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with Michael Betteridge

Summer Is Here…

Let’s Celebrate

Most of us have seen the silly antics of NFL football players doing their handshakes, dances, and performances in the end zone after a touchdown. It’s not sports, it’s performance art at its finest. It started out with the “spike” years ago; at first, the officials threw a flag and called it unsportsmanlike conduct, then they let it slide. Soon, the spike was followed by a finger pointed at the sky and a sort of combination “thank you, God” and “We’re number No. 1,” depending on the player. Then, this performance art became Lambeau leaps, somersaults into the endzone, choreographed dances, political statements, and so on. It spread to other sports, which now permeates most pro sports as we know it. Pro-athletes are for sale to the highest bidder; their brand is more important than the team.

At high school and collegiate levels, overt celebrations were completely unacceptable—it sent the wrong message to young athletes.  These celebrations took the focus off the team and put it on the individual; it was disrespectful to opponents and simply not allowed. But, just like in pro sports, exceptions have crept in.

This Cougars’ high school season, we had a high visibility collision between culture, official rules, egos, and fair and consistent application of the celebration rules. An athlete raising one finger to the ceiling during an event could receive a disqualification, but a mosh pit celebration at home plate for a baseball player who hit a home run was fine. Why?

My favorite celebration recollection was several years ago in the gym at Catoctin High School during a basketball game. It was the last game of the season, and Catoctin had a big lead over its opponent.  Coach began putting his bench in the game to give them some floor time.  There was a very special kid named Cody who was a heck of a Cougars football player, but he wasn’t as good at basketball. He was a third-string basketball player, and he hadn’t seen any time in a game all season. So, when Coach put Cody in the game with five minutes on the clock, the crowd reacted with a round of applause for Cody. Then, something unbelievable happened.  His teammates all collapsed into a four-corner offense and fired the ball to Cody who was standing just beyond the three-point arc at the top of the key. His teammates managed to get the word to their opponent, who relaxed their defense for a moment; in that split second, Cody was wide open with the ball. Cody set his feet, took aim at the basket and launched the shot! The pin-drop silence fell over the crowd. The ball arced into the air with the faintest hint of backspin and gently swooshed through the net for a beautiful three-point basket. The crowd erupted into a deafening roar of celebration. It was as if Catoctin had just won the state championship.  Cody turned to the crowd and gave his best Hulk flex then dropped to the hardwoods and rattled off three rapid fire push-ups. Again, the crowd erupted. It was a moment I will treasure forever because in that moment of complete unity and accord between both teams and fans, everyone understood what had just happened, including the officials.  That was a common-sense application of the rules. No whistles were blown.  No flags were thrown.

Today, common sense seems to be in short supply on both sides of the equation. Catoctin track star, Brody Buffington, one of the fastest high school sprinters in America, was disqualified back in February when he looked back at his own teammates and raised his index finger into the air.  The track meet was in Hagerstown, but the DQ (disqualify) wasn’t announced until later.  Everyone who has ever competed in high school athletics in Frederick County understands the officiating in Washington County. His disqualification was biased, excessive, and lacked any common sense. The backlash spread throughout Frederick County and beyond, reaching all over the nation in newspaper and TV reportings, making Buffington somewhat of a local celebrity as a result. Three months later, in a head-shaking moment, Buffington did it again. And, this time, it wasn’t an individual event, but a team relay event that affected the whole team.  Remember what I said about common sense on both sides of the equation? 

But in all fairness, something else was at play. I asked a Catoctin football player why he thought they singled out Buffington. His answer was on target, “because it hurt the loser’s feelings.” He was right. In this “everybody is a winner” culture, you can’t point out that there are losers on the field. Because if you’re No. 1 then they are No. 2, and that’s unacceptable. There is another factor involved: the rules are different for different players in different sports.  You can pile up in a rugby scrum, or you can pile up on the pitcher’s mound after a big win in a delightful revel of celebration in baseball, but a raised finger is a NO-NO? You can drop to the floor and do pushups during a basketball game, but a gesture to the crowd by a track star is verboten. You can hurtle over the net and toss your racket into the air after winning a tennis match, but spiking the football will get you 15 yards. So, what’s the answer? 

Simple…save the celebrations until after the game is over. Also, someone has to remind the officials that their decisions affect lives for years to come, so use your God-given common sense. Don’t be stupid!

