Currently viewing the tag: "Sports Talk"

with Michael Betteridge

Memo to Catoctin Athletics: Do NOT schedule any baseball or softball games at Boonsboro next year!

Last year, two remarkable Catoctin teams—baseball and softball—rode the bus all the way down to the tiny little town founded by Daniel Boone’s cousin, William Boone. That little Washington County town of Boonsboro was the scene of two historic battles during the Civil War: The Battle of South Mountain in 1862 and the Confederate retreat from Gettysburg a year later.

Catoctin baseball strutted into Boonsboro, riding a 13-game win streak last year, while their Lady Cougar’s compatriots just 200 yards away faced Boonsboro on the softball diamond, riding an equally impressive 6-game streak on their way eventually to the 1A State Championship. After the dust settled, both teams experienced unexplainable defeats at the hands of Boonsboro. Was that a peculiar twist of events? One would think so.  Both teams had beaten Boonsboro at home. Should we just chalk it up to a coincidence or bad juju? Maybe the bus driver made a wrong turn and went through Burkittsville on their way to Boonsboro. All of that would have been easily dismissed were it not for last month’s 2024 return visit to Boonsboro. This time, our guy and gal Cougars were not so cocky. There was no swagger or boasting on the bus. But, the results were the same. The Lady Cougars were pounded 11-1 in a five-inning mercy rule game, and the guys went down 5-2 against what many believed was an inferior team.  Both baseball teams are hovering right around .500, but Catoctin has faced much better competition than Boonsboro. On paper, they are better.  But, once again, the Catoctin baseball and softball teams had a quiet ride home on the team bus.

How can this be? Maybe, it’s the crowd or their fields at Boonsboro.  Maybe, it was that terrible music they were playing from the announcer’s table. I mean, who plays John Fogerty, Johnny Cash, and Allanah Morrisette all in the same break?

Like the Confederates did in 1863, Catoctin should blow the retreat bugle now before they even look at a return to Boonsboro next year. Or, maybe they should bring the Boonsboro Warriors a better mix tape for their games?

If you subtract that trip to Boonsboro from the season, things are looking pretty good. The boys have a good pitching rotation going with Worth, Watkins, Koenig, and Morlan. They come at you from a bunch of different angles. Green, Shipton, Grable, and Bell all have hot bats, and how about that Urbana game?  Facing the team they tied last year for the CMC baseball championship and the #1 team in the county this year, they were down 7-3 for most of the game. In the bottom of the 7th inning, the Cougars rallied at 2 outs with consecutive hits from Grable, Bell, Morlan, and Ferrell. Castellow drove in the winning run 8-7, with a clutch blooper past the mound that he beat out at first. The biggest win so far this year for our baseball team! Watkins struggled against Urbana for four innings, giving up 7 runs. But Urbana is one of the best-hitting teams in the county, that shakes up pitchers with lightning-quick runners who can steal bases at will. Three of Urbana’s runs came off overthrows on runner steals, alone. Catoctin showed real guts, grit, and determination in that game. This is a team that won’t quit, no matter what.

The Lady Cougars softball team chemistry was completely altered with the loss of ace pitcher Taylor Smith.  Taylor isn’t just missed in the circle but at the plate, too. Coach Valentine adjusted the pitching rotation with Aubrey Courtney and Kassidy Kreitz in the circle. And just like their baseball counterparts, the Lady Cougars faced their CMC softball championship rivals from 2023, the Urbana Hawks, once again, back in mid-April. They dispatched the Lady Hawks easily, 10-0 in 5 innings. 

