with Michael Betteridge
“How Do We Measure Success?”
What has been the most successful team in Catoctin Cougars’ history? Was it the 1986 football team, or that amazing 2009 football team, or the 2019 football team winning it all over again a decade later in Coach Doug Williams’ last game? Perhaps, it was the 2013-14 wrestling teams with three-time State champion Charlie Perella? Or, maybe it was the 2006 Lady Cougars basketball team, or what about 2021 or the 2022 Catoctin track team 1A champs threatening to repeat in 2023? How about the State Champion boys baseball team two years ago and their incredible five wins on the road, traveling over 500 miles by bus to win it all in Waldorf. Could one of them be the best ever? Wait a minute! Did all of those winners come from the smallest school in Frederick County: Catoctin High School? Amazing!
To find the answer, I browsed the MPSSAA record books, the official gatekeeper of all high school athletics in Maryland, to try and figure out which Cougars team excelled above the rest. I found incredible accomplishments by Catoctin teams, individuals, and their coaches. But, there was one major sport at Catoctin that seemed missing. This sport has one lone visit to the state tournament 42 years ago and no wins beyond the first round of regionals since then. It has one winning year, 2019-20, over the past 17 years. That team is the Catoctin boys basketball team. By record book standards, Catoctin boys basketball has been largely invisible. Although, sometimes the record books don’t reflect the real story.
Let’s back up for a minute and start with a more important question. What is success anyway? How is it determined? How is it measured? Over the past 20 years, we have seen a culture shift in youth sports and the way we measure success. It’s no longer about wins and losses, awards and trophies, or record books. It’s no longer about records or individual accomplishments.
I coached youth football in Fairfield for five years and then turned my whistle in for a Public Address system to become the stadium announcer for all the home games for the Fairfield Knights youth football games for the past two years. And over that period of time, I have been puzzled by a new common theme that is alien to my upbringing: “Everyone is a winner.” For example, at the conclusion of last year’s football season, Fairfield had an awards banquet and everyone got a trophy. It didn’t matter how many games you won or where you placed in the standings. Many of the young athletes received personal awards, too: most improved player, best team spirit, most positive attitude. Everyone was a winner! As a matter of fact, the leadership was so committed to this mindset, they even gave me an award for announcing the games. A nice gift card for dinner at a fancy restaurant. That made up for all the missed dinners with my wife on Saturday evenings last fall.
I have heard both sides of the argument about rewarding athletes. The old timers like myself don’t believe everyone should get a trophy. We say: “LIFE is about winning and losing.” “You’ll never be a real winner until you’ve tasted the sting of losing.”
I subscribe to the old mantra of former Redskins football head coach, George Allen: “Every time you lose, you die a little inside.” But the “new guard” seeks a kinder, gentler approach of empowerment, recognition, and validation. You hear words like “inclusiveness” and “diversity.” Everything is affirming and supportive. My guess is probably both sides are right. But, there is something else that lies just beneath the surface of awards and records. That something else is commitment.
What keeps a young athlete competing when their team isn’t successful by regular standards? What motivates them on a cold, dreary morning to get out of bed and head to the gym to train when their team has a losing record or got stomped the previous week? Certainly not that plastic trophy that everybody gets. Why do they keep playing when everything around them comes crashing down on and off the field or court?
We don’t have to go far to answer those questions. This can be accomplished by sharing the example of one Catoctin Cougars boys basketball player: Patrick Morlan. Patrick is in his junior year at Catoctin High School and plays forward for the Cougars boys basketball team.
Patrick’s dad, Battalion Chief Chris Morlan, died from respiratory failure two days before Christmas in 2021 while Patrick was in his sophomore year. Patrick told me that his dad was sick for about a month. At first, he was sure he would be okay, but then complications from an old firefighting injury set in, and his dad’s condition quickly deteriorated.
Patrick’s basketball career started in third grade. When I asked him who inspired him to play basketball, he immediately said: “My father.” Patrick’s father coached his youth basketball team from fifth grade to eighth grade, in spite of the fact that his father never played high school basketball. Patrick said that his father treated him just like the other kids but expected more from him on the court and off. Every night, Patrick would lie in bed watching the NBA network and dreaming of being a hero like his father. Patrick was cut from tryouts for JV basketball his freshmen year, but his dad wouldn’t let him quit. His dad became sick right around the time that basketball was gearing up for the 2021-22 season, Patrick’s sophomore year, and Patrick wasn’t sure that he wanted to try out again, but his dad urged him to give it another shot.
Batallion Chief Morlan wasn’t just any regular kind of firefighter. He was a quiet hero. When Patrick was very young, his dad was severely injured when he fell through a roof rescuing his best friend and ended up in the hospital. Patrick visited his dad in another incident several years later in the hospital when his dad rescued two small children from a burning bedroom and ended up in the hospital with a collapsed lung. Patrick remembered that visit to the hospital well. It’s no wonder that Patrick’s role model, hero, and inspiration was his amazing father.
Patrick was no stranger to visiting his dad in the hospital, but when Chris Morlan was admitted in 2021 with COVID, visitation was not allowed. Patrick had to call his dad on the phone. As Chris’ condition worsened, Patrick would receive texts from his dad, periodically. Then, four days before he passed, Patrick received the last text encouraging him to never give up and pushing him to be all that he can be. Most kids would have given up, but Patrick couldn’t. It wasn’t in his DNA. Patrick pressed harder and dedicated his life to his father’s memory and legacy. He was a Catoctin Cougars basketball player.
So, circling back to the question of what keeps a student-athlete going and what is the measure of success, Patrick’s dedication to honor his father is the very definition of success. For him, the question was “How could he not keep going?” Patrick summed it up for me in a way I never expected. When I asked him, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” His response gave me a lump in my throat. “I want to be just like my dad,” Patrick said. I think Patrick has grown up way beyond anything that we can understand or imagine for a 16-year-old.
Batallion Chief Chris Morlan’s leadership and sacrifice is the answer to my question.