Soccer great Darryl Gee among inductees to Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame

Darryl Gee, 55, bought his first bicycle last month. There was just one hitch.

“They had to show me how to pump the tires,” he said.

Perhaps that seems odd for one who’s to be enshrined in the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday night. But, as a youth in Columbia, Gee had little time for many boyhood activities. Soccer was his life.

By his senior year at Oakland Mills, Gee had been named an All-American, picked for the 1980 U.S. Olympic team and named national co-winner of the Hertz Number One High School Athlete Award — which he shared with basketball’s Michael Jordan. Soon after, he signed a pro contract with the New York Cosmos as the first American-born black player in the North American Soccer League.

“My life was a whirlwind from the beginning,” Gee said. “I was always going 100 miles an hour. Growing up, I missed a lot of stuff. Now that I’m semi-retired, I’ve decided to do all of the things that I didn’t do, as a kid — and I feel a sense of inner peace.”

He rides the bike more than 5 miles a day, near the beach at his home in Tampa, Fla. He plays tennis and goes to the theater. And he spends time with his elderly parents, who’ll attend his induction at Martin’s West at 6 p.m. ($85 tickets are available at the door.)

One of seven honorees, Gee said his selection for the 58th ceremony coincided with his retirement this year as head of the Darryl Gee Soccer Academy, which he founded in 1982 in Montgomery County.

“This [induction] stacks up with other honors I’ve had, and it has given me an opportunity to reflect on my career,” he said. “What better place to end the story than where it started, in Maryland? I’ve come full circle, and it has been a good ride.”

Raised in Howard County, Gee blossomed just as Columbia exploded onto the sports scene as a boomtown for soccer. At Oakland Mills, he had 76 goals and 45 assists and led the Scorpions to the state Class B title in 1979. That year, he also traveled to Australia to play for the U.S. Junior World Cup team, of which he was captain. Then, at 18, he made history as the youngest player ever named to the Olympic squad, though the United States would boycott the 1980 Summer Games.

Gee spent five years with the Cosmos, until the NASL folded in 1984, and 12 seasons in pro soccer before retiring to teach the game to youngsters in Maryland and Virginia.

“I have no regrets and I’ve never looked back,” said Gee, The Evening Sun Male Prep Athlete of the Year in 1980. “The experiences I had could never be taught in a classroom. The world was my teacher, and I learned a lot.”

Despite his travels, Gee said he “had more fun playing at Oakland Mills than anywhere. Winning the states, as a small school, was huge; that stuff, I’ll never forget.”

He remembers one high school teammate in particular — a seldom-used reserve named Dwayne.

“The guy hardly played at all, but he came to practice every day and gave 100 percent,” Gee said. “I learned so much from him about sacrifice. It isn’t about accolades, but coming together as a team and supporting each other to win a championship.”

In accepting his Hall of Fame award, Gee said he’ll pay homage to his older brother, Chet, who starred in football at Oakland Mills, Duke and for Jacksonville in the USFL. Chet Gee died 20 years ago in an automobile accident.

“Chet was gifted and smart and he pushed me,” Gee said. “I’m most grateful to have been able to share my journey with him.”

At the ceremony, he said, “I’ll be representing both of us.”

Other inductees

— Thori Staples Bryan (Joppatowne) was a three-time first-team All-America soccer player at North Carolina State and member of the U.S. World Cup team in 1995. She also played pro soccer for four years.

— Keion Carpenter starred in football at Woodlawn and Virginia Tech. A safety, he played six years in the NFL (Buffalo and Atlanta) before retiring in 2005 to establish The Carpenter House to empower inner-city youths in Baltimore. Carpenter died in 2016.

— Jeff Nelson has four World Series rings, having helped the New York Yankees win it all in 1996 and 1998 through 2000. A graduate of Catonsville, he played 15 years in the big leagues as a relief pitcher and made the All-Star team in 2001.

— Tommy Polley led Dunbar to state championships in football and basketball, then starred for Florida State’s 1999 NCAA football champions. A linebacker, he played five years in the NFL, the last with the Ravens in 2005.

— Polly Winde Surhoff (Mount Hebron) was a three-time first-team All-America swimmer at North Carolina (1983 through 1985), where she won nine Atlantic Coast Conference championships. She and her husband, former Oriole B.J. Surhoff, run Pathfinders for Autism.

— Brian Westbrook (DeMatha), though only 5 feet 8, enjoyed a nine-year NFL career in which the Fort Washington native gained 10,275 yards of total offense, played in two Pro Bowls and made first-team All-Pro in 2007.

— John Schuerholz is recipient of the John F. Steadman Lifetime Achievement Award. An alumnus of City and Towson State, he was the first general manager of teams in both the American and National Leagues (Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves) to win world championships.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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