Now is the perfect time for celebrations, now that the season is over. Let’s celebrate Catoctin’s never give up “Little Football Team that Could,” who put a big scare into the only undefeated team in Frederick, and with one-point losses in their two final regular season games against top ranked teams, made believers out of all of us. How about celebrating the grit and determination of Catoctin’s boys’ soccer team or the girls’ soccer team, led by Nicole Andre, Natalie Hoys, and Molly Parsons? Don’t forget Catoctin field hockey, led by Anna Abruzese; Catoctin volleyball and Anna Belluomo; Catoctin lacrosse, led by Jameson Doll and Vince Reaver; Catoctin golf, led by Jordan Moore. Catoctin girls’ basketball ran all the way to the region finals, led by freshmen sensation Brooke Williams and sophomore point guard Taylor Smith.  Catoctin boys’ basketball went on a run with Robert Ruch Jr. and Colin Toms, led by Matthew Offutt. Catoctin boys’ baseball was sensational, led by Joey McMannis, Peyton Castellow, Connor Crum, and Joel Miller, battling all the way to the region final for the second year in a row after a state championship in 2021, the most recent addition to the Catoctin championship trophy case. And, finally, our Lady Cougars basketball team 1A Maryland State championship runners-up, with a story book season, led largely by a team full of sophomores. I’ll say it again: Now is the time to celebrate!

As a former coach, I was never a fan of in-game celebrations. My response to my players has always been, “Knock it off, act like you’ve been there.” There is nothing that gets under an opponent’s skin more than a calm, focused “that’s what we do because we’re Catoctin” swagger.  I’m throwing down the challenge to every Catoctin Cougars athlete and coach. How about you? Are you ready for some real Mountain Ball in September? The kind Fort Hill faced in November 2019 when they lost their first-ever road football playoff game right here in Thurmont?

To all my Catoctin Cougars friends: Have a great summer. You deserve it! 

Blair Garrett

After nearly two years without a consistent schedule, high school sports are officially back on track.

Catoctin High School athletes have had to navigate abridged seasons and restrictions, cutting down opportunities for student athletes to compete since the spring season of 2020. Some students have missed out on half of their high school athletic seasons due to the ongoing pandemic. And, with cold and flu season in full swing, the future remains uncertain.

For now, though, students finally have a consistent schedule to compete with other athletes around the region.

Regular seasons for popular winter sports like basketball, wrestling, and swimming have had fans itching to get back to normal. Even the playoff format once again follows the standard format from non-COVID years. 

“As of right now, everything is normal with regards to playoffs, Athletic Director Keith Bruck said. “It’s the same structure we’ve had pre-COVID with the region format and championship schedule, so hopefully that continues.”

Though students and fans have reason to be excited for winter sports, there are still regulations and precautions to be followed for everyone in attendance.

“This year for the fans, coaches, and everyone inside the gymnasium, they have to wear a mask,” Bruck said. “While the players are actively engaged in the sport, they don’t have to wear a mask.”

This is a big development from last season, where players for indoor sports like basketball were required to play masked throughout the duration of the game.

“When a kid is on the court for basketball, they don’t have to wear a mask, but when they come off the court, they’re expected to put a mask on,” Bruck said.

No matter how small the progress is to working toward normalcy, the goal is to keep taking the proper precautions seriously to allow students to continue pursuing athletics. Even if some of the rules are uncomfortable at times, it beats missing out on another season of high school sports.

The local support has been great through the first few weeks of winter sports, with fans making their voices heard from the stands. “Attendance has been about the same as it was in previous years,” Bruck said. “Folks are anxious to get back and see their favorite teams.”

With fans and players only getting to experience a glimpse of a normal season in 2020, this season’s athletes are excited for a chance to do it right. “We had a really short winter season last year, so I think folks want to get back to watching high school sports,” Bruck said.

Fans will have plenty of opportunities to catch Catoctin sports over the winter break, with wrestling and basketball tournaments highlighting the end of December. Both tournaments will allow students to showcase the hard work they have been putting in all year to prepare for their time to shine.

With the turning of the page into the new year, Track and Field and Swimming meets become a big deal for hundreds of athletes in the region. These events typically bring multiple schools together, so the continuation of group competitions is a hugely positive sign for the state of high school sports.

A particularly close-contact sport like wrestling having the green light to carry on is also encouraging. Prevention of COVID transmission between wrestlers seems almost impossible, but, fortunately, programs have had good luck this season avoiding any delays and shutdowns due to outbreaks.   

