Suc­cess not just num­bers, coaches say

Baltimore Sun - - PGA TOUR - Kather­ine.dunn@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/ kdunnsun

Dun­bar and Gil­man will play foot­ball tonight for the first time in 12 years, but there was a time when they were reg­u­lar ri­vals.

Dun­bar coach Lawrence Smith and Gil­man coach Tim Hol­ley Jr. played for their re­spec­tive teams when they were part of the Mary­land Scholas­tic As­so­ci­a­tion. For 75 years, the MSA gov­erned boys sports at Bal­ti­more City pub­lic schools and Bal­ti­more-area pri­vate and parochial schools un­til it dis­banded in 1993.

“Any­time we can play an MSA school, I’m thrilled to have that op­por­tu­nity,” Hol­ley said.

“I played against Dun­bar as a kid, so my loyalties and al­le­giances to the MSA and the schools that were part of the MSA still kind of tug on my heart­strings. I thought it would be a great op­por­tu­nity for us to do some­thing, at least as high school your coach­ing staff,” Strunk said.

Chad McCormick also coaches at one of the state’s big­gest schools, Old Mill, so he too has a large po­ten­tial tal­ent pool. His Pa­tri­ots have qual­i­fied for the play­offs 17 straight times and won state cham­pi­onships in 2009 and 2011. To him, num­bers don’t mean that much, ei­ther.

“Ob­vi­ously hav­ing a big­ger school, you have more kids to choose from, but if you have the right kids, it doesn’t mat­ter how big your school is,” McCormick said.

Many coaches share that phi­los­o­phy. Much more im­por­tant to build­ing a con­sis­tently strong pro­gram — whether that means win­ning state cham­pi­onships, win­ning county cham­pi­onships or be­ing in the hunt year after year — is the work that builds and sus­tains the foun­da­tion for a com­pet­i­tive team.

Con­sis­tency in coach­ing, com­mit­ment from the ath­letes and a well-at­tended off­sea­son pro­gram rank high among head coaches’ re­quire­ments for keep­ing a pro­gram go­ing even through the dips in tal­ent that come in a cycli­cal sport such as foot­ball.

Wilde Lake coach Mike Harrison, who led the Wilde­cats to the Class 3A state ti­tle in 2010 and was an as­sis­tant coach to Doug Du­val for four of their other five ti­tles, has seen the same thing in all of Howard County’s suc­cess­ful pro­grams.

“The kids have the ex­pec­ta­tion to win and they work hard enough to put them­selves in the po­si­tion to win,” Harrison said. “It was the same with Brian [Van Deusen for four state ti­tles at River Hill]. There’s no magic to it. The kids just ex­pect to win.”

Build­ing a tra­di­tion of win­ning and com­pet­ing for state cham­pi­onships will keep the play­ers com­ing.

“I def­i­nitely think tra­di­tion is a pretty im­por­tant part for any school,” McCormick said. “There’s prob­a­bly a num­ber of things that vary from pro­gram to pro­gram, like foot­ball in­ter­est in the area, but pro­grams like Da­m­as­cus and Fort Hill, even though they’re smaller schools, they’re the types of foot­ball teams that can prob­a­bly com­pete with any level foot­ball in the state of Mary­land. I don’t know if the school size mat­ters as much as the pro­gram.”

If the size of the school di­rectly af­fected the strength of the foot­ball team, Da­m­as­cus could never have won the Class 3A cham­pi­onship last sea­son.

While the Hor­nets had the largest ros­ters of any team in the state semi­fi­nals last year in any clas­si­fi­ca­tion, their school is the sec­ond-small­est of 51 3A schools. Dun­dalk, the team they beat in the state fi­nal, 55-14, has about 330 more stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to state en­roll­ment num­bers used to de­ter­mine the four clas­si­fi­ca­tions.

De­spite be­ing a small school, Dun­bar has no trou­ble reload­ing ev­ery year be­cause Lawrence Smith Tim Hol­ley Jr. Howard play­ers prac­tice last week. The Li­ons have gone un­beaten in Howard County the past two sea­sons and reached the state semi­fi­nals. More im­por­tant to suc­cess than school size, said Howard coach Bruce Strunk, “is the kids buy­ing into your pro­gram. That and the con­sis­tency of your coach­ing staff.” ath­letes from around the city want to play for the Po­ets. That hap­pens when you’ve won nine state cham­pi­onships and a state-record 50 play­off games. Dun­bar has won state ti­tles in Class 3A, 2A and1A and is one of only seven pro­grams to win three in a row, along with Ur­bana, which won four straight, Wilde Lake, Fort Hill, Mid­dle­town, Seneca Val­ley and Spring­brook.

Coach Lawrence Smith said he doesn’t know where his team’s re­gional cham­pi­onship and county cham­pi­onship plaques are. All that mat­ters is hang­ing a new state ti­tle ban­ner in the Dun­bar gym.

