Point ath­letic direc­tor Lingner re­tires

The Dundalk Eagle - - FRONT PAGE - By BILL GATES bgates@ches­pub.com Fol­low me on Twit­ter @DEa­gle_s­ports

As a Pat­ap­sco High ath­lete, and as a coach and ad­min­is­tra­tor in the Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Schools sys­tem, Russ Lingner ex­pe­ri­enced county teams play­ing on Fri­day af­ter­noons in front of par­ents and fans stand­ing along a fence or sit­ting on a hill.

It was the norm for Bal­ti­more County ath­let­ics. But Lingner knew, com­pared to the rest of the state, the county was lag­ging far be­hind.

“I re­mem­ber when we would play out­side the county, see­ing what those schools had,” said Lingner, who retired this spring after 32 years in the county school sys­tem and 18 years as the ath­letic direc­tor at Spar­rows Point High.”They played foot­ball games at night; we played at 3:45 p.m.”

What those other schools had were sta­di­ums with grand­stands, lights and other ameni­ties such as field houses, con­ces­sion stands and re­strooms.

“That’s the one thing I vowed,” he said. “I vowed the kids here would have it bet­ter than I did: bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties, bet­ter uni­forms, bet­ter all around.”

Lingner ful­filled his vow in stages. First came the grand­stand with con­trolled ac­cess to the Spar­rows Point field, as well as a sign bear­ing the sta­dium’s name: First Mariner Field at Spar­rows Point.

Lights were added later: first tem­po­rary, then per­ma­nent. No more Fri­day or Sat­ur­day af­ter­noon foot­ball games.

A new score­board. A con­ces­sion stand, do­nated by a lo­cal fam­ily. And in 2016, ar­ti­fi­cial turf was in­stalled on the field.

Vow ful­filled.

To get the fund­ing for the sta­dium, Lingner went to then-prin­ci­pal Rob San­tacroce, to recre­ation coun­cil and com­mu­nity leader Fred Thiess (who passed away in 2012), and to then-county coun­cil­man John Ol­szewski Sr.

“I didn’t think it would come to­gether so fast,” Lingner re­called. “Be­fore I knew it, we were meet­ing with Ed Hale.”

(Hale was then the CEO of First Mariner Bank, which he founded. The name of the sta­dium men­tioned ear­lier con­sti­tutes a spoiler.)

“We were sit­ting in his of­fice in Can­ton, in that tower, and he asked why we were there,” Lingner said. “I told him what we wanted to do, and he said he liked it. Then he called [for­mer county ex­ec­u­tive] Jim Smith and put him on the spot.

“We went back to the com­mu­nity, raised more money, and got it done within a year. Ev­ery­thing just took off.”

While tak­ing his daily 5 a.m. walk one day, Lingner de­cided the new sta­dium needed lights so night events would be pos­si­ble.

Coun­cil­man Ol­szewski told Lingner to wait five years be­fore ask­ing for money for lights.

Be­fore those five years were up, how­ever, he had an­other idea. Walk­ing past a con­struc­tion site, he saw the huge por­ta­ble lights used for il­lu­mi­na­tion.

“I won­dered if they would work for light­ing our sta­dium,” Linfner said. “I talked to peo­ple and they said, ‘why not?’ The com­mu­nity raised $10,000 to help get the por­ta­ble lights in­stalled.”

Spar­rows Point played night games un­der the por­ta­ble con­struc­tion lights for two years.

Around the same time, Pat­ap­sco was hav­ing a sta­dium built, while Dun­dalk High School was de­mol­ished and re­placed with a new build­ing that opened in fall 2013 and even­tu­ally in­cluded a new sta­dium with lights and ar­ti­fi­cial turf.

“Spar­rows Point, the small­est of the three lo­cal schools, has to raise money for ev­ery­thing,” Lingner said. “Pat­ap­sco got a new sta­dium, Dun­dalk got a new school, and they didn’t have to raise any money them­selves.”

After what Lingner de­scribed as a “heated ex­change” with Ol­szewski Sr., the coun­cil­man went to Bal­ti­more County and ob­tained fund­ing to in­stall the per­ma­nent lights on First Mariner Field.

“Coun­cil­man Ol­szewski helped us out a lot, and so did his son,” said Lingner, re­fer­ring to for­mer state del­e­gate John Ol­szewski Jr., cur­rently the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for county ex­ec­u­tive in the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion.

Lingner also stressed the im­por­tance of the lo­cal com­mu­nity in sup­port­ing his ef­forts to im­prove the school.

“This lit­tle com­mu­nity of Edge­mere has, and al­ways will, be sup­port­ive of this school.”

