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A New Year

with Michael Betteridge

Traditionally, the start of a new year signals a time for reflections, resolutions, and predictions. Let’s take some time to do that together.

Looking back at the 2023 high school sports year, we have many reasons to smile. 

Our Catoctin Lady Cougars basketball team was amazing in March 2023. They finished the season as the No. 1 seed in their region and went on to lose a heartbreaker in the playoffs to underdog Boonsboro.

Our Catoctin baseball team finished the season with 18 wins and 2 losses, one a jaw-dropper at Boonsboro and the other in the playoffs to the eventual Maryland State 1A Champion, Clear Spring Blazers, for the second year in a row. The Cougars were also declared baseball co-champions in the CMC with Urbana in a rather unusual game played at FCC that ran out of daylight.

Catoctin Lady Cougars softball battled all the way to the 1A Maryland State Championship, where they played their hearts out in a hard-to-describe 1-0 loss.

In a rather odd footnote, both Catoctin baseball and softball lost on the same day at Boonsboro, within shouting distance of each other. Both Boonsboro teams pulled off one of the few defeats of Catoctin that year on the same day at Boonsboro. We might want to reconsider that scheduling this year. And to add insult to injury, Boonsboro knocked our Lady Cougars basketball team out of the playoffs when they were almost certainly headed for another state championship repeat visit. We’ll call it the curse of Boonsboro for now.

Our Catoctin football team struggled this year. Fifth in their division, they lost their starting quarterback to injury toward the end of the regular season. But that seemed to give them a bit of a chip on their shoulders, and they plowed through playoff divisional opponents as the underdog on the road all the way into the state quarterfinals. That is a pretty respectable show of guts and determination for a team that many critics had written off as the playoffs began.

Catoctin boys lacrosse finished 9-3, and the girls lacrosse finished second seed in the 1A region two. Shoutouts to Brody Buffington who made it a very interesting year indeed, both on and off the track; to Furious Trammel who had a great season, and an even better postseason; and to Jenna Conley who finished the Maryland State Girls Track Championship in the 800, 1600, and 3200 meter runs. Catoctin cross country finished fourth in the 1A West championship! Catoctin field hockey made it all the way to round two of the playoffs. Shoutout to Catoctin Cougars golf leader, Jordan Moore, who finished the year with a 146 in a two-day combined state championship total. Catoctin boys and girls soccer made it into round two in the playoffs.  Both teams had a great regular season.

That’s our look back. Now it’s time to talk about resolutions. I resolve that I am terrible at New Year’s resolutions. Like most people, I start the year off with some amazing aspirations. Every year, I resolve to lose weight, to read more, and to spend more time with my family. By March or April, I pat myself on the back for achieving such great goals and staying on track, but then I begin to drift back into the routine that created them in the first place. I will share a tool I have used for many years that I find very helpful with personal planning for the new year.  It was created by Zig Ziglar, and it’s called the Wheel of Life. Google it and print out the wheel, which helps you plan personal, physical, family, career, spiritual, and financial goals. Just rate yourself on his wheel and set some goals and objectives for the year. It’s fun and personally challenging.

Now the final part of our New Year’s journey together: predictions!  Here’s my first prediction for the New Year: If Catoctin can avoid the Boonsboro curse, the Lady Cougars basketball team will play in the 2024 Maryland State championship for the second time in three years in March. Brooke Williams, only a sophomore, will lead the 1A in scoring and rebounding. Taylor Smith and Kelsey Troxell are the heart and soul of this team’s spirit. Kylie Perhach, Harley Fitzpatrick, Sam Orndoff, Grace Williams, and Beka Zentz are amazing off the bench. Coach Amy Entwistle has built something special over there on Sabillasville Road. And, if you haven’t seen the JV team play, make it a point to do so! I can’t wait to see those girls on varsity. These are some athletic ninth and tenth graders.

Catoctin baseball lost senior Joey McMannis to the University of Maryland, but only two other seniors graduated. Pay close attention to this year’s pitching tandem led by senior Logan Malachowski, and my prediction that they will beat Clear Spring this year. Two years in a row is enough.

Catoctin softball will feature Virginia-bound Taylor Smith on the mound again, with only two seniors graduating from last year’s championship team. I predict another trip to the finals at the University of Maryland softball stadium. That may be the best bet for the 2023-24 high school sports season.