Without Taylor Smith’s dominating pitching, they no longer have the luxury of holding opponents to 2 or 3 runs. Taylor had a smokin’ rise ball that was unhittable. Now, they must rely on run production, and that is exactly what they have been doing. In their first four games of the season, they outscored opponents 56-11. That’s an average of 14 runs per game! Bralyn West is leading the county in hitting, batting .684.  Kassidy Kreitz is leading Frederick County in home runs and RBIs.  Kassidy is a double threat, hitting and pitching. She has an ERA of .51 and averages 10 strikeouts per game.  Abigail Shives and Raegan Miller are right behind her, batting in the 500s. And what can I say about Meghan Gray, the senior and University of Maryland-bound catcher for the Lady Cougars? She has stepped in to continue as a leader of this team and fill the void in the absence of her co-captain, friend, and teammate. My advice is that we erase Boonsboro from our memories and just think of it as an annual bad dream, at least for now. Oh, but I forgot, there is a strong possibility our baseball and softball teams could end up back at Boonsboro in the playoffs. That playoff journey begins on Thursday, May 9. Don’t worry… I’ll talk to the bus driver personally.

with Michael Betteridge

March is always depicted as such an angry month. After all, March is actually named after the god of war: Mars. This came from the Roman calendar, and modern historians know that because their military campaigns began in March. The original pre-Julian calendar didn’t even bother to name the winter months. They were treated as throwaways. At the conclusion of the unnamed months, a named month was needed to reflect the transition from winter to preparing to go to war. March was originally the first month of the year. 

Modern society follows the spirit of the ancient traditions. We have March Madness and references to March being a “Lion” and “mad as a March Hare” and “beware the Ides of March.” It is even tempting to look at the actual meaning of the word for this month as a command to action…March! The central theme being: March madness is really a part of human DNA.

Has March gotten a bad rap? I don’t think so. It can snow 10 inches in one week, and then be sunny and in the 60s the next week. That happened just five years ago. On March 8, 2019, the daytime high was 37 degrees and it was snowing. On March 11, the daytime high was 61 and it was sunny.  March can bring raging wind, sleet, and ice, as well as warm sunshine, budding flowers, and birds chirping, all in the same month, even days apart.

We mark March as a time of transition: “In like a lion and out like a lamb.” We transition our clocks to daylight savings time in March.  March symbolizes the shedding of old habits and a path for new beginnings.  Just as the Earth shakes off the shackles of winter madness, we are encouraged to embrace the sanity of spring.

Sports have always been a great metaphor for life. Who would ever come up with the term: “May Madness”? It just doesn’t work. 

The term “March Madness” is not new. It is 85 years old. The term originated in 1939, when high school teacher Henry Porter referred in a sports column to an eight-game high school playoff basketball tournament by saying the following: “A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.” That’s right! March Madness started in high school basketball! It wasn’t until 1982 that famed CBS broadcaster Brent Musburger claimed he borrowed the term from an automobile commercial while broadcasting a high school basketball game.

Musburger brought the term over to college ball when he went to work for CBS, and it stuck. Can you imagine Brent Musburger sitting in the Catoctin gym, broadcasting Cougars basketball on WTHU? Well, that’s where Musburger got his start, in a high school gym in Illinois.  Who knows? Maybe you could be watching the next Musburger at Catoctin 10 to 20 years from now. For certain, not yours truly, but have you listened to our newest WTHU sports announcer Ryan Piers? He is “future star” good!

March Madness is now everywhere, especially here in our area. The governing state body for high school athletics, the MPSSAA, expanded girls’ and boys’ high school basketball to include all schools, big and small, regardless of their season record. They created an “NCAA” bracket of schools in the 1A, 2A, 3A, and 4A divisions. That means 388 boys’ and girls’ high school basketball teams will compete in our own March Madness, which will end with 16 teams playing at the Xfinity Center on the campus of the University of Maryland on March 15 and 16 for a state championship!

