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At 80, Dr. Bill Howard still cares at Gilman

Dr. Bill Howard, who has been the Gilman football team doctor for nearly 40 years, talks about his experiences with the team on a Friday in September 2014.

At age 80, Dr. Bill Howard — the Gilman football team doctor for the past 35 years — has a quick response when people ask him when he's going to retire.

The look on his face makes it clear that it won't be any time soon.

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"I would say it won't be much longer than the next 30 years," he replied with the same characteristic humor that has long made him popular with personal and professional associates alike. "Then I will slow down and do it half the time."

Howard came to the job in 1979 when he was asked to be the new football team doctor. And he had absolutely no second thoughts about making the move.

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"It was an honor to be asked," said Howard, who attended Gilman for grades eight through 10 before transferring in the early 1950s to St. Andrews School in Delaware after he received an academic scholarship. "One thing about the school: once you are a Gilman guy, you are always a Gilman guy. It's part of me. I was happy to be asked."

All these years later, Howard insisted that he wouldn't trade the volunteer position for anything.

"I have had a number of jobs over the years, a number of schools, offices," he explained. "It's probably the one job I wouldn't want to quit. I don't have to, so I am not going to. I don't look upon being a Gilman team physician as a job. It's an honor."

It's no exaggeration to say that Howard is one of this area's pioneering sports doctors. Because of his preeminence in the field, he appears frequently on Baltimore-area radio and TV and has become the local voice of sports medicine expertise.

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Howard co-founded the Sports Medicine Center at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital's Arnold Palmer SportsHealth Center in April of 1979 and stayed there until last year. During much of that time he was also in charge of the emergency room at Union Memorial and worked as a general surgeon.

Coincidentally, Union Memorial is the same hospital where he was born 80 years ago.

He still works full-time in the Towson, Timonium and Harford County offices of the University of Maryland Medical System as a sports medicine doctor.

"I consider Bill the godfather of sports medicine," said Joe Martire, a retired doctor and co-founder of the Sports Medicine Center. "Bill knows more about the field of sports medicine than anyone I know. And in my 40 years in medicine, I haven't known of any other doctor who is available 24/7 like he is."

Martire said the Sports Medicine Center was the first such clinic in Maryland and has since become one of the biggest and most well-known in the country.

For all the acclaim Howard has gotten for refining sports medicine into a specialty of its own, he'd just as soon talk about Gilman. He said he's only missed one football game in the last 40 years. That means he's treated hundreds of players at Gilman where he played junior varsity lacrosse and football.

"If you take the average year or season, I probably see 15 or 20 injuries," said Howard, "That's probably 800 over the years. They're not always major, but certainly injuries."

Howard goes to great lengths to make all the Gilman football games, which sometimes means juggling his very busy schedule and traveling out of state under unusual circumstances, he said.

For instance, earlier this year Howard thought his grandson had appendicitis, so he missed the Gilman team's flight to Cleveland for its Aug. 31 game against St. Edward. When he went to the airport to take a later flight, it kept getting delayed.

"So he got in the car and just drove and he got there long before he would have gotten there if he flew," said Lori Bristow, Gilman's head athletic trainer and assistant athletic director.

Bristow offered another anecdote from two years earlier that illustrates his devotion to his job and to the Greyhounds. It happened when the team was traveling to Cincinnati to face Archbishop Moeller High.

"He couldn't make the flight so he decided to drive out later, but his truck broke down just as he was entering Ohio from West Virginia," Bristow said. "So he somehow drove back to Baltimore and got a rental car the next morning and drove out the day of the game and got there literally just as it started. It was pretty funny."

Stan White, Gilman's defensive coordinator and a former Baltimore Colt linebacker, shares Bristow's admiration for Howard, whom he's known for more than three decades.

"I think he just fell in love with what Gilman was and how we try to develop young men to serve others and things like that," White said. "I think he buys completely into what the program stands for and I think he enjoys being associated with it. And of course we really love having him."

White has consulted Howard about his own post-football health issues, such as severe knee problems.

"He can explain in regular terms what is wrong," White said. "He doesn't have to use all the terms that no one understands. He knows quickly what the issue is and what needs to be done. That's why he's really good."

Howard said he first got interested in sports medicine during his 28 years of playing rugby for the Baltimore Rugby Club, when he suffered what seems like an endless list of injuries. He laughs about that, too.

"You want to start at the top and work your way down?" he asked. "I had concussions, I broke my nose 11 times. I have teeth [scattered] all over the East Coast. Separated shoulders, broken ribs, feet, hands. Pretty much everything.

"When you have enough injuries of your own, you want to know a little more about them," he said. "You want to use what you're learning on your own carcass to help other people."

Howard who graduated from University of Maryland Medical School after attending Duke and Johns Hopkins. He played lacrosse at Duke and served two years in the Army as corporal in an Airborne field artillery unit in the mid 1950s.

Even back in his early rugby days, had already started providing on-the-spot first aid to his teammates.

"I remember at rugby games, I would sew people up at halftime," he said. "Halftime would come, I sew two or three people up and they would go right back in the game."

For all his success, Howard still comes across as a regular guy. He lives on the same 200-acre farm in Wilna, in Harford County, where he grew up, and where he and his wife Amabel entertains his four children and 14 grandchildren today.

"He's amazingly down to earth," Martire said. "He wears jeans, he drives a pickup truck. And he's definitely not a three-piece suit doctor. I don't think he knows what a tie is."

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