Vince Parnell

Vince Parnell, who took over as the Athletics and Activities Manager at Wilde Lake in 2006, is retiring after being involved in athletics in Howard County for the last 35 years. (Photo by Noah Scialom / June 9, 2013)

Their accomplished careers are unique but, in many ways, not all that different.

Vince Parnell and Joe Russo, both involved in the high school athletic scene for the greater part of the last 40 years, have each followed a career arc that has taken them from coaching to athletic administration — leaving an imprint on their respective schools and sports programs every step of the way.

So, as they retire from their positions as athletics and activities managers following the school year, it seems only fitting that the two of them are going out together.

The timing simply felt right.

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"There's never a perfect time … I think at the end of the day it's just a feeling more than anything else," said Parnell, who has been the AAM at Wilde Lake since the position was created in 2006. "Naturally, when you do something for such a long period of time, there becomes a feeling of been there and done that … eventually it becomes someone else's turn."

And, as Russo adds with a chuckle, there are other areas that need tending to.

"As Vince can probably attest, it's time to give the golf game a little extra attention," said Russo, who has been at Hammond in a coaching or athletic administrator capacity since the school opened in 1976. "I can say after 43 years that I think it's time to move on to something else."

Both Parnell and Russo are among the county's original crop of AAMs.

The position, developed to allow athletic directors to be full-time administrators instead of having to also split time in the classroom, was a big step forward for the county, according to Parnell.

"It finally gave you the time to be able to do the job the way it was supposed to be done," he said. "Before that, they gave athletic directors one planning period and that was it. It was just too much … you were always cramped for time."

Parnell speaks from experience, having juggled teaching, coaching and athletic director duties at Howard High School for more than 20 years prior to his move into full-time administration at Wilde Lake with the creation of the new position.

Getting the chance to be around athletics — Parnell's passion from a very young age — was always worth the sacrifices, though.

Growing up, Parnell was a football standout at his high school in Pennsylvania before going on to play at Williamsburg College. Shortly after graduation, in 1974, he took a job at South Carroll and served as freshman basketball and JV football coach for the next four years.

After that, he made the move to Howard High School and took over the Lions' girls varsity basketball and JV football coaching positions. Shortly after, he moved up to varsity football.

"Football was always where the heart was," Parnell said.

In the fall of 1981, Parnell was presented with the chance to become Howard's athletic director with the departure of Ned Sparks to work on the state level. "I was never looking to become an AD … it wasn't on my bucket list or anything. But at the same time it was an opportunity I didn't feel like I could pass up," he said.

Parnell grew into the leadership position and continued coaching, primarily football but also helping out here and there with the wrestling program, as a track assistant and later as a golf coach.

Leading Howard's football team in 1999, helping that squad make it all the way to the state semifinals, and those early years coaching girls basketball for the Lions are among his top memories. But overall Parnell says it's the people, citing specifically a great professional relationship with Howard principal Mary Day, who will stick with him.

He had great leaders growing up and he tried to emulate that.

"I basically tried to do what was done for me in high school," Parnell said. "Without my coaches and my teachers, I wouldn't be who am I today … I tried to live up to that."