Coaches' Being Close Ends Soccer Rivalry's Nastiness

October 24, 1990|By Rick Belz

To the hundreds of spectators at Saturday's soccer game between Oakland Mills and Centennial nothing appeared to be unusual.

After Oakland Mills scored a 4-2 victory, keeping alive its regional playoff hopes and moving into second place ahead of Centennial in the league standings, the two head coaches met at midfield and exchanged standard chit-chat. It's a familiar scene.

For those who hung around Angelo Fortunato Memorial Stadium Saturday, however, something unusual did take place.

Because 20 minutes after the game had ended, the two coaches were still on the field and talking about soccer.

The coaches, Don Shea of Oakland Mills and Bill Stara of Centennial, happen to be best friends. And the sport is a glue that bonds their long-term friendship.

It's the kind of friendship that creates a healthy high school sports atmosphere, one constructed on mutual respect. Players and coaches alike show each other respect.

While the game was in progress, both coaches feverishly tried everything they could think of to win. After it was over, the competitiveness subsided. They smiled and accepted the outcome.

It was a good example for their players, some of whom have friends on the other team. In fact, a half-dozen Scorpions play for Centennial coach Stara on a club team called Millwall.

This friendship scene is especially refreshing behavior because these two teams used to be the most bitter of opponents.

"Before Shea came it used to be a hate match," Stara said.

The bad blood may have started in 1982, when Centennial ended a two-year unbeaten string by Oakland Mills during the regular season, and then knocked the Scorpions out of the regional playoffs, ending their string of four straight state title appearances.

Stara had taken over at Centennial in 1981 and created a team that challenged Oakland Mills' soccer supremacy. In 1983, Centennial again knocked Al Goldstein's Scorpions out of the playoffs with a 1-0 win on penalty kicks.

Each year the games took on a more warlike atmosphere. They got downright venomous.

Players from opposing teams would curse, spit, trip, point fingers and try to brutalize each other during games. And the feud would last long after soccer season in some cases.

That changed in 1986 when Shea took over at Oakland Mills. True, the teams still play hard, physical soccer against one other, but the players no longer disrespect each other.

The coaching situation is responsible for the change.

Shea and Stara both take great pride in their programs and seek to develop more than just soccer players.

They establish tough standards for both on and off the field and expect their athletes to meet them. Most do. A few fail.

But the coaches must be doing something right. At last year's Thanksgiving weekend alumni game, 83 former players from the two schools showed up to relive old times and the game raised $400 for Toys for Tots.

Stara, 33, and Shea, 37, both grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh and went to the same high school, North Hills. The friendship developed later, when the two played on a club team together.

"We used to drive two hours twice a week to Akron, Ohio, to play club ball," said Stara, who was a college student then.

They played soccer together one summer in Europe. And eventually they landed in Maryland, coaching high school soccer -- Shea at Elkton in Cecil County and Stara at Centennial.

Each served as the other's best man. And Shea is godfather to Stara's 2-year-old son, Matthew.

"If my baby sitter gets sick, Nancy (Shea's wife) watches Matthew," Stara said. "He drops in at my house. I drop in at his."

That's a pretty cozy setup for coaches of arch-rival teams.

The two have a Friendship Cup, a silver bowl that goes to the winning coach of the regular season game played between the two teams.

"My players were asking to see the cup after the game, but I forgot to bring it," Shea said. "It will be on display during the alumni game."

This is the third year for the cup, and so far Stara hasn't won it.

Centennial is 0-2-1 in cup play, and hasn't won in the last four games between the teams.

Stara hopes Centennial is not developing an Oakland Mills complex. The Eagles had given up only three goals all year before giving up four to the Scorpions on Saturday.

"We hadn't given up four goals in a game since 1986, when we lost to Oakland Mills in the regional playoffs," Stara said. That was Shea's first year at Oakland Mills.

But Stara was philosophical after Saturday's loss, which cost his team the top seed and a home-field advantage in the regionals.

"We're OK physically and mentally. Some other teams have been riding a roller coaster, but we're just trying to stay on an even keel," Stara said.

He blamed the loss on a failure to execute.

"We didn't defend well against throw-ins. We didn't beat them to goal."

Centennial could have eliminated a tough opponent from the playoffs had it beaten Oakland Mills. But Stara admitted to being torn emotionally.

"Part of me wanted them gone for good and out of our hair. And part of me wanted them in the playoffs," he said.

Oakland Mills certainly deserves to be in the playoffs. Many still consider it the most talented team in the state.

An incident in which three Scorpions were nabbed with alcoholic beverages on school property, suspended 15 days and then returned to the team prematurely because of an administrative error, disrupted what had been a highly promising year.

But Oakland Mills appears to have its act back together now. North Carroll lost to Westminster Saturday, thus if Oakland Mills wins the rest of its games, it will join Centennial, Howard and Liberty in the Class 3A, Region I playoffs.

The Scorpions and Eagles could meet in the regional final and write another chapter in a long rivalry that is not quite so bitter as it once was, thanks to a friendship between two coaches.

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