Western Maryland's football players and coaches have an unusual road trip this week. They're going to Russia.
Yes, little Western College in Westminster, Md., is going to be the first American college team to play football in Russia.
Coach Dale Sprague's Green Terrors will leave Friday, hold practices and clinics in Moscow for a couple days and play an all-star team from a 20-team Russian league next Tuesday, March 17. They're due back on the Hill at WMC March 20.
"This is an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime," says Sprague, the raspy-voiced coach who has revived the Western Maryland football program.
"I answered an ad in an athletic magazine. We checked with the NCAA and they approved 10 practices, which we're having now, plus the game.
"We knew from the start it was impossible for the school to foot the bill, so we raised the money ourselves -- $1,800 per kid -- through private donations and the kids' families. There's been a tremendous outpouring of support from the Western Maryland football family."
Mike Hamm, a former Green Terror quarterback who's now one of Sprague's graduate assistants, coordinated the fund-raising and planning. Bob and Sue Obetz, president and vice president of the school's booster club, worked with Hamm. Their son, defensive tackle Seth Obetz, is the team captain for '92.
The star of the '91 team, running back Eric Frees, will get to wear the green and gold one more time. Frees set the school's all-time rushing record over the last four years. Frees is one of but three graduating seniors who will be lost from the '91 team.
"Division I schools don't want to go play a game like this," Sprague says, "because it counts as a postseason game. We're going because we know that 20 years from now we're all going to say, 'Boy, we really did that, didn't we?' "
* Mark Duffner, the coach entrusted with the responsibility of turning Maryland's football team into a winner, continues to impress everyone around him at College Park.
Gib Romaine, who coached on Jerry Claiborne's staff at Maryland and is now an athletic fund-raiser for the Terps, is amazed by Duffner's energy and thoroughness.
"When the players were picked for next summer's Big 33 game when the Maryland and the Pennsylvania kids play in Hershey," Romaine said, "Mark was invited to attend the selection meeting.
"Not only did he go; he took his entire staff with him. I tell you, this man leaves no stone unturned."
* If you know college athletes, then you understand that Maryland's men's basketball team has an even more difficult task at the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlotte, N.C., this weekend than it would seem on the surface.
The Terps have to beat Clemson in a play-in between the Nos. 8 and 9 teams Thursday night for the right to enter the eight-team field.
Their reward, of course, for a win over Clemson would be a shot Friday at Duke, which is not only No. 1 in the ACC but No. 1 in the USA.
If the Terps do beat Clemson, they'll eat after the game. By the time they settle down and get to bed it'll be 2 a.m. Twelve hours later they'll be on the floor against Duke. This is a large order even for a coach like Gary Williams.
* There were 9,000 spectators at Maryland's Cole Field House Sunday for Washington's City Title Game in which DeMatha defeated public school champion Anacostia, 66-62. That's a heady atmosphere for high school basketball.
It's too bad we can't have a charity game at Cole now between the D.C. champs and Baltimore champion Dunbar High. A city title game here, called the Metro Classic, was one-sided in Dunbar's favor. The Poets, No. 1 in the country, are so good they can't get any competition in their own town.
Speaking of DeMatha, its Duane Simpkins scored 20 points against Anacostia and was named the City Title Game's Most Valuable Player. Simpkins will get to see a lot more of Cole Field House. He's going to Maryland in the fall.
Morgan Wooten, DeMatha's coach, now has a career record of 987-137.
* There's no more impressive event on the sports calendar than tomorrow evening's (6 p.m.) 29th Scholar-Athlete awards dinner at Martin's West.
Among the 90 high school seniors to be honored are 36 National Honor Society members, 56 team captains and 14 All-Metro selections. Forty-seven of them are in the top 10 percent of their class. There's even an Eagle Scout (Shawn O'Brien, of Walkersville) and a valedictorian (Kevin Groszkowski, Franklin).
Banquet chairman Ed Novak and the Baltimore Chapter of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame deserve credit for putting on this classy event year after year. The Rev. Joe Ehrmann, the ex-Colt, is the speaker.