It's hard to believe it's time for the 25th annual Evening Sun High School Athlete of the Year awards, but it is.
It seems like, oh, maybe 10 or 12 years ago that Southern High's Donnie Russell became our first Athlete of the Year. But that happened in 1967.
We had no idea what we were starting, but when we see now what the program has grown into we're glad we started it.
It all began when I became sports editor of The Evening Sun in 1967 and asked each member of the staff if there were something new he or she would like us to do.
Larry Shane, a City College graduate who covered the high schools -- but who would soon leave journalism to sell bonds for Israel -- suggested we start choosing an Athlete of the Week.
Paul Menton, my predecessor, didn't believe in awards like that. There are too many kids out there, he insisted, for us to choose one and say he or she was the best. In those days we were covering nearly 40 schools. How could we know who was the best among all those athletes?
We went ahead anyway, and a wonderful public relations man for the paper, the late Bill Bernard, suggested we take it a step further.
"Let's bring all these weekly winners together at a first-class awards luncheon at the end of the school year," he said, "and present a trophy to the Athlete of the Year."
And so we had our first Athlete of the Year luncheon at the downtown Holiday Inn and former Orioles general manager Frank Cashen, now the GM of the New York Mets, was the speaker. Seated among the honorees, their parents and coaches were some players from the Orioles, Colts, Bullets and the Clippers (forerunners to today's Skipjacks).
We were off and running and on that first day we learned something. We liked holding this affair. It was in keeping with The Evening Sun's belief that the paper's charge is to cover the local scene, and that nothing is more local than our own high schools.
As the years rolled by, we picked some Athletes of the Year who went on to bigger and better things.
City College's Tom Gatewood played football for Notre Dame and the New York Giants. Loyola's Mike Creaney played for Notre Dame and the Chicago Bears.
Towson High's Jack Thomas became a three-time All-America lacrosse player at Johns Hopkins and led the United States to the World Games championship in Australia, where Thomas, now a teacher and coach at Wilde Lake, was voted "the best and fairest player in the world."
Wendy Weinberg went to Montreal one month after her graduation from Friends School in 1976 and won a swimming medal in the Olympic Games.
In 1979, the male Athlete of the Year was Jim Traber, from Wilde Lake, who went on to play for the Orioles and who is now playing in Japan.
Mark Carper, Atholton (1986), pitched for two NCAA baseball champions at Stanford and now serves 'em up for the Frederick Keys. Brett McGonnigal, Loch Raven (1987), is now the star centerfielder at Maryland (he hit .324 this spring) and is considered a pro prospect.
Some truly great athletes failed to win our ultimate award. Pam Shriver, as a McDonogh School student, was once Athlete of the Week but never Athlete of the Year -- although she later became the No. 3 player in the world.
Cal Ripken, who pitched a no-hitter in one game for Aberdeen and went 5-for-5 with two homers in the next, also was an Athlete of the Week but not an Athlete of the Year. As I said, this is not an easy award to win.
And look what we have now. Our tentacles have spread so that we cover 110 schools in Baltimore City and seven counties.
On any given Friday this spring we probably had 10,000 athletes competing in their various sports, but Mike Farabaugh, with the help of Paul McMullen and Dave Glassman, somehow managed to choose the outstanding boy and girl. To think we once feared 40 schools would be too many.
Once again tomorrow at the Towson-Sheraton we will honor 72 athletes and we will present Athlete of the Year awards to a boy and a girl.
The task is, of course, all but impossible, but it gets done every year and almost never has anyone voiced disagreement with the choices.
Maybe even the dissidents feel as we do, that recognizing those who constitute our most precious resource, our young people, is the important thing.
We only hope we're still doing this 25 years from now.