One final prediction: I predict Deb Spalding will have a blast in Arizona and enjoy all the great things to see and do. It is one of my favorite states from the Kaibab to Organ Pipe. I want to thank Deb Spalding for her support and leadership through 2023. She supported me when I took on the task of writing this column in 2022, and I am truly grateful for her trust and wish her all the best as she moves to the next challenge in her life. Thanks, Deb!

with Michael Betteridge

Prediction: Christmas Will Come Early This Year

Here in December, many of us are out shopping for Christmas gifts for our loved ones. Flush with the delicious smells of the Thanksgiving kitchen and basking in the glow of tryptophans, we pull out the wrapping paper, ribbons and bows and we start wrapping the special presents first.

For Frederick County football fans, we’ve selected the gift, chosen the paper and now we’re looking for the right ribbon to finish that perfect gift. Heading into the first round of the Maryland State football quarterfinal tournament, the gift has been selected.  We see a historic presence emerge from our region. With only ten high schools in Frederick County, seven of them are in the tournament, now that’s some special wrapping paper. Granted three of those teams are there because of the new 4A/3A and 2A/1A divisions, but it’s still one for the record books.

Our own hometown Catoctin Cougars tie a ribbon around an amazing run through two higher seeded teams on the road in an improbable story of injury, disappointment and last second victory. Their season ended in the quarterfinal in Frostburg, but what a Cinderella story. Fifth in their division, only three wins on the season, they pull off back-to-back stunners. They beat Loch Raven at their house and then they traveled ninety-one miles – all the way over to Patterson Mill – to pull out a last-second-win on a nifty Shaymus Stull quarterback sneak to stun the Huskies. Ask wide receiver Logan Malachowski how it felt to go there in 2021 and beat them on their own baseball field as the underdogs and then to do it again in 2023 wearing a football jersey. Patterson Mill wants nothing to do with the Catoctin Cougars for quite some time. 

The Cougars are certainly in good company with their Frederick County neighbors: Walkersville, Oakdale, Linganore, Frederick, Middletown and Urbana made the playoffs too.  I think we can all say that Frederick County football has arrived as a predominant force in Maryland high school sports. Montgomery County has thirty (30) high schools and five (5) in the playoffs. Prince Georges County has four (4) schools in the playoffs out of twenty-four (24). Baltimore City has thirty-seven (37) high schools with four (4) schools in the playoffs. Our only true rival is Allegany County with three (3) out of three (3) schools in the playoffs, but they are all in the 1A up against Catoctin. No wonder it’s so hard to win a football championship in the 1A for Catoctin and Brunswick.  They have to face those big, corn-fed mountain boys with nothing to do up north but play football all year. The road to Annapolis in the 1A always goes through Western Maryland. Is that incredible? Frederick County, one of the smallest counties in the number of high schools has 7 out of 10 schools playing in a Maryland State football quarterfinal!

What is the most precious Christmas gift you ever received? Can you remember way back to when you bolted down the stairs Christmas morning and began tearing through the wrapping paper and boxes? Then, in the corner of the room leaning next to the tree, you saw it! You felt a lump in your throat. Could it be? Are my dreams and prayers about to come true? You began to tear open the paper exposing the box and YES! there it was. The lettering on the box gave it away. A Sears Silvertone electric guitar with an amplifier built right into the case! I was fourteen years old and I was certain that this was the beginning of my career as a rockstar guitarist. Alongside the case was a brown and black velour turtleneck long sleeved shirt. I still have that picture of myself standing there next to the Christmas tree looking like I was a part of the British Invasion right down to the braces on my teeth, smiling and ready to form my own eighth grade rock band.

Frederick County high school football fans feel about this postseason the same way I felt about my first electric guitar – ecstatic! Because, we are almost guaranteed, after a four-year drought, Frederick County is bringing home a trophy. Last year, we had only one team in the State championship: Oakdale and they lost to the dreaded Damascus Hornets. Linganore lost the championship in 2021. No football in 2020. Catoctin and Middletown won the 1A and 2A in 2019. Four long miserable years with only two teams in State and they both lost.

Here’s why I compare this football season to the most incredible Christmas present you ever received. It’s almost 100% certain that Linganore and Oakdale will meet in the 3A State football championship. Can you imagine what the stands at the Naval Academy will look like filled with Hawks and Lancer fans? Neighbors will look across the field at each other. They will meet at the snack bar. Some will wear black, some will wear red. And if Walkersville can make it past a powerful Huntingtown team, we will have three Frederick County teams vying for two Maryland State championships in the 2A and the 3A just like 2019! Wow, Frederick County football is for real.

Christmas just might come three weeks early this year!

with Michael Betteridge

Life Is A Playoff!

Fall is a time of transition from summer to winter. November marks the end of fall. The weather is beginning to change. Our beautiful meadows and woods are beginning to change. We sense a hint of change in the air everywhere. We bring the winter clothing out. We prepare our homes and yards for the winter. We gather with family and friends to thank the Lord for the blessings and the harvest in our lives. We are comfortable with the rhythm of the seasons. We recognize the time is drawing near when we will be inside more than not. We spend more time outdoors now that the hot summer months have ended, enjoying the mild days and the crisp, cool nights.

I love to go camping. For 30 years at this time of year, I have made it a point to head out to my favorite campsite to spend two or three days just relaxing, enjoying the quiet, fishing and hiking, and sitting by the campfire. My family and I have made many memories during these fall campouts. Time with the children and grandchildren, laughing, playing, and discovering. Time with each other. We all need to take time from our busy schedules to stop and listen to that “rhythm.” To reconnect with the Lord’s creation. To get away and remember who we are again. The grind can take its toll. We need to recharge our tired bodies and minds.

Competitive sports are a lot like life. They teach young people when to work hard, when to rest, when to reconnect, and how that rhythm can prepare them to achieve beyond their limits.

In high school competitive sports, November is a time of change. A time when we transition from the high school fall sports regular season to the playoffs. A time when young people learn that life can sometimes require more than you think you can give.

The ebb and flow of the seasons are driven by change. Change is inevitable. Even the playoffs have changed in the past eight years. In 2015, Frederick County departed from the Monocacy Valley Athletic Association and formed the Central Maryland Conference (CMC). This created a whole new alignment in teams and schedules. In that first year, we only played Frederick County teams in the regular season. The playoffs stayed the same. In 2016, we changed from playing the football championships at Ravens Stadium to the Naval Academy. In 2017, we added Washington County to the CMC. In 2019, we changed from a ten-game regular season schedule to nine games. That change includes a new playoff format that allows every football team to play at least one round in the playoffs, regardless of their record. In the past, only the top four teams in each division played in November. Now, everybody plays in the postseason. The new playoff format would allow a regular-season winless team to actually win a state championship! The chances are slim to none, but for the past four years, it is possible. Our Frederick County teams play in the CMC. Just this past August, the CMC added a 16th school to the conference: Clear Spring. The CMC created two new divisions: Small School (1A and 2A) and Large School (3A and 4A/3A) within the conference, with four new subdivisions. There are two for the small schools: Antietam and Gambrill; and two for the large schools: Potomac and Spires. Now, two CMC championships (small school and large school) will be crowned in every sport except football (risk of injury) and girls flag football, which is too new. Field Hockey will have one championship game.

We begin this month with coaches, players, and fans preparing for the fall sports season playoffs. Trick or treat turns into trick play or fumble treat, which turns into Thanksgiving and then the state championships. Many of you know how much fun sports at Catoctin Stadium can be. Can you imagine how much the “electricity” gets turned up in the playoffs?

Let’s talk about football. Catoctin lost to Brunswick in the final game of the football season last year, and then lost to them again a week later at Brunswick in the first round of the playoffs. This year, we could be headed for a similar matchup. These two teams always play each other on the last game of the regular season; and for the past two years, they also met in the first round of the playoffs. The Catoctin Cougars football team has not made it past the first round of the playoffs since Doug Williams coached them all the way to a state championship in 2019. Brunswick may be the stumbling block again this year. Only time will tell.

Catoctin had a rough schedule this year, playing against five out of nine teams on their schedule that have a combined 36-11 win-loss record. Their lone three wins this season came against teams that were below .500: Williamsport, Tuscarora, and Smithsburg, who have a combined five wins total amongst them in 27 games played. Catoctin football has not beaten any good teams this season.  They have only made it past three teams that are struggling. They will enter the playoffs as a sixth or seventh seed in an eight-team division.

Football is not the only fall sport headed into the playoffs. The boys soccer playoffs began on October 25, and the Cougars boys soccer team has a good chance to make it out of the 1A West region 2 playoffs.

Regardless of the high school fall sport you follow, this month will provide the roller coaster thrills and spills that make football, girls flag football, cross-country, soccer, field hockey, and volleyball so much fun. This is a special time of year for our Catoctin seniors and their families.

November’s changes bring permanent memories that last a lifetime.

Life is a playoff!

with Michael Betteridge

A Century Later:

An Old Sport with a New Name

On October 11, 1923, a new sport was launched in Frederick County: field ball. This was an 11-on-11 game for girls, played on a field where the players ran up and down the field passing the ball to each other and trying to put it through a goal. It was kind of like basketball on a soccer field. In that first game, Frederick defeated Thurmont 13-0. This girls’ sport was played up until the 1940s when it eventually died out.

One hundred years later, field ball is back. Only now, we call it flag football. Flag football is not a new sport, and girls playing football is not new either. But girls playing flag football is new and exciting and is taking off all over Frederick County.

As a culture, we have been trying for the past 50 years to redefine the role of women in sports. It has been a difficult process. And, uniquely, because of the contact involved, football has been one of the few sports where women rarely competed.

When I was in my early 20s, I remember my brother burst into my bedroom shouting: “Quick, quick, Joe Garagiola is over at Jackie’s house, interviewing her.” 

Well, Joe was a really big name in sports broadcasting, so I knew this was huge. It was huge because our next-door neighbor had just made the first cut on the Washington Senators baseball team. The first woman ever to enter Major League baseball. Jackie could hum a fastball. Jackie never made it past the second cut. There are no breakthrough female athletes in Major League baseball or the NFL. However, women have managed to break through the coaching barrier at the NFL level.

While coaching youth football, I remember playing Chambersburg in the opening round of the playoffs at the Gettysburg High School field. Fairfield and Chambersburg were tied at the end of regulation. The tie-breaker formula was to line up on the 10-yard line. Each team had four downs to score. Chambersburg won the toss, lined up, and immediately punched it in behind their big strong fullback. When that fullback took off her helmet and smiled at the crowd, one of my players gasped and said, “She’s a girl.”

Girls can play football. Several years ago, I was asked to broadcast an Arena Football game at the Frederick Sports Complex. After the game, the Baltimore Charm began practice. It was the Ladies’ Lingerie Football league. Leaving the word “lingerie” out of the discussion for a minute, these were some big, strong athletic women, playing a dangerous contact sport at collision speeds, and they were good! That lingerie thing was just silly. It defines the struggle, once again, over the identity of women’s sports.

One hundred years later, high school girls’ sports have overcome the challenges of stereotypes, and an exciting new sport has evolved this fall: High School Girls Flag Football. 

The Catoctin Cougars flag football team is coached by former Catoctin Cougar’s softball and basketball star, Lizzie Dougherty. Lizzie graduated from Catoctin in 2018. Lizzie drove in the tying run in the CMC championship softball game that helped her team beat Linganore for the County softball title. Ironically, her Cougars softball coach, Jess Valentine, is now the head coach of the Tuscarora Titans girls flag football team. These two former Cougar players stood across the field from each other last September 20—mentor versus mentee, coach versus player, now coach against coach. We covered the game broadcast, and it was truly a surreal moment seeing Coach Valentine in Tuscarora green. Apparently, you can coach at more than one school in more than one sport. Case in point, next spring, you will see Coach Valentine back in Cougars blue in the dugout with Lizzie Dougherty, an assistant softball coach. It’s a good thing the Cougars don’t play Tuscarora in softball this year. That could be very confusing for some of the Tuscarora players.

The rules for flag football are very different from regular football. The field is smaller. There are no kickoffs or punts. The game demands speed and agility, not strength and power. You can expect a lot of fun trick plays that utilize backs and receivers in motion and counter plays to fool defenses. With a running clock and two 20-minute halves, the game was over in a blink. It lasted one hour and four minutes. It was truly a learning experience for our broadcast team. We enjoyed it immensely. We were very impressed with the speed of Tuscarora. They are fast and athletic. Coach Valentine even dialed up some old school gadgetry, pulling the Statue of Liberty play out for a nice gain in the second half.

Our Lady Cougars were led by senior quarterback Peyton Davis, who ripped off some pretty good runs of her own. Maddie Ohler made some great catches and showed some real finesse and running ability. Maddie, Kayden Glotfelty, Mackenzie Lewis, and Aubrie Courtney looked like the same excellent athletes we saw in the state championship softball game last May. Morgan Gregory was the defensive star of the game for Catoctin. She had six tackles and one quarterback sack.

There are two more home games on the schedule for the Lady Cougars flag football team: Wednesday, October 4, and Wednesday, October 11. Put a star on one of those dates on your calendar and head over to the new, beautiful Catoctin football stadium to enjoy some electrifying, girls flag football. What a great way to spend an evening. Go Cougars!

with Michael Betteridge

Comfort Is The Enemy Of Greatness

Our hometown Catoctin Cougars’ fall sports season began on August 9 at 7:00 a.m. at Catoctin High School, when our guys and gals came streaming through the doors of the school, carrying their gym bags, equipment, and hopes and dreams for the fall 2023 high school sports season. Football, soccer, cross country, field hockey, volleyball, and golf are in full swing with everyone returning to practice exactly two weeks before the first day of school on August 23.

One of the biggest changes at Catoctin is the new artificial turf field, installed throughout the month of August. Some athletes like the artificial surface because it is faster, and some prefer natural grass because it is more forgiving. The one undeniable thing is that you can play on the artificial surface no matter what the weather and that is precisely why Frederick County has upgraded the final four high schools in the county that had natural grass fields:  Brunswick, Catoctin, Tuscarora, and Walkersville. Money was allocated by the Frederick County Council in the form of a $10 million Maryland state grant, specifically to upgrade those four schools. And that didn’t sit well with the boosters at Governor Thomas Johnson High School, who raised $200,000 to fund their new turf field in 2021, which took years to raise. Had they waited two years, that money could have been used to benefit the student-athletes because the county and state would have paid for the field. Timing is everything! 

There are those who think Catoctin won the lottery with its new field and others who think turf fields harm the environment, cause more injuries, and cost more in the long run with an 8- to 10-year life cycle. Like it or not, Catoctin football, soccer, and lacrosse will be played on an artificial turf field from now on.

But, new fields are not the only change in the fall sports season. Early in August, the Central Maryland Conference (CMC) announced a complete realignment of all the teams in the CMC. Clear Spring was added. The CMC now has 16 schools in the league and has been broken down into two divisions: a small school division with 1A and 2A schools and a large school division with 3A and 4A schools. The small school division will consist of the Antietam and Gambrill subdivisions, and the large school division will consist of the Potomac and Spires subdivisions. Catoctin has been placed in the small school Antietam division, along with Clear Spring, Boonsboro, and Smithsburg. Catoctin football will not be affected by these changes in the CMC since there is no CMC championship for football.  The football postseason is guided by the Maryland Public School Student Athletic Association (MPSSAA).  For sports other than football, there will now be two CMC championship trophies awarded: one to a small division school and one to a large division school.

Every year at the start of the football season, I like to hang around the Catoctin practice fields, workout areas, and sports classrooms to prepare myself for play-by-play coverage on the radio. I have been doing play-by-play on WTHU here in Frederick County now for 15 years. Just like high school sports, preparation is everything. I also attend the Catoctin football chalk talks and scrimmages, but what I really enjoy is learning from the Catoctin coaches.

Recently, while attending a Catoctin football practice session, Head Football Coach Mike Rich said something to his players that was timeless. I was moved by the words of advice he gave his players. He told them that “comfort is the enemy of greatness.” He is right! Getting up at 5:00 a.m. to make a 7:00 a.m. football practice is uncomfortable. He reminded his players that at that very moment, their classmates were still on vacation and probably in bed asleep. He challenged them with the notion that not everybody belonged in that room. Showing up is easy, but putting in the hard work every day is what will make them Catoctin football players. After Coach Rich was done, I wanted to put on a helmet and pads and suit up to play myself.

Coach Rich, now in his fourth season at Catoctin, is highly motivational. He is building something special on Sabillasville Road, and it’s starting to pay off.  Coach Rich keeps pounding his mantra into players over and over again. He calls it the three B’s: Be consistent! Be relentless! Be accountable! Excellent advice for teenage athletes.

Senior Haydn Matthews and Shamus Stull will share time at quarterback this season, surrounded by a very large offensive line. Haydn has matured from last year. He is big and strong and has a cannon for an arm. Stull is a player to watch this season. He ran with teammate and track star Brody Buffington in the 4×100 relay track team. This kid is a burner! With Matthews’ size, arm, and athleticism and Stull’s speed, defenses will go nuts trying to figure out how to adjust to that QB tandem. Robeson and Watkins are huge on the offensive line, with teammates Randy Hall and Braydon Bagent, this could be one of the best o-lines since 2019. At wide receiver, they have real legitimate speed in Charlie Dougherty and Vince Reaver. One of the biggest surprises last year was Logan Malachowski. Logan is a big, strong target with good instincts and a deep threat to take the ball away in a crowd, which he did several times last year in the end zone. The most amazing thing about Logan is that he has only played football for one year. This is his second year ever playing organized football. Logan was also a big part of the Cougars 2023 baseball team, playing centerfield and pitching in relief. I am really excited about this wide receiver corps!             

Speaking of baseball, somehow coaches convinced Eddy Titchom, who helped Coach Franklin with the baseball team last spring as a manager, to suit up and play football. He is huge! The biggest guy on the team. He will make an immediate impact on this team. And, finally, junior running back Jake Bell looks bigger and stronger than ever and will carry the load in the backfield behind the wall up front with his teammate running back Wayne Ferson, a thunder and lightning tandem.

The defense is anchored by one of the strongest defensive backfields in recent history. Charlie Dougherty will play both ways, but according to coaches, he is one of the best safeties they have seen in a long time. Charlie will call the plays for the defense. Expect big things from Charlie this season, sticking his nose in there and busting up the opponent’s offense and reading the quarterback’s eyes in the backfield. Pound for pound, the defense is special and the time spent in the weight room this year shows. These guys are big, strong, and athletic. Offense is fun, but defense wins games!

This team is on board with Coach Rich’s three B’s, and with a new turf field to add to the excitement, this Cougars football team will consistently and relentlessly pound their opponents all the way into November. 

I predict a very special season for the 2023 Catoctin Cougars football team. On Friday, September 1, the season began at Catoctin High School on their brand new “field of dreams.”  Come on out to the new field and cheer our Catoctin Cougars football team to victory. Catoctin can’t win without its twelfth man. That’s you!

The Future of Catoctin Cougars Sports

with Michael Betteridge

I started coaching football in Fairfield at the youth JV level. The kids I coached were in second and third grades. Today, that same group of kids are juniors and seniors in high school, and many of them are playing high school varsity football! I coached JV for two years, then mid-varsity, and finally varsity, with the same group of kids. I followed them through their development as young athletes and watched them grow from little boys into young men. It is an honor to be a part of their lives.

It was a lot of hard work with many hours of practice, from early afternoons until dark weekdays. From the scorching heat of August to the frozen turf of November, we practiced hard. On weekends, we traveled to games all over southern Pennsylvania. 

Coaching at the youth level required many skills: scheduling, logistics, medical, equipment, fundraisers, counseling, motivational training, and, most importantly, where the parents were involved, politics. And that was before we even took the field to play football. Youth coaches and administrators work long, hard hours. They attend year-round classes on safety, techniques, and organization. They must be certified, background-checked, and are held to the highest standards of community behavior.

Today’s youth sports programs are the reason that high school athletics excel. When I was young, all our small community had to offer in football was the Catholic League. Many of my friends were Catholic. I was jealous that they got to play organized football in elementary and junior high school, while all I could do was get in a pickup game out in the cow pasture. I tried to convince my Methodist mother to convert the family to Catholicism so that I could play football in junior high. “It wasn’t a good enough reason,” she told me, with a smile. We had little league baseball, but there were no other organized youth sports for kids my age.

Our children today are truly blessed. We’ve come a long way since my youth. We have youth sports in football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, field hockey, and volleyball. Catoctin youth sports are directly responsible for the talent we see today at the high school level in all sports categories. With years of experience playing together, by high school, our young athletes know exactly what to expect from their teammates. More importantly, our kids start playing together at an early age and form bonds that last a lifetime. Year after year, graduating Catoctin senior athletes step up to the microphone on Senior Day and talk about how much they will miss their teammates and how long they have been playing sports together at the ripe old age of 17.

Recently, I had the opportunity to broadcast the 10-12-year-old Thurmont youth baseball team on the radio. They are a very well-coached group of talented young athletes. As I sat in the press box before the game and watched the warmups, I realized that I was looking at the Catoctin High School baseball future out there on the field. I Googled the 2017 All-Star Little League team and laughed out loud. On that roster were Connor Crum, Joey McMannis, and Peyton Castellow, all Catoctin Cougars baseball graduating senior stars in 2023. During my broadcasts, The Thurmont Bucks 2023 Little League baseball team battled opponents from all over Central Maryland and put up some impressive victories, scoring 48 runs in three tournament games. That’s sixteen runs per game! Four or five years from now, Bradley Goddard, Eli Yocum, Parker Hahn, Ethan Tokar, and their Bucks teammates will probably be tearing up the 1A in baseball with Coach Mike Franklin at Catoctin, putting up similar numbers.

When you look around the region and you see sports powerhouse schools like Linganore, Oakdale, and Urbana, you wonder why, year after year, season after season, they continue to win. You need to look no further than LOUYAA (Linganore Oakdale Urbana Youth Athletic Association), the largest youth athletic association in Central Maryland. Successful high school sports programs look to these feeder organizations and work closely with the youth coaches and administrators to align their strategies and implement playbooks and cultures that are consistent.

Catoctin Cougars football coach Mike Rich, who is a product of the LOUYAA system, is building the same relationship with the CYA (Catoctin Youth Association) and Catoctin Youth Football. Coach Rich runs clinics in the offseason with the CYA and maintains a strong relationship with all the coaches and administration. The depth of this relationship is not just off the field, but on the field as well. Coach Rich explained to me that offensive strategies are largely based on the players and their unique skills. At the youth level, they work on teaching the same offensive fundamentals, but the focus is on building defenses that use high school terminology and play calling. Youth football players are completely familiar with what coaches want to do when they arrive at the high school level, as a result. The part of the relationship that Coach Rich enjoys most is the times when he and the youth coaches can just sit down, relax, learn from each other, and “talk football.” They take the time to meet regularly.

Our Catoctin youth programs from Little League to CYA are the secret to the Catoctin Cougars high school sports success. The level of community involvement in youth sports in Northern Frederick County is something that makes us proud to be Cougars. Drive by Leisner baseball field on any given day and try to find a parking space. Or try to find a seat in the stands or on the grass hills at a Catoctin football game, and you’ll understand why we’re the “baddest cats” on the mountain. 

Our youth programs are producing some awesome young athletes, coaches, and fans!

Check out the Catoctin Youth Association Facebook page, Catoctin Youth football, and the Thurmont Little League websites today, and come on down to catch a game real soon!

with Michael Betteridge

A Really Interesting Summer Workout Plan!

Most of my mother’s family lived for eight generations in a sleepy little hamlet on the Eastern end of Long Island, called Hampton Bays. My mother’s family was one of a handful of families that sailed over from Connecticut in 1640 to Southampton to establish the first English colony on Long Island. When nearby Hampton Bays was first settled, it was named Good Ground, and it was good ground, indeed. My childhood and my story were built on that good ground.

Back in the early 1960s when I was a young boy, Hampton Bays was a quiet little beach resort with beautiful white sandy beaches, pounding surf, an assortment of bays, inlets, ponds, woods, and small islands that a boy could explore alone for days upon days.  Around April, I would hatch my annual plan to begin nagging my Mom, so she would have no choice but to send me to Grandma’s for the summer. She would complain to my Dad about my incessant pleadings, and my father would say, “Great, pack him up and put him on a train to Long Island.” It worked! I was the luckiest boy in Maryland.

Every year at the close of the school year, they would banish me to Grandma’s for a summer of riding my bike, fishing in the family rowboat, the “Kontiki,” exploring the tiny islands that were scattered all over Shinnecock Bay, and camping out whenever and wherever I could. I thought I was very smart. My parents just wanted one less kid to deal with all summer and knew my no-nonsense Grandma would keep me on the straight and narrow. It wasn’t all a boy’s paradise. There were Sundays in the parlor wearing a suit and tie, where I was forced to watch Lawrence Welk with all my great-grandmother’s old lady friends from Rampasture Point. They would pat me on the head and tell me what a “fine young man” I was becoming. It was a price I had to pay. But, soon, I would make the short walk down the hill to Smith’s Creek, one of many inlets off the Bay, where Grandma and I lived in the “Shop.” The suit would hit the closet and the only summer wear necessary were shorts and a T-shirt.  Shoes were optional.

