Going into the 2005 Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association outdoor track and field championship meet, Archbishop Curley coach Gene Hoffman felt honored and also a bit perplexed.
Having the championship award named after him — the Hoffman Cup was introduced that spring — was humbling, but it also had him thinking about humble pie.
“We were a .500 team going into the championships and I’m going, ‘Man, they’re naming the trophy after me and I’m probably going to have to give it to one of my competitors,’” he said. “But we pulled off an upset and won. So how cool is that to be the first recipient of the award named after you? It was the first of four straight for us.”
That’s just one of many memories for Hoffman, a 1969 Curley graduate, in a 44-year coaching career that covers a combined 131 cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field seasons. His anticipated final season was canceled last month by the coronavirus pandemic.
At Gilman, where track and field coach Johnnie Foreman will step down after 35 years, there are similar stories.
For starters, what better way to lay a strong foundation for the program than going to the prestigious Penn Relays in Philadelphia and coming home with a title in a relay event?
The win in the 1,600-meter relay came in 1989, three years into Foreman’s tenure, and it was the first of three individual titles the Greyhounds secured over the years at the national event.
“That was phenomenal for a group of kids from Baltimore at a small private school to accomplish that feat,” Foreman said. “That was the student-athletes training and persevering and the coaching — that is so satisfying.”
Hoffman and Foreman, who also had two stints as Gilman’s indoor track and field coach totaling 17 seasons (the MIAA indoor track championship award is named the Foreman Cup) and 33 years as an assistant football coach, are leaving their programs with impressive numbers. Hoffman won an estimated 19 championships in the MIAA and former Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA), while Foreman totaled 20 championships in the two leagues.
More importantly to them both, they left an indelible mark on all the student-athletes they came across.
Jack Peach, a standout on Curley’s 1981 and 1982 MSA cross country championship teams, is coaching at Mount Saint Joseph and uses much of what he learned from Hoffman.
“Gene has that fatherly feel to him in that he can be really honest without making you feel bad about it. That’s the thing I loved. He’ll tell a kid, ‘The reason you’re not good is because you don’t run on weekends.’ Not tiptoeing around, but telling them exactly what they probably needed to hear. ... That’s kind of a lost art.”
For 2002 Gilman grad Malcolm Ruff, a track and football standout who went on to play football at Duke, there’s always time made in April to recollect the special high school days and no better place than the Penn Relays.
Now an associate attorney in Baltimore, Ruff was a senior captain for Foreman.
“He’s one of those people that has the biggest heart,” Ruff said of Foreman. “His outside demeanor is tough, but he’s just one of those guys that teaches you integrity, discipline, fairness and hard work. It’s what his program was all about. I consider him to be one of my dads — he raised me.”
Hoffman and Foreman took similar paths to what turned out to be lifetime passions for both men.
As a freshman at Curley, Hoffman went out for the baseball team and found 250 others with the same plan.
After getting cut, he joined the track team and went from being the “worst kid out there” at the start to setting school marks as a hurdler and high jumper as a senior before enjoying a successful career at then-Towson State College.
As a coach, his biggest rewards are seeing similar developments from his student-athletes. For Hoffman, watching a kid put in the required time and hard work to eventually earn a medal is priceless.
“It’s really neat when you see a kid who comes out, doesn’t have a lot of the accolades behind him and all of a sudden he starts winning. When you see that joy in him, it’s incredible,” he said.
A standout football player at Douglass, Foreman also considered playing baseball until some friends talked him into track and field. It proved beneficial.
He ran the 100 and 200 meters and threw the discus and shot put, an ideal primer for his college football days at Morgan State playing guard at 6 feet 2 and 240 pounds.
Foreman, who will remain at Gilman as director of community, inclusion and equity, most enjoys the relationships he has formed with his athletes.
Varsity Highlights Newsletter
Get the latest high school sports stories, photos and video from around the region.
“If you take a look at our program at Gilman, we have kids from all walks of life, ethnicity, culture,” he said. “We have kids who are distance runners in cross country and soccer players as quarter-milers. The basketball players, we turn them into jumpers and hurdlers; gymnasts into pole vaulters and [football] linemen are the shot putter and discus throwers. It’s just a lovefest to see these kids develop and watch them perform.”
Hoffman and Foreman are both leaving on high notes.
“Hey, if I’ve been around Johnnie Foreman, [McDonogh coach] Jeff Sanborn, Jack Peach … and John Carroll coach Rob Torres, who I also coached … well, I’m going to miss that statement because I’ve kept with some really cool company.”