Anne Arundel County's sports program is about to undergo a renaissance. Changes are happening fast and have been for the past couple of years.
The loss of three great football coaches, each of whom was an athletic director at one time or another in his career, in the lastcouple of years signaled the beginning of big changes to come. At the time, we may not have realized what was on the horizon.
Those changes included the retirements of the two people who ran the show -- county supervisors of physical education Paul Rusko and Jean Boyd as well as a few athletic directors.
The deaths of football coaches Al Laramore (Annapolis High) and Jerry Mears (Meade) and the retirement of Joe Papetti (South River) created a void that seems to have grown frighteningly bigger.
Laramore, Mears and Papetti were the county's three winningest football coaches of all time. At hisdeath, Mears was athletic director at Meade while Papetti's retirement left the football and athletic director's job open in Edgewater.
Then, just this past year, the revered Andover basketball coach Dick Hart, who also at one time was an athletic director, died after a long illness. Hart had been named the new coach at North County High, but never got to coach a game for the Knights.
When you lose guys like that, your team certainly is weakened. And when I say team, I mean the overall county coaches association that could be in danger of losing some of its clout with the Board of Education.
A war isn't going on, but some interesting things are happening that could allow the unelected school board to really control things.
For the last 15 years, Rusko and Boyd have been the eyes and ears of the coaches association. While master politicians, the pair have been pretty much dedicated to the coaches' cause and acted as the go-betweens.
Rusko and Boyd both announced this school year that they are retiring, and with a hiring freeze on now, it's not known who will replace them, or if one person will handle both jobs.
Who eventually replaces Rusko and Boyd could say a lot about the future course county public school athletics takes. It appears the track already has been greased when you look deeply into a couple of the recent controversies concerning the athletic directors' positions.
Coaches like Mears, Laramore, Papetti and Hart, along with their bosses, Rusko and Boyd, were around when coaches fielded teams for love of the game and didn't get apenny for it.
Back in those days, the people I'm talking about were young pups being led by the late, great Steve Carroll.
Carroll was the legendary Arundel High coach and athletic director who led the battle for coaches to get paid. The old-timers will tell you that Carroll was the gutsy ringleader who along with the late Severna Park football coach and AD George Roberts stood up to the system to get coaches their due.
After Carroll and Roberts paved the way with teammates such as Laramore, Mears, Papetti, Hart, Rusko and Boyd, the door was opened.
It's only fair that coaches, who are educators just like those in the classroom, be compensated for the long hours they put in teaching youngsters about sports and real life.
And their bosses, the athletic directors, also deserve to be paid. In the early years, the Board of Education paid the coaches and athletic directors dirt-cheap salaries after the charge led by Carroll and Roberts.
During the early '80s, the likes of the regime we've recently lost ledthe way for better and more reasonable pay, showing they had learnedwell from their mentors, and they had the ears of a great county executive in Robert Pascal.
Pascal had a sports background, and in myopinion was the man who did the most for Anne Arundel County coachesand their programs of anyone ever in a key position.
Pascal was no stuffed shirt, but rather a guy who could get down on the coaches' level and talk their language. He understood the coaches' plight, theimportance of athletics to the educational process and went to bat for high school sports.
It goes without saying that Pascal hit a dinger, but he had a pretty good lineup to help him out.
Key team members still on the scene such as athletic directors Bernie Walter (Arundel), Jim Dillon (Old Mill), Tom Albright (Southern), Terry Bogle (Glen Burnie), Mike Baker (Brooklyn Park and North County) and Andy Borland (Severna Park) helped fight for the coaches along with recentlydeparted Bob Grimm (Northeast) and Tim McMullen (Brooklyn Park and Broadneck).
Now the question is, how good is the team? Has it been weakened?
The team has lost people like Grimm to a power struggle with his new principal, Joe Carducci, who fired the popular Eagles athletic director. McMullen has retired, and last summer, Butch Young resigned as Meade athletic director after his principal took his authority away.
You have to wonder if the Walters, Dillons, Borlands, Albrights and Bogles have enough help to fight for their rights.
Grimm and McMullen were outspoken about the injustices athletic directors undergo trying to adequately perform a full-time job in a 55-minute planning period. When you lose people like that who had the guts tostand up and be counted against the board, it's got to weaken your team.
It would be like the Orioles losing Cal Ripken Jr.
Granted, anybody can be replaced, but it's not so easy to replace the competitors, the guys in there scrapping for the cause, and those are the kind of men Grimm and McMullen are. Certainly, with two guys like thatout of the high-profile picture, the board can rest a little easier.
There appears to be hope at Broadneck where McMullen was replacedby his brother, Kevin, but Grimm's replacement has yet to be named.
The board still has Annapolis athletic director Fred Stauffer to contend with, and Walter, who has been known to fight for a cause, butdo they now have enough help?
Stauffer, who was just getting his feet wet during the rebellious years, is now a prominently respected leader in athletics, but like anyone else needs help or things might go backward.
The fear I have is that a trend could be happening right beneath our noses, and that trend would be the employment of low-key types in the athletic director positions, which could de-emphasize what is arguably the best high school athletic program in Maryland.
In other words, a new regime of athletic directors who would rather not make waves and go along with the board without debate could bedangerous to the athletic program.
Most importantly, the naming of new one or two county coordinators of physical education is going to be crucial.
Here's hoping a Dillon or Stauffer would be interested and considered, or at least someone with an extensive athletic background and not someone with just textbook knowledge.
What scares me is that this age of change we are facing for the '90s is solely inthe hands of the board. It's got the ace in the hole if it wants to really control the coaches and have it strictly its way by whomever it names.
Let's hope the coaches get a fighting chance so the renaissance will be in the best interests of high school sports and not the bureaucracy.