“We haven’t had to pause with any of our teams so far,” Bruck said. “We’ve had individual cases here and there, but we haven’t had to stop our teams from practicing or playing.”

It’s no secret that everyone wants the COVID nightmare behind us, and the athletes finally have something concrete to focus on as they push through their regular seasons toward playoffs. The opportunity to compete for a state title is something these athletes won’t take for granted.

You can catch Catoctin sports from the jump in 2022, with all games, meets, and matches listed on the Catoctin High School athletic calendar at

Blair Garrett

This Mount team has been through rough stretches before.

Head Coach Dan Engelstad preaches a defense-first game to his Mount St. Mary’s men’s basketball team. The defense feeds the offense, and for large portions of the season, the Mount has thrived on that mentality.

For as solid as the defense has been, the challenge for every quality team is playing and closing out full games with a shutdown defense and turning those stops into counterattacks.

The Mount’s game on February 15 against St. Francis epitomized that struggle for consistency.

The first half for Mount St. Mary’s was as clinical and efficient as they have looked all season. The defense was suffocating, and it played perfectly into the team’s stellar transition game.

St. Francis is one of the top teams in the Northeast Conference (NEC), and the Mount held them to just 20 points in the first half. Forward Nana Opoku’s tenacity in the paint shut down opportunities for St. Francis’ top scorers, and that energy fueled the offense in the first frame.

Mount St. Mary’s held a 15-point lead and looked as dominant as Engelstad strives for his team to be.

“We had a really good effort in the first half,” Engelstad said. “I thought our defense was in a good place once we started sprinting back and getting stops. We did a really good job of holding a good offensive team to 20 points.”

The momentum quickly shifted at halftime, though, and the scope of the game changed rapidly over the next 15 minutes.

St. Francis’ offense exploded, and the second and third chance opportunities that were shut down in the first half were suddenly available in the second frame.

“The second half was the tale of two teams,” Engelstad said. “We got comfortable, and they hurt us inside and outside. We’ve got to look inward. There are a lot of things we need to do better, that I need to do better.”

St. Francis outscored and out-rebounded the Mount drastically over the second half, pulling out a 15-point lead and closing out the game with a 70-55 victory over Mount St. Mary’s.

“We have to find a way to get stops,” Jalen Gibbs said. “It’s not going to be easy, and we know that. We just have to keep pushing.”

There is no easy fix for consistency, outside of putting the hours in practice day in and day out, but it’s not for lack of effort on the basketball court.

“We’ve been through tough stretches and come out with four wins in a row on the road,” Gibbs said. “We just need to lock into the details.”

With just a handful of games left in the season, it’s now or never for this Mount team. The talent is there, the effort is there, and the right attitude emanates through the locker room.

“This is the biggest part of our season. We still have a lot to play for,” Engelstad said. “We have a lot of work to do, but we still have a lot more basketball ahead of us.”

The Mount control their own fate, and despite the struggles as of late, the team’s in-conference record has them in the thick of it in competing for a long postseason. This team has faltered on its path before and come out stronger than ever, and there’s no reason they can’t replicate that to close out the regular season.

With its most important games still left to play, this Mount team now has the chance to execute to its potential and prove to everyone that this team isn’t going down without a fight.

Jalen Gibbs takes it to the hoop on the counterattack.

Blair Garrett

Basketball is a game of momentum.

After dominating the majority of the game and a last-minute comeback, Catoctin Boys Hoops steadied the ship to edge out Smithsburg, 67-63, on January 14. The team then kept pace with the region, taking out Clear Spring and Williamsport consecutively.

The Smithsburg win was hard-fought with a down-to-the-wire slugfest between two rivals.

The neck and neck contest saw both teams battling for control throughout much of the first half, with Catoctin holding a 26-23 lead over the Leopards. Head coach Brian Burdette lit a fire under his team to start the third quarter, and the Cougars never looked back.

“Coming off the game against Middletown, I knew we were going to come out a little flat to start,” Burdette said. “We regrouped and started to do the things we wanted to do offensively, and we were able to get clean looks at the basket to heat up and pull away a little bit.”

Rivalries always add a bit of spice to a game. With the home crowd roaring, the Cougars came out with winning energy and intensity in the second half.

