what I did,” said DeLorenzo, whose childhood experience on the farm solidified an everlasting love for Vermont and farms.

She ended up at Middlebury College, coaching field hockey and working in sports administration.

In 2019, DeLorenzo and her husband, Gene, sold their home in Middlebury and moved with their two sons, Perry and Doug, and the family’s Labrador retriever, Moose, to the picturesque countryside of Cornwall. The transition to the 1800s farmhouse, boasting several acres of pasture, followed Gene’s retirement from working on the facilities staff at Middlebury College.

“When the situation was right, I put pen to paper and started to really map out and measure the property,” said Katharine DeLorenzo, whose Middlebury College field hockey players refer to her as “DeLo.”

In March of 2020, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of one day owning her own hobby farm. Her first addition was a 9-week-old Maremma puppy named Howard. His role would be to protect the impending sheep. A few weeks later, two lambs named Bella and Gertrude arrived.

“Growing up and watching my mom’s career unfold has been a whirlwind, and this chapter of her life has been no different,” said son Doug, a sports management major at Castleton University who has an interest in one day coaching field hockey like his mom. “I’ve loved every second of this new adventure in Cornwall, with the best part being the happiness my brother and I see from our parents. They’re truly ‘at home’ here and starting up this little farm has really been an amazing experience.”

As life was changing at home for the DeLorenzo family, the world around them shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic and remote work allowed us to feel comfortable adding chickens, three more sheep in May and then another three in June,” DeLorenzo said. “Learning as we go is only possible if we have the time to devote to it. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to be attentive to the animals and be aware of any issues as they arise.”

With more time at home than she had originally planned, she got to work learning as much as she could about her animals and their needs. Each animal on the farm is named after an influential person in her life, such as the luscious brown ram named Carlton after her former private violin instructor. The sheep and chickens are raised for fleece and eggs, averaging 220 eggs per month. It is DeLorenzo’s goal to one day be able to knit with yarn spun from her very own farm.

“Despite the great challenges posed by the pandemic, the joy of watching Katharine work with the animals has been a delightful experience. I have even found a special niche for the sheep that I never would have imagined,” said husband Gene, and one of the main sources to which she attributes her success.

A decorated coach with a total of 11 championship titles — four NCAA National Championships and seven NESCAC Championships — Katharine DeLorenzo is surely better known for field hockey than farming.

“Being with the animals, it was just like playing sports, the whole rest of the world sort of melts away and you are this happy, important being in your own little world,” said DeLorenzo, who will be entering her 21st year coaching at Middlebury College this fall.

Interestingly, her initial interests were in music, not sports.

DeLorenzo attended Goucher College in Baltimore on the Rosenberg Family Music Scholarship with the goal of one day being a music professor or playing in an orchestra. Following graduation, she applied to Indiana State University for a graduate assistant position that would allow her to coach at the nearby DePauw University while also working toward degrees in violin performance and musicology.

“My interest in what I was doing in the classroom and the direction of my degree seemed to be becoming less and less relevant to my thoughts,” she recalled. “I just had a remarkably strong feeling that every time I left DePauw to attend class at ISU, every time I left my team behind, that I was leaving everything behind.”

Her life-long passion for sports and being a part of a team led her to switch her degree.

“In life you keep filtering through your experiences, your passions, and your desires and all of a sudden things become really clear,” DeLorenzo said as she reflected on the journey.

The same philosophy can be applied to her current decision to chase her dreams and build her own farm.

The opportunity to have a farm and be surrounded by animals has reminded her that balance between career responsibilities and one’s personal life is incredibly important. Introducing the animals and farm into her life, she said, has also allowed her to connect with her field hockey players in a new way.

“When my players come to visit the animals, or I share news and pictures of them, their eyes light up. The reaction and the emotional experience that they have when they come to visit the farm and be with the animals outdoors has helped me expedite the process of knowing them better as individuals,” she said.

REFUGE FOR STUDENTS

Last fall, the DeLorenzo farm served as an escape for some of the Middlebury field hockey players who were unable to leave Addison County as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The players and DeLorenzo were sure to follow pandemic guidelines staying physically distanced, wearing masks, visiting in pairs or by oneself, and remaining outside.

“The ability to drive 10 minutes from campus and leave your homework, stress and all other obligations behind was so idyllic. You have mountains and pastures and these beautiful farm animals. It was quite literally a retreat we were able to utilize,” said Joan Vera, a junior midfielder on the MCFH (Middlebury College Field Hockey) team and graduate from South Burlington High School.

The field hockey team did not compete in any games during the fall as a result of the pandemic. Instead, the time was used to sharpen skills, build bonds, and enjoy the company of one another. The DeLorenzo farm served as an extension of that unison and time together.

“The farm was more than a farm to us — it was a place that allowed our MCFH culture to be wrapped into one little basket. We had each other, the joys of Vermont, and space to be ourselves — to feed the animals, to cook, to study outside, and to laugh together,” said Isabel Chandler, a senior midfielder on the team.

“One of my favorite memories this semester was meeting coach at 8 a.m. one morning at her farm. We fed the sheep and the chickens together. It felt so pure, so warm, so simple, and like no other way I wanted to start my morning. During COVID, that feeling is all I needed and all I wanted. It felt like home and family.”

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