The Shop was a typical small beach shorehouse, like many that dotted the Peninsulas of that region. This one was very different. It was magical! It was a young boy’s hideaway. The rear of the house was built over the water on an attached dock, where you could row your boat right up to the house, tie it off, and walk in. It was filled with tools, nuts, bolts, fabric, rope, and twine, and it always had a faint smell of salt water and fish. My great-great-grandfather, Austin Alonzo Bellows, a bayman, built this little gem with his own hands. Grampy, as he was known, operated one of several large sailing vessels that took tourists over to the ocean beaches during the summer before the Ponquogue Bridge was built.   It was the only means of transportation for rich “city people,” and it was a lucrative trade for an old, retired whaler. There was no plumbing, only a wonderful little outhouse with a half moon carved in the door.

The Shop was Grampy’s home, repair shop for his sailboat, and a place to hide from the kids and women.  Grampy maintained an oyster bed under the dock, and when friends came to visit, Grampy would wade out into the bed, gather a bucket of oysters and shuck and serve them right there in front of his guests to their delight. Hence, the name “The Shop.”  By the time Grandma lived there, it had become old and rickety and, occasionally, during high tide, the back side of the house and docks would briefly be underwater. But for me, it was a dream come true.

I never met Grampy. He was born during the Civil War and passed away five years before I was born. They laid him to rest in Good Ground Cemetery behind the old Methodist Church in Hampton Bays.

During Hurricane Donna in 1960, the tide came up so far that we had to float Grandma’s furniture out of the front door of the Shop and drag it up to dry land. Imagine a young boy being allowed to doggy paddle around in Grandma’s house to find a stray floating chair or end table. What fun!  It was indeed a magical little house for a young boy.

When I returned every summer to begin a new school year in Maryland. I was bigger, stronger, faster, tanned, and in great shape to begin football season.  Rowing a 12-foot, heavy wooden rowboat a mile and a half out to the Bay and back every day to fish was building a strong back and big arms. Cutting all the old ladies’ lawns on the Point to get pocket money to spend at the summer Firemen’s Carnival on junk food and rides was building up some pretty powerful legs. I remember the coaches would look at me and say: “Wow, what did you do last summer?” Did you work on the ‘Sod Team’”? That was the coaches’ summer workout plan for young football players back then. They would work out arrangements with the local landscapers to get their players on crews that rolled up large, heavy clods of grass and carried them from the fields to the flatbed trucks in the heat of summer. That’ll get you into shape fast! We didn’t have gyms or weight rooms or football camps. My football friends just signed up to work on a landscaping crew, “busting sod” all summer and slept a lot. I think I liked my plan better.

These days, young athletes hit the weight room all summer, participate in umpteen organized sports activities, go to fill-in-the-blank camps and play on numerous summer travel teams. To me, it’s way too structured, but I can’t argue with the results. Kids are bigger, faster, stronger, and, in way, in better shape than we ever were.

I find myself wondering if the “juice is worth the squeeze.” Do we really have to turn young men and women into superstars? Is the constant pressure to train all year, to become “the best you can be,” a slogan seen on many weight rooms in Frederick County high schools, producing better people?

I look at Connor Crum, a football QB sensation; or Brooke Williams, a ninth-grade basketball phenom; or Taylor Smith, arguably one of the top five softball pitchers in Maryland and only a sophomore; or Joey McMannis, who will most likely end up playing Major League baseball with the Yankees or the Astros or some big league team in front of thousands of fans next year…and I wonder. In my entire high school four-year journey, there was only one kid from our school that made it to the Big Leagues: Pickles Smith, who played for the Kansas City Royals (and that was Sherwood High School, a school much larger than Catoctin). Oh yeah, Pickles’ success was due to his summer workout plan.  He busted sod every summer. He was buffed, and he could crush a baseball!

So, I watch these kids and wonder.  Are they having fun? Are we giving them the time to be kids before they have to grow up?

My dreams of the big leagues ended at Sherwood High School. But looking back, I’m OK with that. My workout plan was perfect for me. It was one I would never trade in a million years…summers at Grandma’s.