In 2003, a tragic auto ac­ci­dent took the life of Spar­rows Point stu­dent Adam Parr and left an­other stu­dent, Zach Bradley, cling­ing to life.

Gail Parr, Adam’s mother, used money from the set­tle­ment her fam­ily re­ceived to build the sta­dium con­ces­sion stand.

“That’s just an ex­am­ple of what Edge­mere does for the school,” Lingner said. “And if I didn’t have Fred Thiess back in those days, we may not have been able to get that sta­dium. He ce­mented a lot of sup­port.”

A 1978 Pat­ap­sco High grad­u­ate who played foot­ball and base­ball for the Pa­tri­ots, Lingner went to Po­tomac State Col­lege be­fore trans­fer­ring to Tow­son State Univer­sity and grad­u­at­ing with a de­gree in phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion.

There were no open­ings in Bal­ti­more County, so Lingner coached base­ball at Dun­dalk Com­mu­nity Col­lege and taught phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion at Our Lady of Hope/ St. Claire.

He also helped coach foot­ball and base­ball at Pat­ap­sco, and was even­tu­ally of­fered a teach­ing po­si­tion at Pat­ap­sco in 1986.

“It was great, be­ing at my alma mater,” Lingner said. “All the teach­ers and coaches who were there when I was a stu­dent were still there. They all ral­lied around me.”

After three years at Pat­ap­sco, how­ever, Lingner was ex­cessed. He had stu­dent-taught at Spar­rows Point, and then-ath­letic direc­tor Mitchell Moon asked him to come to Spar­rows Point.

Lingner ap­plied for the open ath­letic direc­tor po­si­tion at Pat­ap­sco in 1997, think­ing he was the frontrunner, but wasn’t of­fered the po­si­tion.

“I of­ten think back to how i was this close to not hav­ing a ca­reer at Spar­rows Point what­so­ever,” Lingner said. “I’ve learned not to take things for granted.”

In­stead, when Moon retired in 2000 after a long dis­tin­guished ca­reer, Lingner was cho­sen to re­place him start­ing in fall 2000.

“I of­ten think about what would have hap­pened [had he been hired as the Pat­ap­sco A.D.],” Lingner said. “How ev­ery­thing might have changed. Some­times when a door shuts, you think that’s it, but God had other pans for me, and that plan was to be at Spar­rows Point.”

Dur­ing Lingner’s time as the Spar­rows Point A.D., the Point­ers have reached the girls soc­cer state cham­pi­onship game nine times, win­ning five state ti­tles; have won 13 girls soc­cer re­gional ti­tles; two boys soc­cer state ti­tles and five re­gional ti­tles; have won three base­ball re­gional ti­tles and reached the state cham­pi­onship game in 2014; have won three soft­ball re­gional ti­tles and reached the state fi­nals in 2014 and 2015; have won two re­gional ti­tles in both girls and boys lacrosse; won re­gional ti­tles in field hockey and vol­ley­ball; and won three re­gional dualmeet wrestling ti­tles (twice reach­ing the fi­nals), one re­gional tour­na­ment wrestling ti­tle and two Bal­ti­more County tour­na­ment cham­pi­onships.

The foot­ball team has also reached the play­offs six times, twice ad­vanc­ing to the re­gional cham­pi­onship game.

The soc­cer pro­gram was com­pet­i­tive when Lingner be­came ath­letic direc­tor, but the last state ti­tle was back in the mid-1970’s. The foot­ball pro­gram was in dis­ar­ray, and the var­sity squad had to be folded Lingner’s first year.

Then Eric Webber took over the foot­ball pro­gram in 2003 and turned it around.

“Ev­ery­thing else started to fol­low in line, Lingner said. “We started get­ting more and more com­pet­i­tive, and things just took off.”

And Spar­rows Point main­tains its suc­cess. Other schools rise and fall, but Spar­rows Point re­mains strong, year after year, in soft­ball, soc­cer, lacrosse, base­ball, wrestling, field hockey and vol­ley­ball.

Lingner likens Spar­rows Point to Here­ford High, which is also known for its con­sis­tent ath­letic pro­grams.

“We’re both old-fash­ioned, tra­di­tional com­mu­nity-based schools,” he said. “Ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity ral­lies around the high school. It’s a throw­back, it’s May­berry, and that’s a good thing.”

PHO­TOS BY BILL GATES

Spar­rows Point High stu­dents ex­press their feel­ings after ath­letic direc­tor Russ Lingner an­nounced his re­tire­ment.

Spar­rows Point ath­letic direc­tor Russ Lingner ac­knowl­edges the crowd dur­ing the cer­e­mony in­tro­duc­ing the new turf field in 2016. Lingner retired this year after 18 years as the Pointer A.D.

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