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Bel Air lacrosse plays on with Scoop Kelly in mind

The sound would loudly and routinely resonate from the Bel Air sideline, a declaration of good fortune for the school's boys lacrosse team: "Yanneee!"

While none of the Bobcats had any idea what it meant, they all knew what was coming next: a chest bump of epic proportion.

That's how Bel Air coach Scoop Kelly celebrated a big goal, his passion for lacrosse and for his beloved program on full display in a sudden burst of excitement. But the big goals that would have called for Kelly's sideline celebration haven't been the same this season.

The No. 12 Bobcats (4-1) have dedicated the season to their former coach, who died Feb. 15 at age 40 after complications from a car accident.

In nine seasons at Bel Air, Kelly won 100 games and turned the program into a perennial power in Harford County.

He did it with a fiery disposition that his players enthusiastically followed. The Bobcats, a talented group coming off a 12-4 season, have even more to play for now.

The Bel Air team thinks about Kelly's fierce competitiveness, like the time he was so revved up before a game against C. Milton Wright last season that he snapped the lacrosse stick he was unknowingly banging against the wall during his pre-game speech.

The Bobcats are closer now, and they take the field with more purpose.

It showed up in last Friday's 7-4 home win against Fallston, Kelly's alma mater and the team he wanted to beat the most. The game was played in his memory.

"His pre-game speeches, nothing beat them," said senior defenseman Connor Beil, who was first called up to varsity as a freshman. "Especially Fallston — some explicit words were used to pump us up."

Kelly, who also taught social studies at Bel Air, was heavily involved in club lacrosse and knew most of his players before they came to the Bel Air program. Senior attackman Calvin Fleagle, who scored four goals in the win against Fallston, was getting ready to start eighth grade when he met Kelly at a summer tournament.

He left with more than a favorable first impression.

"He introduced himself to me and I could tell right away what a great guy he was and how much he loved lacrosse," said Fleagle, who was first called up to varsity late in his freshman season. "He gave me a pair of gloves and I thought he was the coolest guy in the world. It meant a lot to me because it was the first time I ever talked to him and it bonded our relationship. I wore them for three years."

Every player that passed by Kelly's classroom stopped in. The conversations could range from school to college to family to life and, of course, lacrosse. Kelly, who played attack at Mary Washington, always had an attentive ear and encouragement.

"He was always there for us and wanted the best for us," said senior Joey Creaghan, a four-year varsity player and standout at midfield. "He was dedicated to the program more than anything. You could always go to him if you had a problem. He was like a second dad to us."

It made March 1 — the team's first day of practice — extraordinarily tough.

New coach Chuck Muir was Kelly's assistant for the past seven years, so his familiarity provided valuable stability in the trying situation. But on that day, it was apparent the program would never be the same.

"The first practice was strange because we just kept waiting for Scoop to walk up," Muir said. "The reality hadn't set in that he wasn't going to be coming out there, so it was an eye opener."

Before the team's first game — against Loch Raven on March 24 — Muir received a phone call from Kelly's mother to wish the team good luck.

"I could just hear in her voice that it was a tough moment," Muir said. "So I let the kids know about it. We're just trying to dedicate the season in Scoop's memory and do the best we can."

The Bobcats beat the host Raiders, 16-3.

Bel Air kept rolling. In the team's home opener vs. North Harford, midfielder Anthony Sampayo scored seven seconds into the game after winning the opening faceoff.

"It was our first home game without coach Kelly and we were going to leave it all on the field for him," said Sampayo, a junior in his second varsity season. "I definitely thought about him [after I scored] because last year he was always encouraging me to do just that."

Kelly often used several expressions to further motivate his players. One of his favorites is hitting home with the Bobcats even more this season.

"He would always say: 'If you couldn't play tomorrow, how hard would you play today?'" Fleagle said. "I think we all look at that this year and realize how much that really means. We want to go out on top and every day we're out here working for him."

To honor Kelly's memory, the Bobcats have "SK" on the back of their helmets. All the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference teams have "SCOOP" on their helmets to show how highly Kelly was thought of among his peers.

"The thing I'll always remember about coach Kelly is his passion for his individual players," Patterson Mill coach Jason Bellamy said. "He would care so much about where they were and where he could help them get to. He did a great job of letting them be themselves, letting them shine and show their individual skills and what they were good at.

"They were always a team full of energy, a lot of hustle and it was always a tough game when we played them."

The Bobcats are determined to keep it that way.

"It's been tough, but it's also given us motivation to play for him," Fleagle said. "We come out here every day and work hard for him. We're a family and he's part of the family, he always will be."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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