When Kevin McMullen announced that he was leaving Broadneck High to take a position at Thomas Johnson Middle/High School in Frederick County, he made a very interesting remark.
The remark is an indication of where Anne Arundel County education and athletics are today.
McMullen, the only boys soccer coach Broadneck has had since opening in 1982, apparently is taking on a new challenge with a familiar setting.
"The Western Maryland area is a lot like Anne Arundel County 20 to 25 years ago," said McMullen, who graduated from Brooklyn Park High and later coached his alma mater's boys soccer team for four years before going to Broadneck.
"I've talked to a lot of people who say what is happening up there reminds them a lot of Anne Arundel County 25 years ago. There has been unbelievable growth up there, and we know how Anne Arundel has grown over the last 10 to 15 years."
We sure do. What we don't know is if it has been good or bad. The Board of Education has grown, too, and just maybe it has gotten top heavy in red tape.
One prevalent opinion that is shared by many county coaches was put into words very well by McMullen in his reason for leaving Broadneck and the county.
"It's been frustrating dealing with the bureaucracy on Riva Road," said McMullen of the Board of Education and the often insensitive and uninformed way it conducts business, particularly when it comes to high school athletics.
McMullen's predicament was the annual uncertainty of having a full-time teaching position in the school where he coached; he also was Broadneck's athletic director for a year. County ADs are given part-time hours and pay to perform what is a full-time job.
For too many years, the board has put athletics very low on its list of priorities. The situation can be attributed in part to the fact that the last two school superintendents were outsiders brought in to deal with a contrary and changing board.
Both of them, Robert Rice and Larry Lorton, understood athletics and its relevance to education, but being outsiders found it increasingly difficult to function within the board.
Before Rice and Lorton, Edward Anderson ruled with an iron fist. Anderson was not an outsider and was fortunate enough to have an athletically conscious county executive in Robert Pascal and a dedicated and efficient coordinator of physical education in Paul Rusko.
The Pascal-Anderson-Rusko era got this county going in the right direction athletically, and one of the main results was well-deserved coaches salaries. Paying coaches only put pride in their jobs and resulted in the hiring of many top-quality people, and this county quickly became a model for high school sports.
Under Rusko's supervision, the athletic program grew to remarkable proportions during the 1970s and '80s. There was quantity and quality.
However in the mid-'80s near the end of Rice's term, things started to change. The warning signs were there that changes not in the best interests of county athletics were on the horizon, but no one saw them. Rice left after one term, and Lorton did likewise just this year.
Both lacked a good rapport with the board and, sadly enough, Rusko found himself in the same position. New board members with no clue as to how an athletic program should be run kept getting in Rusko's way, and bureaucracy ruled.
Rusko would form committees to study important athletic policy and issues, such as academic eligibility and transfers, only to have the board drag its feet and not make decisions. He doesn't say it publicly, but you've got to believe that Rusko simply got tired of fighting city hall and retired last year.
Unfortunately for the athletic program, Rusko never was replaced. Fortunately, Rick Wiles has been around to keep the ship afloat.
Wiles has been serving as "acting coordinator" since November and has done an excellent job under difficult circumstances. The budget crunch resulted in a hiring freeze that prevented the board from replacing Rusko.
But with all that has happened, the loss of Rusko, not to mention a host of veteran coaches due to death or retirement, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Holding that light is new school superintendent Cornelius Berry Carter. Carter is not an outsider. He is a man whose more than 30 years in the county system could get us back to the way we were.
It would not be a step backward, but rather a step forward because Carter understands this county. I trust he knows the importance of having a full-time coordinator of physical education. Carter is on annual leave this week and is expected back tomorrow. And, hopefully, one of his top priorities will be to name a coordinator.
"We've been given every indication that the main office will be filling the coordinator position in the near future, but for now I'm doing the planning for the upcoming school year," said Wiles on Friday.
"I would hope they would have somebody in the position before the opening of school."