“We ran off 14 straight re­gional cham­pi­onships, but that’s not what we want to do here,” Smith said. “We want to win state cham­pi­onships, and the kids buy into it.”

Dun­bar, now a Class 2A school, draws roughly120 play­ers and they can come from any­where in the city, but Smith points out that much big­ger schools than his also draw from across the city.

Some pro­grams, in­clud­ing South Car­roll, which has been in the Class 2A re­gional play­offs seven straight times, try to hook play­ers as early as pos­si­ble.

Cava­liers coach Steve Luette and his staff stay con­nected with the recre­ation pro­gram coaches and in­vite them to meet­ings. They des­ig­nate one game each sea­son for the recre­ation play­ers to at­tend for free.

“When you get a win­ning tra­di­tion, you get more play­ers at the youth level who want to play foot­ball,” Luette said. “Some­times it’s hard to get started but it fil­ters right down to the rec pro­gram and then kids can’t wait to get on that high school team.”

KARL MER­TON FER­RON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

When: Tonight, 7 Coaches: Tim Hol­ley Jr., Gil­man; Lawrence Smith, Dun­bar Last meet­ing: Gil­man won, 28-14, in 2004 Gil­man: TE Thomas Booker, Jr.; LB-TE An­to­nio DiCerbo, Sr.; FS-WR Drew Ehrlich, Sr.; RB-SS Robert Levine, Sr.; QB Pur­nell Hill, Jr.; RB-CB Bran­don Madi­son, Jr.; WR-CB Ayende Wat­son, Sr.; WR-CB Bran­don Wil­lis, Jr. Dun­bar: SS Avery Thur­man, Sr.; DE-OT Rafiq Ab­dul-Wahid, Sr.; DE-OT Joshua Pryor, Sr.; OL-DL Melvin Kiah, Sr.; QB Jar­rett Lewis, Jr.; RB Da’Shawn Darien, Sr.; LB Christo­pher Baze­more, Sr.; WR Kwesi Evans, Soph. pro­grams, to kind of bring the city to­gether and have two dif­fer­ent types of schools from two dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the city get to­gether and cel­e­brate Bal­ti­more high school foot­ball.”

In 1993, MSA of­fi­cials voted to dis­solve the or­ga­ni­za­tion, be­cause there was noth­ing hold­ing it to­gether after the city pub­lic schools joined the Mary­land Pub­lic Sec­ondary Schools Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion in 1992. Pub­lic and pri­vate school teams didn’t play one another so of­ten after that.

Now there are only a hand­ful of games be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate school teams each year. Seven Mary­land In­ter­scholas­tic Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion A and B Con­fer­ence teams will play pub­lic school teams this fall. Dun­bar will also play Boys’ Latin.

Hol­ley, who grad­u­ated from Gil­man in 1977, is more nos­tal­gic for the MSA than Smith, who grad­u­ated from Dun­bar in 1992. Smith prefers the MPSSAA, be­cause his team can play for the state cham­pi­onships — and Dun­bar has won nine of them.

“The MSA was great. It was a great thing for its time,” Smith said, “but I would take the state for­mat over the MSA any day.”

With a strong re­turn­ing con­tin­gent, Smith is ready to test the Po­ets as they aim

for their 10th state ti­tle.

“It’s go­ing to be a great at­mos­phere,” Smith said. “It’s bring­ing back a lot of his­tory of the MSA, which is great and it does a lot of good things to see a pub­lic and a pri­vate play. The kids love it, be­cause a lot of kids feel like the pri­vate schools are al­ways [con­sid­ered] su­pe­rior to the pub­lic schools and that has noth­ing to do with Bal­ti­more City. That’s statewide. A lot of kids want that chance to play those pri­vate schools and show what they can do.”

Smith said play­ing a strong pri­vate school team helps pre­pare his team for the play­offs. Since the teams started prac­tice within two days of each other in Au­gust, he feels it’s a great way to see how his team mea­sures up against another of the area’s best pro­grams.

Hol­ley, who took over the de­fend­ing A Con­fer­ence cham­pi­ons when Biff Poggi left to take a job with Michi­gan’s coach­ing staff, looks at the game the same way.

In ad­di­tion to the pub­lic-vs.-pri­vate as­pect, Hol­ley said, foot­ball fans in Bal­ti­more are ea­ger to see how this team stacks up with Poggi and his staff de­parted, most of their top play­ers grad­u­ated and others trans­ferred.

“I think the jury’s out on Gil­man right now,” Hol­ley said. “I think peo­ple are won­der­ing what the Gil­man of 2016 is go­ing to be like com­pared to the more re­cent teams. I think our kids are re­ally ex­cited to get out and reap the re­ward from their hard work. The kids who stayed and de­cided they were go­ing to com­mit to Gil­man put a lot of time into it and they’re ex­cited to take the ba­ton on their leg of the race.”

Both teams fig­ure to be con­tenders in their leagues. Dun­bar, which reached the Class 2A state semi­fi­nal last fall, is the

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