Remembering a dynasty

THE BALTIMORE SUN

During the day, they strutted in the school hallways wearing blue and white football lettermen jackets, oozing confidence.

On Friday nights, having been turned into muscular dynamos by an ahead-of-its-time weight-training program, Howard High's Lions took out their aggressions on rivals in an electric atmosphere - playing to a soundtrack of thousands of cheering fans, a precision marching band and squealing pompon girls.

Little did the Lions dream that their efforts would result in a historic winning streak.

There were 47 straight victories from 1971 through all but the last game of 1975, when the run ended in a crushing defeat by former University of Maryland coach Roy Lester's Paint Branch Panthers in the state Class B championship game, 28-6.

City had a 54-game unbeaten streak from 1934 to 1941 that included ties, but no other Maryland high school football team had ever won so many games straight.

None would do it again for a generation.

Now, 26 years later, Urbana of Frederick County has tied the streak and can break it tomorrow against Gywnn Park in the quarterfinals of the state Class 3A playoffs.

Some former Howard players mourn the fact their streak is on the line; others embrace the reality that records are made to be broken.

"It's a sad day," said Scott Swope, a strapping quarterback who threw a school-record 18 touchdown passes in his senior season in 1974, later played semipro with the Baltimore Eagles and is now an assistant coach at another Howard County school that has produced five state champions, Wilde Lake.

"It was my dream that we [Wilde Lake] could make the playoffs and meet them [Urbana] in the first round, so I could have a hand in stopping them. I never thought it'd be broken. That's a heck of a record."

Others, like Elbert Robinson, a high school All-American in football and track, and the first black football captain at Howard, said: "I have nothing but admiration for Urbana. It takes a lot to persevere for four to five years. It shows they have character. We had character."

The Lions also had pride - a pride that stemmed from head coach Bill Caudill, who, with the help of principal Noel Farmer, built a football dynasty and a Howard mystique that left behind lasting memories.

Days of change

Change was everywhere in Howard County in those days. Columbia was 3 years old when the streak began. School integration in Howard County had existed for just six years.

Howard, once a rural, homogeneous school, had become a melting pot of blue-collar and white-collar kids, black and white, rich and poor. Some of them lived in the new town of Columbia and brought new ideas with them.

People longed to hold onto something familiar, like high school football. And Caudill fulfilled that desire by providing a first-rate program.

A coal miner's son from Bluefield, W. Va., the ex-Marine had been a Golden Gloves boxer and was a disciplinarian who believed in setting goals and then accomplishing them.

Building a great high school football program was his goal in those days. And great it was, by any measurement.

During Swope's junior year, in 1973, the team went 11-0, outscored the opposition 284-22, posted eight shutouts and won the District V title game.

In Swope's senior year, the team went 12-0, outscored the opposition 488-34, posted eight shutouts and won the Class B title in the first year for state championships.

From coaching staff to equipment and fan support, Howard had it all.

"We had 10 coaches," said Farmer, who left Howard in 1976 to become Howard County's director of high schools, then assistant superintendent and finally Frederick County's superintendent. He now teaches at Hood College.

A tall, powerful-looking man who used to drive a Cadillac and sometimes wore 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots, he frequently walked the perimeter of the field during home games to prevent trouble from breaking out.

Formidable staff

The 1974 staff consisted of mainly young, aggressive coaches - Jerry Lowe, Ned Sparks, Chuck Bragg, Dave Freeland, John Kemmerer and Danny Ross, with the older, more laid-back Jim Fink coaching the freshman team.

Sparks, who played center at North Carolina, was head coach at Howard for the 1975 season, when the streak ended. For the past 20 years, since leaving Howard in 1981, he has been executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which operates the state tournaments.

"Losing the state-championship game and ending the streak on the same day was difficult," Sparks said. "There were some wet eyes and emotion in the locker room. The kids took it hard, and I felt bad for a long time. Paint Branch pounded us pretty good. We had had to come from behind [18-3 at halftime] against Cambridge the week before, and we just ran out of gas against Paint Branch."

Howard was renovated in 1976, necessitating a move to the newly constructed Hammond High for one year. With that disruption and the loss of students to the newly opened Oakland Mills High, the team floundered, finishing 3-7.

Caudill had left before the 1975 season to become head coach at W.T. Woodson High in Virginia. He later became a high school principal, and died in the summer of 2000.

Training innovations

Considered the most crucial ingredient in Howard's success was the weightlifting program engineered by Ross, then considered an innovation for high schools.

"Jerry Claiborne was doing weights at Maryland then and dominating the ACC, so Bill saw a need for that and for summertime conditioning," said Ross, who became the head coach after Sparks in 1979 and still teaches at the school, but also is the weight-training coach at Loyola College.

Others who coached during the streak included current River Hill athletic director Don Van Deusen and Atholton basketball coach Jim Albert, both of whom also coached football together at Atholton for many years.

Discipline was the staff's forte. Players polished their helmets and shined their shoes on game days. They wore sport coats and ties to away games.

The team concept was stressed. Everyone shared the glory - and the punishment.

"An assistant coach once walked into a pizza restaurant and saw a group of players with a pitcher of beer, and he didn't say anything," said Don Pennington, a lineman whose long hair and free spirit made him one of Caudill's least-favorite players. "But the next day the team ran for three straight hours, and everyone knew they were being punished for something."

Howard was the only county school (and still is) equipped with lights, and it lorded that advantage over opponents.

An electronic scoreboard, professional end-zone markers, game films and a scouting system using computers helped to put Howard ahead of the pack.

The school had a large, outstanding marching band and cheerleading squad.

Fan support was enormous. The home games drew 1,500 to 2,000 fans, and a crowd of nearly 5,000 assembled for the streak's most memorable game - the 1974 Wilde Lake game on homecoming day. Fans stood six deep around the track that day and watched the Lions rally to win, 17-9.

Close calls

At a Randallstown game in 1973, when the Rams had one of their best teams ever, the Lions won, 7-0, with 10 busloads of Howard fans in attendance.

The streak nearly ended several times, but the Lions consistently made crucial plays.

Donnie Hillman's last-minute field goal beat Andover, 3-0, in 1973; Jay Ryland's two last-minute goal-line tackles from the 6-inch line in 1975 saved a 6-0 win at Edgewood. Moochie Chambers' last-minute interception and 33-yard touchdown return avoided a tie and pulled off a 15-8 win over Mount Hebron in 1973.

Several players earned college football scholarships, including Dave Fadrowski (Kentucky), Richard McAuliffe (Michigan), Steve Brownley (Maryland), Dan Hottowe (Virginia), Swope (Washington and Lee), C. J. Harrington (William and Mary), John Overbey (North Dakota), Robinson [Morgan), Wayne Wilson (Shepherd), Bob Bonnevile (Shepherd).

Wilson, now an assistant coach at Glenelg, started only the second half of his senior season, but went on to play professional football with the Houston Oilers, New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins.

The program touched every player's life significantly.

"I would have been a derelict without football," said Pennington, who sells industrial electronics. "It was a great experience. A lot of fun. Being 17 and being the kings is something you can never capture again. Not a lot of people had this experience.

"I only wish my son and daughter had the same thing. I wish I was in high school again. And I wish Urbana all the luck."

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