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Football champs give community a boost


YOU WILL have to indulge me today. I'm not in the mood to write about new county officers, bonded indebtedness or the pace of development. A week later, I've still got a buzz from the thrill of watching Oakland Mills High School bring the Class 1A state football championship to Howard County.

Yes, I have a child on the team. But even if I didn't I would be excited. The Oakland Mills squad came to represent more than a football team as its season wore on. Its championship was a victory for a community that in recent years has received several blows to its self-esteem.

As one of Columbia's older villages, Oakland Mills has lost a lot of its luster. Redistricting that sent students to new schools in newer villages two years ago caused a reduction in student population that dropped the high school to Class 1A status, for smaller schools, in athletic competition. The rest of the village, too, seemed to lose rank.

Sinking feeling

The sinking increased last year when Giant closed its grocery in the village center and McDonald's abandoned plans to open a restaurant. Meanwhile, every house burglary added to the misconception that Oakland Mills is a dangerous place.

Adding credence to that erroneous perception was a profile in the Columbia Flier this year that sought to depict Oakland Mills as a "ghetto" high school of "yo boys" and "you-go girls," presumably because its diverse student body includes a higher percentage of African Americans than most in the county.

The football team began the season feeling like it was getting as much respect as Rodney Dangerfield. A key player had graduated. The returning quarterback was held in such low regard that he was expected to play tight end. But then came the first game, against Elkton.

Knowing OM had been a rushing team, the Cecil County school used extra men to defense the run and dared Oakland Mills to pass. Quarterback T. J. Welsh not only obliged, he exceled. He threw for three touchdowns in a 34-19 victory. It was amazing for someone who had done little more than hand the ball off to a running back the past two seasons.

The next game was against Wilde Lake, the oldest high school in Columbia but only two years older than Oakland Mills. Their heated rivalry has been tinged with jealousy of late. Wilde Lake was razed four years ago and has since been reconstructed into a virtual academic temple, complete with atrium. Oakland Mills, at age 25, could use a face lift.

Wilde Lake also has retained a large enough student population to compete with the bigger schools in Class 3A athletics. Class 1A Oakland Mills proved no match, losing the game 27-13.

But the Scorpions would lose no more. They beat every other team in Howard County and finished the regular football season as a regional champion.

But many of Oakland Mills' victories could have gone either way. The football team barely got by Centennial, 12-7; Long Reach, 18-13; Howard, 7-6; and Mount Hebron, 28-20. Those wins weren't due to athletic skill as much as to character and determination -- mental attributes needed in a championship series.

The team's 15-0 win over Bohemia Manor, another Cecil school, in the first round of the playoffs was OM's only shutout. The Scorpions had to come from behind to beat Cambridge, 14-13, in the semifinal. They were down 12-0 in the fourth quarter before rallying to beat Forestville of Prince George's County 15-12 in the title game. It was Oakland Mills' first state football championship.

Congratulations are due head coach Ken Hovet, assistant coaches Sam Singleton, Justin Payne, Bryan Winfield, Sam Winfield and Ray Page.

Thanks, players

Thanks to the players for a season to remember: William Shepherd, Julian Barfield, T. J. Welsh, Thomas Browne. Jimmy Herbeson, Robert Roche, Herbie Clinton, Eddie Echols, Joey Ellis, Josh Smith, Ryan Conville, Vinnie Rubbo, Tim Hong, Marcus West, Nick Fambro, A .G. McCray, Thaddeus Dymczenski, Jeremy Mundell, Chuckie Reese, Brian Holly, Brendan Knott, Robert Scott, Matt Oxford, Jay Frizzelle, Lance Adams, Mike Fewell, Michael Ellis, Chris Honecker, Thomas Singh, Bryan Schmitt, Dennis Jackson, J. T. Rembert, Andrew Croner, Sergio Miranda, Andrew Deming, Adam Lewis and Keith Cleveland.

Throughout the week before the final game, former OM players came back to talk to the football team about how much it would mean to them to say their alma mater had won the championship. But hundreds of people with no direct Oakland ** Mills connection showed up in College Park to cheer on the Scorpions. For some, the OM victory was validation for a community.

With the recent reopening of a renovated village center, including a new Metro food market to replace the Giant, many Oakland Mills residents feel their neighborhood is back on track. It helped to see their high school bring home state championships in both football and soccer this year.

Harold Jackson writes editorials about Howard County for The Sun.

Pub Date: 12/6/98

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