Oh, yesterday came suddenly
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
— Ferris Bueller
Allegany Communications Sports
The state of West Virginia has one week in the books; Maryland gets things rolling this weekend and here we are again.
It was at this very time 38 years ago, I found myself preparing for another high school football season to begin; only 38 years ago, it wasn’t another, it was the first. At least it was my first working for the Cumberland Times-News.
A lot of things have changed since then: I no longer have black hair, most of the stadiums no longer have grass, Bishop Walsh no longer has football, all of the head coaches I covered that season no longer coach, many of the players I covered that season are now coaches thinking about no longer coaching, and so many wonderful friends whose paths have crossed are no longer here, such as Jim Fazzalore, Jerry Calhoun, John Alkire and Jim Refosco — four very different men who more times than not shared the same results, making it clear that, yes, it was actually a good thing to prefer to win.
Aging will bite you if you let it, but for the most part, it gets a bad rap. For instance, as I approached 60 a few years back, most of my wiseguy friends and co-workers had something to say about it.
I told them that turning 60 beats stopping at 59. Besides, as the great Richard Pryor said, “Old folks don’t get to be old by being no (two-word Richard Pryor word) fool.”
And while there were seemingly a few more ouches along the way, that way of life didn’t always go so fast if you want to know the truth. Sure, it’s a great way to make a living for somebody who loves sports; it’s the very best way, but it’s far from being a day at the beach all the time.
I was reminded of this a few months ago while I was reading Times-News sports editor Jeff Landes’ column detailing all of the things his sports staff would be preparing, presenting and covering through the late summer months into the fall seasons. And as I told my old friend and long-time colleague, as I was reading it, I felt the pangs of having to gear up for the fall workload and preparations heading into the fall season, that so quickly leads to the winter season and then the spring.
That will happen when you did something for close to 36 years.
Still, wouldn’t change a thing. Well, maybe a tweak here or there, but certainly not the path this profession has taken me in life. I’ve met and continue to meet so many people I never would have met without the job. I’ve become great friends with a lot more; friends I never imagined I’d ever meet, say, 38 years ago?
Of course, I’ve also met some mopes along the way and I’m certain they feel the same way about meeting me, which is fair. It was all worth it.
Thirty-eight years ago, Dick Bittner was beginning his first season as the Fort Hill head coach, finally getting his chance after two decades as a top assistant at his alma mater. Bittner was brought in to right the ship, whatever that means in high school football, and though he was the head coach for just two years, it’s safe to say that all these years later the ship’s been on a pretty good course since then.
Bittner guided Fort Hill to the Maryland Class A state playoffs both seasons after the Sentinels had missed the playoffs (and lost to Allegany) the previous four.
Of course, Class A then was what Class 3A is now in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. Allegany was the defending Class B state champion, with Class B then being Class 2A now. And under Coach Jim Refosco, and behind the running of University of Virginia-bound Danny Porter, the Campers put together a great season of 9-1.
And missed the playoffs.
In those days, only the four region champions of each class advanced to the playoffs. Then they expanded to eight teams in the fall of 1985, then later to 16. Now, nearly all of the teams in each class make the playoffs and the MPSSAA, as it has always vowed to do, has kept its four-region set-up in each class.
The guy who had a hand in designing the plan Maryland now uses is Todd Helmick. He played for the Fort Hill team I covered 38 years ago. I remember he told me that year he was going to play football for Florida State. I told him sure he was, and that I was going to write the next great American novel.
So maybe there’s hope for me still because, well … Helmick played football for Florida State.
Fort Hill started that 1984 season 5-0, then lost to Bishop Walsh, who was coached by the former Sentinel great John Alkire. Today, the head coach at Fort Hill is John’s son, Zack Alkire.
A couple of weeks later, the Sentinels fell to Keyser, who was coached by a fellow named Mike Calhoun, who was two years from succeeding Bittner as the Fort Hill coach and who retired a few years ago as principal of Allegany.
Refosco was the head coach at Allegany then and you’re familiar with his work. You still see it at every high school game around here, as it was Refosco who brought the Wing-T offense to Western Maryland and our area.
Fort Hill beat Allegany, 14-12, in the Homecoming Game in 1984 to knock the Campers out of the playoffs (again, at 9-1 and as defending state champion). After the game, I fought my way across town through traffic to talk to Refosco at Allegany High and found him sitting comfortably behind his desk puffing on an enormous cigar. His assistant coaches were in the room, as well.
“We’ve been waiting for you,” Refosco said. “I just want the younger coaches here to see how this works. What do you have?”
Three of the “younger coaches” in the room were Toby Eirich, Jack Gilmore, who would succeed Refosco the following season and become the school’s winningest coach, and Dave Merrill, who succeeded Gilmore in 1995.
But those guys weren’t younger guys. I was the young guy. I remember it as though it were yesterday. Which just goes to show you …
Enjoy another great season. After all, life moves pretty fast.
Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT