Michael Betteridge, WTHU
One of my favorite books growing up was the Little Engine that Could. Written by a Hungarian immigrant, Arnold Munk in 1930, The Little Engine that Could was a generational, classic motivational story about optimism, believing in yourself, and the value of hard work. As I watched our Catoctin Cougars football team play Walkersville on a beautiful, mild October fall night recently, I couldn’t help but visualize that little train huffing and puffing its way up that huge mountain all over again.
Not terribly big in numbers or size this year, I am amazed at how the Catoctin Cougars, despite facing steep challenges from teams like Mountain Ridge, Frederick and Poolesville—all undefeated teams—never gave up and played always believing that they were just one play away from winning, despite the score. Catoctin still remains the only team that was able to score two touchdowns on the Miners this season and against the Frederick Cadets, the #1 team in Frederick County, the Cougars scared the Cadets by taking the lead against them in the second quarter, something no other team had been able to do this season. And then against Poolesville, they startled the Falcons by tying the game at the half. Our Cougars football team played three undefeated teams in six games and played like they were the team to beat!
What is it about this team that keeps them from giving up in the face of insurmountable odds? What are the intangibles that drive young men and their coaches to believe in themselves? One of the answers is legacy. Knowing that what you represent is bigger than your own personal abilities, being a part of a tradition of years of hard work and commitment, makes the effort much easier. Because it’s no longer about you.
Recently, the Cougars celebrated alumni night. At halftime, they brought former two-time state champion head coach Doug Williams and former defensive coordinator Coach Paul Dumars out at halftime to honor these two men. For 29 years, Coach Williams held that responsibility, and he did it with humility, style, and grace. His sidekick, Coach Dumars, was a rough, tough, wry humored shop teacher who always had a twinkle in his eye, and when he spoke, he made you laugh. Alongside these two Catoctin legends stood former players and alumni who rode the Cougars’ train.
I was there in 2008 when Catoctin was crushed 48-12 by Dunbar in the state semi after a great season.…I think I can….I think I can….and when the 2009 season began….I think I can….I think I can….they had no idea that 14 games later on December 5, they would be standing on the field in a pro NFL football stadium in Baltimore playing for the first time ever for a Catoctin Cougars State football championship. Now, that’s a legacy to play for!
But the Little Engine that Could found out the inevitable, that when you reach the top, everything is downhill from there. The next year, in 2010, the Cougars were an even better football team, destined to repeat a state title. With Nick Maxey as quarterback and the double threat Barber brothers on the field, the Cougars were the team to beat. And, then, controversy struck! The Cougars were forced to forfeit their first three games over an ineligible player, and by the fourth game of the season, a big win over Boonsboro, they should have been 4-0 but they were 1-3…I think I can…..I think I can…. They battled through five straight wins in a row to face the eventual 2010 2A state champ runnerups, the Middletown Knights, for their next-to-the-last game of the 2010 season.
While covering a Knights game on the radio several weeks ago, I had a chance to hang out with the former 2010 Middletown football coach and now their athletic director, Kevin Lynott. Somehow, the subject of that wild game on October 29, 2010, came up, where QB Nick Maxey was injured and taken out of the game, and things got a little chippy, which ended up getting Eric Barbour, their star running back, ejected from the game. Coach Lynott admitted that this was the best Catoctin team he had ever faced. But without their star quarterback and running back, Catoctin’s five game win-streak was broken and any chance to overcome the early forfeitures was driven off the tracks. Catoctin finished the season with back-to-back losses to Middletown and Brunswick, and with the three game forfeits, found themselves eliminated from the playoffs altogether. The Little Train that Could was right back in the station, damaged, discouraged, and worn out a year after it was on top of the world. The Cougars would wait another decade to get back up that mountain.
Ten years later, in 2019, which was Coach Williams last year as the engineer of the Catoctin Cougars football express, they were back on top again! And, after Coach Williams retirement, a new era….I think I can…I think I can… they were right back in the station facing a mountain that would prove taller and more difficult than any mountain the Cougars had ever faced, with a new coaching staff and a crazy three-year COVID derailment in 2020, 2021; and, even this year, Covid struck again recently at the Walkersville game. Coach Rich was forced to sit this one out and couldn’t be with his team. But the Little Train that Could never gives up.
And that is the legacy that keeps our Cougars repeating….I think I can…..I think I can….I think I can.