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Former baseball and football coach Rich Hambor to take over as Catonsville High athletic director

Rich Hambor officially takes over the Catonsville High’s athletic director position on July 1 and one of his toughest decision’s he will have to make is how to replace himself — as head varsity baseball and football coach.

“The biggest downside for Rich being the athletic director is he is not going to have Rich as a coach,” said current athletic director James “Fitz” Fitzpatrick, who is retiring after four years at the helm. “We have got a lot of people that have been here a long time and that is kind of a Catonsville thing.”

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Hambor, a Cockeysville resident who was born in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, started coaching varsity football at Catonsville High in 2004 and coached 14 years.

The 2004 team was the first in school history to make the playoffs and the following season the 2005 team won the school’s first playoff game on the gridiron.

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Catonsville also made the playoffs in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and the Comets were Baltimore County and Class 4A North Region champions in 2011.

He had an 85-62 career record and the 85 victories were the most by any coach in school history.

The end of the 30-28 victory over Paint Branch in the regional semifinals in 2011 was Hambor’ s fondest memory.

“My favorite football memory was our last drive of the Paint Branch playoff game in 2011, where we had the lead and we had to run the ball down and run that clock out,” he said. “We had a seven-plus minute drive running the same two plays and we ran the whole clock out.”

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Host Catonsville went 70 yards in 7:37 and the game ended with quarterback Aaron Jones kneeling on the Paint Branch two-yard line.

“I remember going in the huddle and telling the team we are going to run these two plays until we either go down and score or the clock runs out and they are going to know what they are and they are not going to stop us and we did it and we won that playoff game,” said Hambor, whose running attack was led by future University of Maryland wide receiver De’Andre Lane, who rushed for 187 yards on 43 attempts and scored three touchdowns.

“It was the most exciting game I’ve ever been involved in,” said Hambor after the game.

That squad defeated Poly, 28-18, for the regional title the following week for its 12th straight victory, before losing its only game of the season, to Old Mill in the state semifinals.

The 12 victories were the most ever for a Catonsville High football team.

The night after the 49-20 loss to Old Mill, the entire team was honored at the 18th annual Catonsville Tree Lighting Ceremony on Frederick Road.

Hambor was also named Baltimore Ravens Coach of the Week that season.

Since coming to Catonsville to teach English in 1997, after two years as an assistant (1995) and JV football coach (1996) at Randallstown, Hambor, 46, has adopted the Catonsville community and the town has embraced him.

“He has been here 21 years, he’s part of the community,” Catonsville High Principal Matt Ames said. “He’s been in the same place and he’s coached three different sports. He’s familiar with just about everything in athletics at Catonsville.”

Ames said Hambor made a huge positive impression at his interview.

“We interviewed four really quality candidates and Rich just shined in the interview,” Ames said. “He said exactly what his vision was and he doesn’t want to change a whole lot, but he also has ideas and I think he is going to pick up right where Fitz left off. We have a ton of momentum right now under Fitz’s leadership so I think it’s perfect.”

Fitzpatrick is a native of Catonsville and graduated from Catonsville High in 1975.

He started teaching at the school in 2002 and coached the girls’ soccer team for 12 years.

“I think the advantage I had, that Rich will also have, was being an active part of our community, being a known entity,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think it gives you a certain cachet in that regard, so that you can get things done and you can communicate in such a way that you know will be accepted and you know will be supported.”

Fewer road trips for baseball and football games will allow Hambor to get to bond with the community even better.

“Wherever you are, you have to know your community very well and you have to know the business,” he said. “You have to know the rec teams and you have to know what businesses have opened and closed and who has already donated money.”

Hambor also coached four seasons with the varsity boys basketball team, including the 2002-2003 campaign when he was head varsity coach.

Even though he’s not on the hardwood coaching basketball, it wasn’t surprising to see him cheering for the boys and girls basketball or wrestling teams in the winter.

“I envision myself being at as many games as possible,” he said. “I finally get to go to some lacrosse games and JV baseball games and go to some more soccer games.”

He has also had previous experience with administrative duties in the state.

Hambor was the Class 3A-4A North regional chairman in football from 2010 through 2017 and was the Class 4A North regional chairman in baseball the past two seasons.

“It’s a huge responsibility taking the stewardship of this program and maintaining it and pushing it forward in the best way,” Hambor said. “I’ve done it on a smaller scale in my sports, being a regional director for football and baseball, it’s a lot of scheduling going on there.”

With the wet and cold 2018 spring, Hambor’s final baseball season was often disrupted by rain, but he led the Comets to a 12-7 record that ended with a 4-1 loss to eventual state champion Howard in the Class 4A North Region Section I baseball semifinals.

The only run the Comets scored came on a suicide squeeze bunt, which was Hambor’s trademark gadget play.

Hambor began coaching the varsity baseball team in 2005 after seven seasons as head JV coach and he compiled a career record of 164-90.

The Comets won Baltimore County championships in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2013.

The 2007 team, led by Adam Kolarek, who now pitches for the Triple-A Durham Bulls in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, won a Class 3A regional title and lost in the state semifinals to Centennial.

The 2013 squad lost to South River in the state finals, after winning the Class 4A regional crown and beating Churchill in the state semis.

His most memorable baseball game came that season when the Comets defeated Westminster, 4-3, on Jeremy Davis’ run-scoring hit in the bottom of the eighth inning of the regional championship game at Catonsville.

“That was just a great game,” said Hambor, who recalled Ryan Whittington making a diving catch and doubling off the runner at second base.

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They set up special bleachers beyond the outfield fence and the fans left a lasting impression.

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“Bleachers of students out there were just having a great time cheering and screaming,” Hambor said.

As a coach, Hambor is very popular among current and former players and he plans to maintain positive relationships.

“I want to be a coaches AD and I want to be a players AD,” Hambor said. “I know I’ve been through so many different scenarios and I think I can help younger coaches deal with those a little bit and I think veteran coaches can relate to me because I’ve done it and I’ve been in their shoes.”

He admitted he will miss coaching and has some jitters about the new position.

“I am nervous, but I’m nervous the same way I would be before a game,” he said. “Nervous, as far as I know what is at stake and what I mean by that is, it’s a great school and one of the best athletic programs around and I want to maintain that, but I’m also excited to start, so that nervousness is a lot of excitement.”

Fitzpatrick knows there will be ups and downs and will help with the transition.

“I think the one thing in terms of advice is keep everything in perspective because there are really important things and there are not as important things and you have to be prioritized,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our focus is on our athletes, but we are also here to serve the parents. That’s the business that we are in. In terms of everything else, I think the transition will be seamless.”

There are also some improvements planned for the facilities.

“We are getting new bleachers, we are getting a new track this summer and we are getting our gym floor redone, so it’s all going to be as good as it can be, so I think the future looks bright,” Fitzpatrick said.”

Hambor is eager to make the future even brighter.

“I want to be able to be a resource for all the coaches that we already have and to be a place where they can go to get either advice, assistance, suggestions or just be a sounding board,” he said.

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