2016 Harford sports: Championships, near misses, a Silver Medal

It was a year of championships, near misses, changes in the Ripken Baseball presence in Harford County and an Olympic medalist.

Bel Air resident Chase Kalisz won a silver medal in August in swimming in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Kalisz, who has had a tremendous career as an amateur and collegiate swimmer for the University of Georgia Bulldogs, finished second in the 400 individual medley in Rio.

It was a routine start in 2016 for Ripken Baseball and the presence it has created in Harford County.

The IronBirds opened their season with a win against the Auburn Doubledays at Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. This year as a tribute to Officers Dailey and Logsdon, who were killed in the line of duty in February, both families were part of the first pitch. Both deputies' badge numbers will be displayed throughout the season on the grass at Ripken Stadium.

The Ripken World Series opened some weeks later with pool play games in the U.S. and International divisions. There were 18 teams of 12-year-olds, 10 teams from the U.S. and 8 from other countries, competing for the world championship. Team Japan ended up winning the World Championship in a game against the U.S. Champion Kennewick, Washington.

Then the changes started coming.

First, the Aberdeen government announced that Leidos Field at Ripken Stadium, that the city owns, needed millions of dollars in repairs. The 15-year-old stadium needed its railings replaced as well as repairs to their supporting concrete. Talks were underway between the City of Aberdeen and the Aberdeen IronBirds baseball team about cost sharing for the railing job and other repairs and upgrades needed for the facility.

It wasn't long after that news broke that the announcement came that after 13 years, the Cal Ripken World Series tournament for players ages 11 and 12 would be leaving Aberdeen. Ripken Incorporated made the decision it didn't want to continue hosting the tournament. Hosting the tournament, between paying rights fees and other expenses, costs about $100,000 to host. Ripken Baseball announced it would not be leaving Aberdeen and would continue providing a variety of youth baseball programs.

That announcement had barely settled when news broke that Cal Ripken Jr. and Bill Ripken were considering selling a majority interest in the IronBirds minor league baseball team.

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said "we look forward to working with the current owners to find a solution that works best for everybody." The Ripkens want to retain a minority interest and bring in a strategic partner to operate the team while they focus on their youth baseball business.

The city and Ripken Baseball did eventually work out a new lease agreement for the stadium, but it will be just a one-year deal through the end of 2017, while city officials continue to evaluate future management options for the facility.

There was plenty of uplifting Harford County sports news in 2016.

The C. Milton Wright High School boys basketball team won the Class 3A state championship beating Stephen Decatur High School by two points at the University of Maryland.

Bel Air High freshman Brent Lorin and Aberdeen High junior Ethan Smith each won state wrestling championships.

The Fallston High boys lacrosse team followed those championships by winning the Class 2A-1A State Championship for the fourth time in five years.

The Bel Air baseball team captured the 4A state title with an 8-1 win over Montgomery County's Quince Orchard.

Haley Cummins, a freshman at C. Milton Wright, won a state cross country championship in October.

Also last spring, longtime Fallston High School football coach Dave Cesky was inducted into the Maryland High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Cesky's induction follows five others from the county to be honored, including his father, the late Al Cesky, the longtime football coach at Bel Air High School.

Then, as players gathered in August to begin practicing for the 2016 season, it was learned that had Dave Cesky stepped down after 39 years, citing health reasons. He had led the Cougars since the school opened. Dave Cesky was replaced by long-time assistant Jim Grant.

Al Cesky was so beloved by the young people that he coached and mentored that when he passed they started a memorial scholarship that is going strong years and hundreds of thousands of dollars awarded later.

The Al Cesky Scholarship Fund recipients for 2016 were Andrea Sipos from Bel Air High School and Kurt Rawlings from the John Carroll School. Faculty nominates the scholarship winners, who are selected based on their academic and athletic accomplishments, extra-curricular and community service activities.

The 2015-16 school year closed with a controversy over the Harford County Public Schools swimming program. In order to reconcile the Harford County Public Schools fiscal 2017 budget, a proposal was made to close the three indoor pools and eliminate interscholastic swimming. A large swimming community, including high school swimmers, said they wouldn't go away quietly. The school board voted unanimously later in June to keep its three pools open and operating for the 2016-17 school year.

The 2016-17 school year opened with a sports budget issue of a different kind. The school system's controversial and unpopular pay-to-play fees charged to students would be under scrutiny this year. The $100 fee had been controversial from its inception three years ago, prompting protests from students and parents in the community.

"During this upcoming budget process, we will be taking a close look at the participation fee issue; I just wanted to make that clear to everybody," said Joe Voskuhl, vice president of the Board of Education.

Another controversial recreation program, unrelated to schools or school facilities, was introduced this year and then quickly cut way back.

The Maryland Transportation Authority said it would start allowing bicyclists to cross the Hatem Bridge. Special lights were set up on each side of the bridge as the Route 40 span between Havre de Grace and Perryville was open daily to two-wheel pedal power.

About a month after the daily program started, however, the Transportation Authority announced it was going to limit bicycles crossing to weekends and holidays starting in September, citing minimal use by cyclists during the week.

"After further evaluation, there was a policy change made which will be effective Sept. 6," MdTA spokesperson Cheryl Sparks said.

Local Sports facilities made their share of headlines in 2016.

Just in time for spring, baseball and softball, Schucks Road Regional Park, a Harford County Parks and Recreation facility, near the intersection of Route 22 and Shucks Road across the state road from Harford Community College, opened in April. The 71-acre complex has five ball diamonds, one multi-purpose field to use for soccer and lacrosse, a playground, picnic areas, a 1.2 mile walking track and a gazebo.

A month later, Harford Community College announced the stadium's artificial turf field that was installed in 2007 would be replaced. The Harford Stadium field is used for lacrosse, soccer, and continuing education activities.

In June, The Arena Club broke ground on a new sports performance training facility on Churchville Road. The Arena Sports Factory will be a 28,000 square foot athletic training facility that will house an indoor turf field and a dedicated sports performance area with a professional weight training room. The new facility is set to open in early January 2017.

Also in the summer, it was reported that the Harford County Parks and Recreation Department had been gradually reducing its maintenance staff as workers were not replaced when they leave. Contractors have been hired to take on more of the mowing duties. "No one's losing their job," Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for the county administration, said. "It's all through attrition."

In another sign of the budget process at work, the Fallston High School turf field installation was delayed until 2017. The delay was caused by a need to rebid the project.

In October, the new building at the Churchville Recreation Complex on Route 155 was dedicated. The Level Building includes a gymnasium that's more than 15,000 square feet, with two basketball courts, a fitness center, indoor and outdoor courts, two courts for tennis and volleyball, a large multi-purpose room, a small meeting room, a place space for storage and Parks and Recreation offices.

As October turned into November and the end of the fall sports season, Havre de Grace, for the second straight year, advanced farther in the state football playoffs than any other team. And for the second year in a row, they lost big to Fort Hill in the state championship game. The win gave Fort Hill its fourth straight state championship.

The 2016 Year in Sports ended with the defending state champion C. Milton Wright boys basketball team taking to the court with all the other teams in search of a state title with the opening of the winter sports season and soon another new year to look forward to in Harford County sports.

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