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Sports Talks with Michael Betterridge

Every year, at the beginning of every sports season—fall, winter, and spring—I find that I always have a pre-conceived narrative developed in my head about how the season will turn out before it even starts. And I am certain that the narrative will come to fruition simply because I love my Catoctin Cougars, and that kind of selfless and righteous loyalty and devotion must always be rewarded with success…in a fair world.

I envision a Cougars football team that blows through the opposition to a Cinderella state championship, like in a blizzard in 2009 or Doug Williams holding the championship trophy aloft in his final game in 2019. I dream of another repeat 2022 girls’ basketball team with freshmen Brooke Williams and sophomore Taylor Smith churning through the 1A, this time to win a State 1A championship. I dream of another carnival-like ride from Smithsburg to Bel Air and Deep Creek Lake to Waldorf in 2021, when we put 500 miles on the Cool Oldies 1450 radio wagon to win a state baseball championship against St. Michaels at Regency Furniture Stadium. It’s “poetry in motion” for dreamers like me.

But reality is the constant reminder that the world isn’t fair, and it levels the playing field for everyone.

At the end of the football season, our Catoctin Cougars football team led us down that primrose path to victory on the road in the playoffs, following a tough regular season to Loch Raven and then Patterson Mill. Could this be the year? And, then, Mountain Ridge ended the dream in Frostburg three days before Thanksgiving! There was nothing thankful about that resounding defeat that ended their season.

So, it was on to basketball. As they say, boys will be boys; and so it was with our boys’ basketball team, who play hard, but lose often.

The girls won out to Christmas, six wins in a row! Then, they ran into eventual 4A Maryland State Champion Clarksburg, who handed them their first defeat during the Christmas week tournament at Hood College. If you are going to lose, do it to the state champion of one of the largest schools in Maryland! And, then, 10 wins in a row to face a really good Linganore team for only their second loss of the season. A win at Middletown, and then a loss at Mountain Ridge, and there they were, positioned as the #2 seed in the 1A for a big run to College Park for the second time in three years.

They started the state tournament quarterfinals after six wins in a row against the No. 7 seed, Surrattsville. At 22:17 of the game, our announcers observed that Taylor Smith twisted her ankle. Taylor got up during the injury timeout and walked off the injury. We breathed a sigh of relief. They took her to the bench and checked her out as a safeguard. After the initial shock of the injury subsided, and Taylor relaxed on the bench, the trainer brought Taylor over to the area behind the bleachers to see how she was doing and to examine the injury more closely. We all thought it was an ankle injury, but when we saw the trainer examine Taylor, we realized this was a knee, not an ankle. As we watched, the trainer had Taylor do some deep knee bends and then jump. Taylor’s knee completely gave out on the jump and she sank to the ground in serious pain. And, we knew, this was not good. Sitting immediately to the left of my position at the broadcast table at courtside was Taylor’s softball coach, Jess Valentine. She saw the collapse, and I heard a gasp from Coach Jess in horror. She began to realize that the most valuable player on the 2024 Catoctin girls’ softball team, who had played to within one run of a state championship last year, had just experienced a potentially devastating year-ending knee injury. The narrative had taken a turn that was as far from our dreams as we could ever imagine.  Taylor had torn her ACL. I remember the eerie sound in the gym that night.  You could have heard a pin drop when Taylor collapsed on the floor in pain.  Coach Burdette, Coach Little, and I looked at each other at the broadcast table and our hearts sank. The basketball team lost its quarterback, and the softball team that was destined for a repeat state championship would soon be without its starting pitcher and one of its best hitters before it had even begun. The worst realization for all of us was that as the Lady Cougars destroyed Surrattsville, 55-18, in that pivotal game, they could have easily done it without Taylor, who would not have been injured. But, then, who knew?

The Lady Cougars basketball team lost in the next round to South Carroll, even though the team, without Taylor, played their hearts out. Taylor sat on the bench, along with her crutches, cheering her teammates on at Thomas Johnson High School in the 1A state semifinals.

It was such a devastating loss to our broadcast team, personally, that for the first time in 10 years, we did not go to College Park for the finals, even though the Oakdale girls and the Frederick boys were playing for championships. 

Congratulations to the Frederick boys on a MD 4A basketball State Championship, the lone Frederick County team to bring home a trophy from College Park this year. 

Year after year, we follow every Frederick County team to the state championships. This year, we would have broadcast the Oakdale girls in the 3A and the Frederick boys in the 4A, but we just didn’t have any desire to go there without our Lady Cougars after what happened to Taylor.

I guess, in retrospect, success is hollow without overcoming disappointments, and that’s why we play the games. They tell the stories of real life and not my fairy-tale sports dreams.

Taylor, we love you. Your heart, toughness, athleticism, and competitive spirit represent our hopes that spring eternal. I think I can speak for the entire community when I say that we are all praying for a quick and complete recovery. 

That was why it got so quiet in the gym that night…we were all praying for you!