When I first came to Howard County in the early 1970s and started working for the Columbia Life newspaper, I cut my teeth on high school and recreational sports. I loved the unpredictability of those games.
After nearly 30 years of covering the high schools, I gave that up and moved in other directions. But I never quite found anything that resembled the excitement of high school athletics.
Last Thursday, I decided to make a trip out to Oakland Mills to recapture some of that old magic. The Scorpions' boys basketball program was closing in on a perfect 22-0 regular season, it's second in the last three years, and I wanted to see this team first hand in its regular season finale against Atholton.
Upon entering the gym, I was greeted by a face from the past. Jim Albert, who retired this past year from Atholton after a highly successful teaching and coaching career, was in attendance to watch his son, Jared, coach of the visiting Raiders. Jim helped guide Atholton to seven county championships during his time with the program.
I started thinking back to all those great Howard County teams, even vividly recalling some of the great years at Oakland Mills around when the boys basketball program won a state title in 1990.
But once I sat down, it was all about the present.
I discovered that cheerleader Kimberly Tang-Nian can sing the National Anthem as well as anyone I have ever heard and those cheerleaders, as a group, are pretty darn good. I also discovered that this particular Oakland Mills team is as good as advertised.
Coach Jon Browne, who is in his 17th year with the program, deserves all the accolades not only for his skill on the bench, but for also really caring for his players. And those players are one talented group, showcasing the validity of that old adage "speed kills."
I cannot recall seeing so much speed on one team in all my years. It's a versatile group, too. There was 5-foot-11 Joe Zayatz skying to block a shot at the rim and the 6-foot-7 Lavon Long grabbing a rebound and then turning down court and leading the fast break.
Oakland Mills won handily by 21 points over a gritty Atholton team that never stopped battling until the final whistle. The scary thing is, I don't even think the Scorpions played as well as they are capable.
As Coach Browne told me after accepting the County Championship trophy from Principal Frank Eastham after the game, "this team accepts any and all challenges." That's a good thing, because with the 2A South regionals next up there will indeed be bigger challenges ahead. The Scorpions could potentially face Gwynn Park, the team that ended the season of that Oakland Mills team from two years ago, in the second round.
From what I saw and from what I've heard, this team is certainly capable of reaching its biggest goals of making the state finals. The key will simply be playing as a team, listening to Coach Browne and letting it all hang out.
Dunking for good cause
I think the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl victory is having a carry-over effect on the members of the Ravens Roost. Mitch Hooper is taking a dunk with members of the Council of Ravens Roosts Ultimate Dunk Extraordinaires (CRRUDE) into the cold waters of Deep Creek Lake on Feb. 23. The event is designed to raise money for Special Olympics of Maryland.
As Mitch said prior to his dunk, "the cold is only for as moment." I'm cold just thinking about it. The dunk at both Sandy Point and Deep Creek Lake tell us how important Special Olympics Maryland is to so many of us.