Winning games right away doesn't concern Gary Myers, coach of Bowling Brook Prep's first football team.
In one sense, each player already has won something -- another chance.
They are among the select few who have gained admission to Bowling Brook, an alternative school for chronic juvenile offenders that occupies 60 acres among western Carroll County's cornfields and rolling hills.
"This is not a come-one, come-all kind of place," said Mike Sunday, Bowling Brook's executive director.
Bowling Brook students -- 16-to-19-year-old boys from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware -- arrive by way of referral from juvenile services departments. But only one of every four prospective students is admitted after a admissions process designed to gauge whether a student, in Bowling Brook's environment, can turn around his troubled life.
Sunday said that for many students, accustomed to broken homes and blighted neighborhoods, the secluded campus on the site of the former Bolling Brook thoroughbred horse farm is a refuge.
"We make it a safe place," Sunday said. "I can't emphasize that enough. The kids can relax. If the can relax, they can focus. And if they can focus, they can learn."
Other than its students' checkered pasts, Bowling Brook could be any small, private boarding school. The main building houses classrooms, a computer lab, a cafeteria and small library. Dormitories are just a short walk away. Students take classes in math and science, social studies and literature. The school has a student newspaper and student government.
And this fall, Bowling Brook adds the epitome of high school tradition, a football team.
Sunday said there has been talk of Bowling Brook football for several years. Fielding a team, however, became feasible only recently, with a jump in enrollment from 39 to 65 since May of 1998.
"There has been a great anticipation for football to get started here," said Myers, a South Carroll graduate and the school's group living director, as well as football coach.
Of the 65 students, 48 came out for the team.
But, Myers said, "95 percent or more" never had played organized football.
So where to even begin?
"You start with fundamentals," said Myers, a former assistant coach at both South Carroll and Liberty. "You start with blocking, tackling, [and] understanding the concepts and mechanics."
You also start with a field, which was graded last spring. Someday, Myers said, there will be a practice field, bleachers and a scoreboard.
For now, the Thoroughbreds will play almost exclusively on the road. Their initial season, a seven-game schedule, begins Sept. 18 at West Nottingham Academy. Their lone home game will be against Hancock Oct. 16 -- at Francis Scott Key High School.
"I haven't put a lot of thought into winning," Myers said. "That's going to come. First and foremost, we want the kids to have fun, and for [football] to be a quality experience for the students.
"For a lot of them," he said, "being on a sports team here may be the first time they've been part of a group that's been something productive."
Even before the first practice, Myers knew his players had some raw ability. He had seen students excel in intramural flag football, basketball, track and wrestling, the school's other sports.
Mike Price, a 5-foot-10, 230-pound lineman, was an All-County wrestler last season, leading the Thoroughbreds to the Maryland Independent Schools Class B state title.
Rashad Cobb, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound quarterback and defensive back, won the private schools state championship in the triple jump last spring.
"If he worked at it, he could probably play Division I football," Myers said of Cobb. "He needs a little more experience, but the athleticism is definitely there."
As on any first-year team, there are no returning letter-winners. But at Bowling Brook Prep, there probably never will be.
Most students are enrolled at Bowling Brook for a court-appointed stay of 10 months. Most leave with their high-school equivalency certificate. But the school doesn't have a traditional school calendar; students arrive and leave throughout the year.
"I leave in October," said Vito Lee, a quarterback from Pittsburgh. "I'll only get to play in two games."
Friends try to convince him to extend, to take additional classes until the end of football season.
"I don't know," Lee said, his tone implying he won't. "I have a young daughter back home."
Still, for Lee and others, being part of Bowling Brook's first football team is a source of pride, a dose of accomplishment in lives that have been largely devoid of it.
"This is a special thing that we're a part of," said running back Tristen Scott. "We want to run with it and set an example for next year and the years after that."
Pub Date: 9/02/99