It wasn't an easy decision, but probably a wise one for Arundel's Bernie Walter.
The Wildcats' baseball coach will step down at the end of this season as coach, athletic director and chairman of physicaleducation at the Gambrills school to become the county coordinator of physical education.
Acting coordinator Rick Wiles will become assistant to Walter, who succeeds Paul Rusko. Rusko retired at the end of last year, but came back in the fall on a personal services contract.
Due to the current budget crunch, the county was not expected to fill the position this year. Last week Wiles said it didn't look like they would fill it next year.
Walter, who confirmed the appointment yesterday, is one of the highest-paid teacher/coaches in the county and agreed to take the position at his current salary.
"I'm almost 50 years old, and there comes a time for everybody to move on to something else," said Walter, who battled back from a heart attack in the spring of 1988.
"I feel like I have accomplished about all I can coaching baseball, and it's time to give Tut (O'Hara) a shot. Besides, it might be less tension and stress for me."
O'Hara, a longtime assistant to Walter, will become the new Arundel baseball coach, while veteran coachand physical education instructor Bill Zucco will succeed Walter as athletic director.
"After all Bernie has done in high school sports, it's time for him to explore something new," said Zucco. "We're going to miss him around here, but he knows the county, and we're sure he will do a great job."
Walter is the only high school baseball coach in Maryland to win five state championships. He won a World Juniors title in 1988 as coach of the U.S. Baseball Federation Junior National team in Australia, and two years ago his Mayo Post No. 226 teamwon the 18-and-under American Legion national title.
He hopes to go out this spring with a sixth state championship and 300 wins. Walter notched win No. 287 Monday as his Wildcats (2-0) nipped defending mythical national champion Northeast, 4-3, to end the metro area's longest winning streak at 25.
"This team is capable and, yes, it would be nice to go out that way," said Walter, who is in his 19th season as Arundel's head baseball coach.
The announcement of Walter's new post was met with mixed emotions around the county because of his controversial nature. But most thought his extensive background in athletics and administration as a department head made him an excellentchoice.
"Bernie is well-qualified for the position, and I don't think anybody has done more or knows more about Anne Arundel County physical education and athletics than he," said Ken Nichols, assistant to the county superintendent and a former Arundel principal.
Walter plans to implement a new program that will require all students to take a physical education class once a day for four years.
"We will also step up our dance and aerobics program, especially in the elementary schools where Rick (Wiles) has had a lot of experience and knows his stuff," said Walter. "I want to see kids excel in time management and see no reason, for instance, that they couldn't take a language and aerobics in the same class.
"We have to give our kids more credit. They can do better than walk and chew gum at the same time ifwe give them a chance. They could recite Spanish while they dance aerobics."
Rusko, the man Walter replaces, said "if I could have picked someone it would have been Bernie. He loves the county, is ahead of his time, an innovator. Bernie is a mountain of knowledge. When I needed to know a rule or regulation, I consulted Bernie. He always knew and was great at establishing policy."
A concern for Walter will be the setting of policy during what is the dawning of a new era with Baltimore public schools about to merge with the state and issues that include increased support for higher academic standards and athletic eligibility.
Walter's views on academics and athletics have been different than others, but he has had a change of heart.
"I told the board that if I got the job, that I would go along with raising the grade-point average requirement for athletics," Walter said yesterday.
"We really should raise it to a 2.50 in order to accommodate the National Collegiate Athletic Association. After all, it's urgent for us to be consistent with the NCAA because that is our purpose,to prepare student-athletes to play Division I sports."
Board of Education member Tom Twombly was glad to hear Walter had changed his opinion.
"I know that Bernie was vociferously against raising the current 1.67 GPA requirement, but people have a way of coming around," said Twombly. "But I do anticipate a fight with him over enrollmentconcepts. His modified open enrollment idea is not good because it puts an emphasis on athletics and wanting to play for the best coaches."
Walter hopes to crusade for freedom of choice for students.