For your own little bracket pool, let me help you with a little advance forecast of who to watch in the tournament. In the 4A Boys, Frederick, Urbana, and TJ are at the top. In the Girls 4A, the Frederick lady Cadets are back! In the Girls 3A, Oakdale and Linganore are the teams to watch. The Boys 3A are struggling with Oakdale right around .500. The 2A Boys team to watch is the Walkersville Lions. Coach Mathis has them primed and ready to make another run to College Park. Don’t forget about the Middletown boys and their incredible undefeated run through midseason. Speaking of Middletown, watch out for the Lady Knights in the tournament and keep an eye on Williamsport. They love to play the spoiler. Coach Murphy always surprises.

And, now, our own bracket of madness: the 1A Boys and Girls Basketball tournament is always a nail-biter.

Once again, Coach Amy has our Lady Cougars poised at the top. This will not be an easy postseason for the Lady Cougars, who will almost certainly have to work their way through Smithsburg, Mountainridge, and Southern to make it back to College Park.

The boys have it easy.  No pressure. They are sitting toward the bottom of their bracket, and any postseason victories the team and Coach Zach can secure will be a win for the program. They are much improved this year.

No matter what your opinions on March, there is always one thing you can count on: madness. And, don’t forget, the softball and baseball seasons begin in March. I hope I have convinced you. March deserves every depiction it receives, good and bad. 

Hang in there. It’s all about the ride.

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! 

with Michael Betteridge

What Are They Putting In the Food at Catoctin High School?

Whatever they are feeding those kids up in Thurmont, it’s working. Two out of the four spring sports teams at Catoctin (baseball, softball, lacrosse, and tennis) are in first place, and the third team of the four, boy’s lacrosse, is in third place. All that from the smallest school in Frederick County!

The Catoctin baseball team is #1 in Frederick County and undefeated up until mid-April; the Catoctin softball team just knocked the undefeated Walkersville team out of first place in the county, with a tense 1-0 nail-biting win. The Catoctin Lady Cougars are now no.1 in Frederick County softball. The Lady Cougars will face Walkersville again at Walkersville on May 1. If you can, you probably want to make it over to Walkersville for that one.

The softball team’s average grade level is 10th grade, with two freshmen, five sophomores, and two junior starters. The team is batting .323 with a 41 percent on-base average. That means that one out of three times at the plate, they get a hit, and slightly less than half of their plate appearances produce runners on the bases. Top level college softball teams would be jealous of those stats.

And this is just the beginning! With the average age of this softball team not even in its prime yet, you can expect big things in Thurmont for the next three years under Coach Jessica Valentine who is in her 14th season at Catoctin.

Coach Valentine brought a winning tradition and legacy to this team as a former player who graduated in 2002. Coach Valentine went on to play college softball for Mars Hill University, just north of beautiful Asheville, North Carolina. One of the ways she has promoted the amazing Cougars’ legacy is with the “Wall of Fame” on the back of the Cougars softball dugout. Former players’ names and handprints are stenciled onto the concrete during homecoming. When this season’s players arrive at the field, the first thing they see are the names of winners from the recent past, like Courtney Eyler, Ashley Mayton, and Reagan Smith. They dream of some day having their name written on that sacred space. 

The Lady Cougars are an amazing softball team. Everyone on the team contributes, all the way down the roster, top to bottom. Whether its Catcher Megan Gray making backwards-diving foul ball catches at the backstop for the out, or the red-hot Taylor Smith throwing 70+mph underhand fastballs from the pitching mound, these Cougars are talented and deep. In the outfield, Maddie Ohler snags fly balls at the fence backhanded, looking over her shoulder, and then steps up to the plate and wallops a two-run homer over the fence in right center. She is joined by teammates Julie West in left field and McKenzie Lewis in right who routinely rob hitters of base hits in the outfield. At the plate, patience is a virtue, especially for third baseman Aubrie Courtney, who consistently takes opposing pitchers deep into the count to combine with her teammates for a league high 24 walks already this season. 

The infield tandem of Mazaleski at second and Reagan Smith at first base handle a lot of hot grounders, with right-handed batters swinging behind Smith’s blistering fast balls.  Over at shortstop, Kassidy Kreitz, with her cat-like reflexes, doesn’t let much get by her, and she is one of the most consistent base runners on the team. 

