Myron Dutterer got angry when he found out he was nominated for Howard County's Educator of the Year.
"I was very ticked off. The night of the awards ceremony was supposed to be the opening night of our show ['Li'l Abner'] this weekend, and I didn't want to let my kids down by postponing our opening night," Mr. Dutterer said.
It was only after arm-twisting from his principal that the Centennial High School drama teacher agreed to push back the date of the first show so he could attend the ceremony.
It's that dedication to his students that led the Howard County Chamber of Commerce to recognize Mr. Dutterer Thursday night as the county's top educator at the fifth annual Howard County Community Awards Night.
"It's embarrassing -- I'm doing the same things I was doing 20 years ago," said Mr. Dutterer, or "Mo" as he is known throughout the Ellicott City school. "Everyone who was nominated Thursday night is doing a fabulous job, and there are another 400 or 500 teachers out there who also deserve this award."
Mr. Dutterer was among 31 county police officers, firefighters and educators honored for community service in a ceremony at the Turf Valley Hotel and Country Club.
All the award recipients except Mr. Dutterer were announced in advance of the ceremony, sponsored by The Sun and NationsBank.
Mr. Dutterer, who has taught drama at Centennial since the school opened in 1977, long has been recognized as a pioneer in Howard County's theater community.
When he entered the Howard County school system in 1973 after leaving the Army, Mr. Dutterer created a "Sights and Sounds" class at Dunloggin Middle School that exposed students to music, dance, drama and photography.
He also put on the first major musical for a county middle school in 1974 -- "Li'l Abner," the same show being performed at Centennial this weekend. The last performance is this afternoon.
Since he came to Centennial, his students have performed 53 major plays and countless smaller shows. These days, a show can cost as much as $12,000 and require hundreds of hours of planning and rehearsal.
The 47-year-old Longfellow resident "has built the drama program . . . into the outstanding drama program in Howard County and possibly in the state of Maryland," wrote Dr. Edgar T. Markley, Centennial's principal, in nominating Mr. Dutterer for the award.
"It brought tears to my eyes when he won the award," said senior Lauren Lynch, 18, of Columbia, who is the choreographer of this weekend's show. "He doesn't teach drama. He teaches life and what to expect in it. Of course, he's also a great drama teacher, but I've learned more about life in his classes than drama."
In Mr. Dutterer's classroom, everything is devoted to the stage, from the cast photographs along the walls to a makeup mirror behind his desk. He teaches drama, musical theater and stagecraft and keeps in touch with many former students.
Although he declines to name a favorite play, Mr. Dutterer quickly recalls many highlights. For example, in the school's 1981 production of "Fiddler on the Roof," Mr. Dutterer began what is now a tradition of recruiting some of the school's prominent athletes to assume small roles in the school plays.
"I just went into the weight room, put my arms around these guys whom I had had in class back when they were at Dunloggin and got them to join a scene as Russian soldiers for some energetic Russian dancing," Mr. Dutterer recalled.
Centennial's 1989 production of "Quilters" -- a story of pioneer women -- drew such widespread acclaim that the cast was invited to perform in Aspen, Colo., for a fund-raiser for pediatric AIDS research.
To keep local theater alive in the summer, Mr. Dutterer helped found the Howard County Summer Theater, which annually performs a musical involving students, adults, senior citizens and children. A bass-baritone, he performs as well as designs sets for the productions.
Mr. Dutterer's wife of 25 years, Barbara Palmer Dutterer, teaches third grade at Phelps Luck Elementary School and shares her husband's passion for the theater. They take groups of Centennial students on trips to see plays a couple of times each year, including an annual excursion overseas.
A group of 19 leaves for Greece Wednesday.
The couple's daughter Lauren, 17, has been in Mr. Dutterer's drama classes at Centennial the past four years. Their son Clark, 15, now takes the stagecraft class.
"It's great teaching my kids," Mr. Dutterer said. "Sometimes it's the only time of the day when they listen to you."