When George Petrides drives away from City College on Tuesday after his final day as the Knights athletic director, he expects to be a little emotional.
Who wouldn't after 46 years of working at a place you love?
"I'm sure I'll feel it. I'm sure I'll tear up a little bit, but I'll be coming back. I'm not going to stay away. I live right up the street. I told all the people, the custodians and all, that don't worry I'll be coming back to bother you," he said with a laugh.
Petrides personifies the school's slogan, "City Forever." He studied and competed there, left to go to college and came right back. His 50th high school reunion is coming up this year and he has spent 50 years at City, including as an athlete on a Knights football team that never lost during his four years.
The school is part of him and he's part of the school.
"When I think of City, he's the first person I think of," said Bryant Johnson, who played for Petrides and went on to play for Penn State and the Arizona Cardinals for most of a nine-year NFL career.
"Anytime I was in the gym when I was there or when I would return, he was always there and he's become a staple at that school. With the turnover nowadays with teachers, faculty and principals, he's been a mainstay. That says a lot about a person who's able to be there through a lot of turnover through the decades and still being able to relate to the younger generation and every generation that he's come across."
Over the years, Petrides, 68, has coached legions of young athletes in football, girls basketball, wrestling and badminton, as well as a one-year stint as boys basketball coach. When he took over as athletic director in 1985, he continued coaching three sports until just a few years ago.
In 2015, he retired as Knights football coach. The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro Coach of the Year in 1987 and 1991, he led the Knights to five Maryland Scholastic Association championships, two No. 1 seasons and three undefeated seasons, bringing the struggling program he took over back to prominence. His career spanned 40 years, and included 257 wins and finished with three straight wins over Poly, the Knights' gridiron rival for 128 years.
Coaching in that game is one of the fondest memories he takes away from City.
"The No. 1 highlight was when we beat Poly after 17 years of losing," Petrides said of the 1987 victory. "And then the No. 2 highlight is being the first team to win the state championship from City College (girls basketball in 2009). I always have to explain that because we won it in the afternoon and then the boys won it at night, so we were still first."
When he retired from coaching, however, he wasn't quite ready to leave The Castle on the Hill.
"People that retired before me always said, 'When the time comes, you'll know it's right,' and I know it's right," Petrides said. "I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it's just been a little too stressful with paperwork and so many things associated now with sports. There were a lot of factors, but the time is right."
The overwhelming amount of time and energy it takes to run an athletics program with almost 20 sports takes a toll over time, especially for someone who also coaches three sports.
"If I had to do it again, I would never have done it," he said with a laugh. "It's just time consuming. To coach three sports and be athletic director is not easy. I agree with the schools that don't allow the ADs to coach, although I would never do that. There was a time where it almost became that way and I would have definitely gone with coaching instead of the AD job."
Even with his total immersion in the Knights' athletics program, Petrides never forgot the other side of the student-athlete, something that impressed City principal Cindy Harcum, also a graduate of the school.
"He has always told the kids that you may not necessarily get to play on a college field or professional field somewhere, but we want you to love the game, we want you to be a good team member and don't forget that your academics are the most important piece here," Harcum said. "It's very rare to find coaches or athletic directors who wear those hats."
Those who relied on his vast knowledge, not just of City College but of Baltimore City athletics, are glad they'll still be able to call him for advice or perspective. That includes Tiffany Byrd, coordinator of athletics for the city public schools and a former athletic director at Poly.
"That is the part that we certainly can't replace," Byrd said. "Another person can take his job, but there is not another person tenured in that role that understands the history and can look back decades and say, 'Well, we did it this way, but it was changed because...' So my sincere hope is that he'll remain a phone call away."
The last thing a low-key guy like Petrides wanted was a lot of fanfare about his retirement, but those who know him well didn't want to let him get away without honoring a career that few others can match. Rolynda Contee, who will take over as City athletic director next week, said they had to trick him so that former colleagues and players could honor him at the Knights sports banquet on May 23.
"To come to work every day for 46 years at the same place, it's really a big deal," said Contee, who took over the girls basketball program from Petrides two years ago. "His patience with everyone, how diverse he is in dealing with everyone no matter color, no matter age — he deals with everyone the same way every day. The fact that he's just so humble, he just doesn't see it. He's really funny with that."
Contee said what you see is always what you get with Petrides, who might have owned every City College shirt ever made. That's his daily wardrobe — a black City College shirt.
As his retirement becomes official next week, Petrides said he doesn't have any specific plans other than spending more time in Rehoboth Beach and coming back in the fall to watch his daughter, Christina, coach the Knights volleyball team. He'll also follow Contee's basketball team.
And of course, he'll be at the 129th City-Poly game in November, when he hopes to see a sixth straight Knights win.
George Petrides File
City College, student 1963-67; teacher, coach 1971-2017; athletic director 1985-2017
Coached football, girls basketball, wrestling, badminton, boys basketball
Football coach, 1975-2015
5 MSA championships: 1986-88, 1991-92
3 undefeated seasons: 1987, 1991, 1992
3 state semifinalists: 1996, 2001, 2005
2 No. 1 teams: 1987, 1989
Girls basketball, mid-1980s-2015
1 state championship: 2009
3 city championships: 2004, 2005, 2010