Meisner, Brawner, and Owens come in to relieve teammates as pinch runners and, in the field, to give the defensive starters a rest.

Just to give you some perspective on this young team: They have put up 79 runs in eight games, averaging almost 10 runs per game while only giving up 8 runs….only 1 run per game by the opposing team. That’s a 10-1 average per game.

Whatever they are feeding those kids, I’m going to invite myself to dinner because I need some of what they’ve got! Since I seem to be on a food thing, and with Cinco de Mayo just around the corner, I’ll wrap it up this way: THIS TEAM IS THE WHOLE ENCHILADA!

with Michael Betteridge

There Is Something Special Happening on Sabillasville Road

It’s not like Catoctin Baseball Coach Mike Franklin has never been mentioned here on these pages before. Coach Franklin is in his 24th season coaching Catoctin baseball. He was honored here in the Banner as Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year in 2017. His teaching peers honored him in 2019 as Frederick County “Teacher of the Year.” He has two state baseball championships in the display case, one in 2013 and another in 2021.

Coach Franklin finished his baseball career as a player at Salisbury State. He began substitute teaching at Frederick High School in the mid-90s, where he met his mentor, Frederick baseball coach Frank Rhodes. Franklin joined Coach Rhodes’ staff as an assistant. His first year coaching, the Cadets made it all the way to the State championship, an experience that would give him an appetite for winning.

There is no way to begin talking about Catoctin Cougars baseball without laying out the very foundation of the program, Coach Franklin. His smile and his attitude are infectious. He elevates his players. One of his former pitchers, Mason Albright, made it all the way from a humble start on the Sabillasville Road practice field to the “Big Leagues,” where he received the largest signing bonus ever for a 12th-round Major League Baseball draft pick with the Los Angeles Angels: $1.25 million dollars in 2021 at age 18.

Good coaching builds for the future and that’s why good coaches seem to enjoy success over and over again. And that is what is unfolding in 2023 for the Catoctin Cougars baseball team. History is repeating itself, going all the way back to 1996.

Coach Franklin’s teams always produce great pitching. Sophomore pitcher Joey McMannis pitched this team to a 2021 state championship, and he will take the mound this season as an experienced senior, with 20-30 Major League teams interested in him and a fastball above 90 mph. McMannis was an integral part of that incredible “Cindarella” story two years ago.  They finished the 2021 regular season as the No. 4 seed in the 1A West and traveled to Clear Spring to face the No. 1 Blazers, whom they defeated.  Then, back on the road again, after winning the regional title at Clear Spring, still an underdog, they make the short trip over the mountain to Smithsburg for another amazing win! But now the short trips were over. They had to pack up the team bus and head all the way across the state to Bel Air to face a powerful Patterson Mill team. Once again, they pulled off the impossible upset.  If that weren’t enough, now they had to come home, regroup, pack and travel 130 miles to McHenry to face Northern Garrett, the No. 1 seed in the 1A. That afternoon when they arrived, the playing field was surrounded by a 20-foot-high chain link fence. Cougars fans who had made the difficult drive had to peer through the chains in the fence to see the game. It was a very uninviting venue for baseball. It was more like a ball field for the county jail. There was a cold, swirling wind blowing off Deep Creek Lake across the playing field, and it felt like March, not June. But, once again, the Cougars pulled off the impossible, crushing Northern 13-5 on a rally off the bat of Joey McMannis, who boomed a two-run shot over the massive fence, deep into left center. On the road again, their last game was equally far, but the excitement and anticipation were different this time. They were so excited and pumped up that the trip seemed like minutes rather than hours as the bus pulled up to the beautiful Regency Stadium in Waldorf, where they captured the 2021 Maryland 1A State baseball title!

