If Chuck Struhar didn't teach English every day at Glenelg High School, he probably would be content to spend the day talking about softball.
Since taking over the softball program at Glenelg three years ago, Struhar has turned Glenelg into a county powerhouse and a perennial playoff team. A knowledgeable, enthusiastic, demanding coach, Struhar prides himself on teaching fundamentals, drilling his players on game situations and turning marginal players into genuine talents.
That may be a line out of every coach's handbook, but Struhar keeps producing the most impressive examples -- like Lisa Martin, a natural infielder who became one of the county's most dependable pitchers over the last two seasons. Or Jodi Kielman, an all-hit, weak-field first baseman who became the slickest at her position after working with Struhar this spring.
"Chuck and I have been friends for a long time, partly because we're English teachers," said Atholton softball coach Dave Vitagliano. "He is the best coach in the county. Easy choice. I don't hide the fact that I copy him."
Struhar, the Howard County Sun's Coach of the Year, did another stellar job in his fourth season with the Gladiators. Glenelg went 15-3, finished a strong second to Centennial in the county standings and made it to the regional championship game.
The Gladiators won with a typically unselfish, workmanlike style, beating teams in a variety of ways. They hit for power occasionally, but also used the bunt as a weapon. They ran the bases better than any team in the league. But the Gladiators were in a class by themselves when it came to Struhar's top priority -- defense.
Glenelg committed only 14 errors in 18 games, less than an error per game. Martin gave up seven hits, two walks a game and nearly three earned runs a game, but she refused to give in to hitters. With a defense like that behind her, why would she?
"We don't have great pitchers, we have good pitchers. We don't have great hitters, we have good hitters," Struhar said. "What we do have is great fielders. If you get the kids obsessed with playing great defense, good things are going to happen. You don't have to be a genius to teach this game. I'm certainly not. We take a million ground balls. We work at it every day."
The Gladiators work at other things, too.
They hit .384 as a team, averaged 10 runs a game and struck out only 57 times in 517 official plate appearances. They stole an incredible 238 bases, an average of 13 a game. And they did it with only two seniors in the starting lineup.
Centennial has won three of the last four county titles, but a changing of the guard appears to be at hand. Glenelg, which won the county championship in 1990 and has finished behind Centennial the last two seasons, could be the next king of the hill.
"When I took this job, I wanted to establish a real good program," said Struhar, whose Gladiators have a 36-6 record against the county since 1989. "Honestly, we never talk about winning and losing."