When the Severna Park field hockey team captured its first state championship in 1979, its coach, Lil Shelton, described her squad as the new kids on the block. The program had started four years earlier.
Now, Severna Park owns the block.
"There are some dominate teams in the county and Lil Shelton's field hockey is one of them," said Severna Park athletic director Andy Borland. "When you have beaten her program, you have really done something."
Some coaches are ecstatic to register a one-goal loss to the five-time state champion Falcons.
At the center of all the success is Shelton, beginning her 18th season as the program's head coach. Shelton has guided Severna Park to a 215-35-5 record and two undefeated seasons, including the 1987 campaign in which the team allowed only one goal.
But all the championships and victories are not what's important to Shelton. It's her players that count the most.
"It's the way the girls respond to me that's important," Shelton said. "It's not winning and losing. That's not what it's about. We try to offer the girls more than a win-loss record. It's important that you can do something in a kid's life.
"We wanted to have a good experience for the girls. We didn't set out to win championships."
This season, the Falcons are back on top again, posting a 7-0 record and ranked as The Baltimore Sun's No. 2 field hockey team.
While undefeated seasons and championships are the norm at Severna Park, so are winning streaks. The Falcons have a 32-game regular-season unbeaten streak. But Severna Park topped that, recording a longer mark in the mid- to late-'80s.
"We don't have any surprises for each game," said Shelton, one of 152 coaches selected nationwide for the 1992 Gatorade Coaches Care Honor Roll, the lone Maryland representative. "It's the way we execute in each game that matters."
At the beginning of each season, Shelton distributes sheets of paper, boasting the school's impressive record and five state championships in the last 18 years. Shelton doesn't want to let the team forget about the program's winning tradition.
"The kids have worked to make the name of field hockey here," she said. "They know the program has a name. I give them the sheets so they can see the heritage. It makes them work a little bit harder to live up to it. Making the season fun and enjoyable for them is important. But the state tournament is in the back of their minds."
Borland said, "She is very intense and cares about her players. When the kids realize you care about them, they perform better."
Shelton prefers not to take any credit for the program's success, insisting the players made the school a state power in field hockey, and she says this year's group, like many other teams in the past, possesses unique talent.
"They give so much of themselves to the program," she said. "They want to make the team succeed and they do everything to make it successful. They give so much effort and dedication."
Shelton's changing strategies from year to year and the club's "psyche circle," a pre-game and practice warm-up ritual may have netted Severna Park some victories through the years. Some have called "psyche circle" intimidating.
"When you have experience, you know what works," Shelton said.
Borland said, "I wish every coach I had displayed the fire and intensity that she does for her sport. She has worked hard to make field hockey not only good here, but make it strong all over Anne Arundel County because of her summer clinic."
That clinic (the Anne Arundel County junior league) runs for six weeks every summer and has been directed by Shelton for the last five years.