All in all, the Cougars pulled off the impossible, with a grueling 500 miles of travel over the course of 10 days, producing five underdog wins to bring the trophy home to Thurmont for the second time in Coach Franklin’s tenure.

One of my favorite side stories involving that championship game began with a phone call from some avid Cougars fans who offered to pay the outrageous $300 live stream fee that the state charges businesses for permission to broadcast the video. WTHU had been providing video throughout the no-fee regular season and these fans were willing to cover the state’s playoff fee, just so they could watch the game from their lawn chairs on a big screen TV in Ocean City. Vacations don’t stop real fans from seeing their favorite team play in the big game. During the game, they posted pictures all over Facebook of the tailgate and game parties and what a blast they had. That game is still on the WTHU YouTube page, with 390 views!

Last year was a very successful year, but unfortunately, the Cougars ran into a familiar face early in the playoffs, the Clear Spring Blazers.  This is how rivalries are formed.  Remember in 2021, Catoctin knocked Clear Spring out of the playoffs early on their own field and went on to win it all. Well, in 2022, Clear Spring returned the favor by knocking Catoctin out of the playoffs in Thurmont. The Blazers went on to Waldorf, just like Catoctin had, and brought the 1A trophy home. Hey, if you are going to lose, it makes it easier when you lose to someone in your division (1A West) who goes on to win it all. Somehow, it takes the sting out of the loss when you lose to the eventual state champion, at least it did for all of us looking for “silver linings.” I am not good at predictions, but here is one I’ll make with confidence: Catoctin will play Clear Spring in the playoffs and the winner will go deep into the playoffs this year.

So, here we are in 2023! This team couldn’t look better! They have arguably one of the deepest pitching rotations in Frederick County, with two ace pitchers in McMannis and Castelow. Speaking of the Castelows, this team features two Castelow brothers who are tough, baseball-savvy kids who have both come back from substantial injuries last year. The brothers, Peyton and Keiten, are 100 percent ready and anxious to get back on the field. They have a great defense and don’t forget their offense. This is the team that invented “Mountain Ball,” also known as “death by a thousand cuts.” 

Of course, coaching, as I mentioned earlier, is also a team strength. This group of assistant coaches is very special. Led by Tyler Ausherman, Will Delawter, Nick Huff, William Warram, and Ken Mcivor, I had a chance to catch up with Coach Delawter recently. Will played for Catoctin and Coach Franklin in 2004. Like Coach Franklin, Will had a passion for teaching, too. After graduating from college, Will Delawter took his first assignment teaching in the Washington County school system, but it was way too far to drive to teach and coach at Catoctin. So, when he landed his dream job at Whittier Elementary in Frederick seven years ago teaching fifth grade, he contacted Coach Franklin and was immediately brought on to the Cougars team. Coach Delawter coaches outfield and hitting, and at games, you’ll see him parked on the first base line. His job as the first base coach is a sort of traffic cop for base runners.

Coach Delawter is married with two boys: seven-year-old Liam, and three-year-old Max, who was born in February 2020 and diagnosed with Downs Syndrome. I asked him what was the secret to his success, wearing four hats in one day: teacher; coaching in two leagues, Little League and High School; and father, and his simple answer was “time management” and the ability to shift gears from one role to the next. When I asked him what challenges he faced raising Max, Will said: “Max is such a joyful young boy and his enthusiasm and energy are infectious. He’s always in the middle of everything, fist bumping and encouraging us and making us smile all the time. He doesn’t challenge us, he makes us better.”

Catoctin has eight home games on the schedule this season. It’s not just baseball. It is fun! From the campy “Curtain Call” medallion given at home plate to the player who hits a home run to the silly stuffed dog in the baseball helmet mascot that goes everywhere with his guys, this team knows how to have fun and win! 

If you really want to see some exciting high school baseball and be a part it, come on over to Catoctin High School to check out this Cougars baseball team! And if you can’t make it to the games, there is always the audiovault archive of the games. Just click on the high school baseball tab.

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.