Catoctin’s explosive third quarter was led by forward David Parker, whose rebounding prowess in the paint gave problems to Smithsburg throughout the game. Parker’s ability to extend plays let the team’s outside shooters flourish, pushing the Cougar lead to as much as 17. Catoctin held a 47-33 advantage in rebounds on the night.

Nailing three-pointers and scoring off the transition put the Cougars firmly into the driver’s seat. When Catoctin can find the open man and stretch out the defense, they are at their best. “When we move the ball, and we cut to get some open looks at the basket, we’re able to knock them down,” Burdette said.

A buzzer-beater to close out the third quarter saw Catoctin ahead 49-35, but the game was far from over. The contest evolved into a chess match, with both coaches wisely using timeouts to stifle the opposition’s momentum. Smithsburg is a team that has no quit, and momentum can change in the blink of an eye.

After holding a 17-point lead with six minutes left, a Smithsburg timeout gave the team life to rally back, putting the home team on its heels late in the game. With the clock winding down, the Leopards continued to pick up steam with defensive tenacity and quick-strike offense.

Smithsburg guard Morgan Hyman hit a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left, putting the Cougars dangerously close to losing their lead. Catoctin headed to the free-throw line with 4.6 on the clock and a two-point lead, and made no mistake, sinking both and putting the game out of reach.

The Cougars’ close call against Smithsburg came as no surprise to Burdette, who has taken notice of the Leopards’ ability to battle back late in games. “I watched the three other games this season, and they’ve come back,” he said. “They don’t give up, and they’re a scrappy ball club. I knew they were capable of doing that.”

With three wins in a row and another big win under their belt, the Cougars are quickly shaping up for the playoff season. While logging these early wins is ideal, the team attitude of always having something to improve on will carry them far.

“We’ve got to improve taking care of the ball in transition,” Burdette said.

When the team is firing on all cylinders, it is hard to beat. If the team continues to integrate its depth and facilitate the ball, there is no telling how far it can go.

Morgan Hyman (left) and Tommy Fitzpatrick (right) battle for possession.

Sara Wastler Lambert (pictured right) was inducted into the Hood College Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday, September 28, 2019. She is a 2005 graduate of Catoctin High School and a 2009 graduate of Hood College.

Sara was a two-sport athlete for all four of her Hood years, as a member of the softball and women’s basketball programs. She was named All-Region in softball in 2006, and helped lead the team to back-to-back Atlantic Women’s Colleges Conference Championships and appearances in the NCAA Regional. She holds Hood’s all-time record for hits, runs scored, stolen bases, and doubles. She ranks among the Blazers’ all-time leaders in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, games played, at bats, triples, home runs, and runs batted in.

On the basketball court, she helped Hood win the 2006 AWCC Championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. In basketball, she holds the Blazers’ career record for three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. Sara is among the all-time leaders in three-pointers made and assists.

She was the assistant girl’s basketball coach at Catoctin High School for seven years, and the head varsity softball coach at Middletown for two years.

Sara is in her eighth year of teaching, and in her fourth year of teaching physical education at Rockland Woods Elementary School in Washington County.

Blair Garrett

The Madness is underway, and while some of our brackets were devastated from day one, there are still a few of us who keep marching on. As upsets mount and top-seeded teams fall left and right, let’s take a look at the updated bracket after last week’s round one chaos.

The chances of picking a perfect bracket are almost a mathematical impossibility, but that doesn’t stop us from trying and failing every year. Picking the perfect bracket is so difficult, in fact, that nobody has ever done it, and there is a near guaranteed chance that nobody ever will.

The numbers are hard to quantify based on strength of teams and other variables, and strictly from a statistical stand point, the 64-team tournament has over 9.2 quintillion possible outcomes (one quintillion is one billion billions). That is several quintillion more than there are grains of sand on earth per

As one can imagine, with the nearly incalculable amount of bracket possibilities, March Madness fanatics barely scathe even a fraction of a percentage of all bracket outcomes each year. But just how crazy is the USA for college basketball’s most electric tournament? Estimates for 2019 exceed 70 million people will put their wallets and pride on the line for a tournament that is notorious for its upsets, high-octane pace, and electric finishes. So, to all who are participating in this year’s March Madness Bracket Challenge, best of luck. You’re going to need it.

*The Catoctin Banner’s Bracket challenge features locals from across the Catoctin Area, and the winning bracket will be featured in the May edition of The Catoctin Banner. Follow us on Facebook to make sure you don’t miss out on future challenges, and you could be featured in our next edition of The Catoctin Banner!