Pointers maintain winning attitude despite losing streak

September 30, 1992|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,Staff Writer

Most of the razzing is good-natured, gentle gibes, wonderin when the next victory is coming.

But the Sparrows Point High football team takes its verbal lumps in stride and strives to break the state's longest losing streak, a 26-game famine that stretches back to 1989.

It isn't easy for 21 players who never have celebrated after a game.

"This can get pretty discouraging sometimes," said junior tackle John Gilliam. "Especially when the games are real close. But you just have to try to shake it off and go on. You hear a lot of things around school, some of them sort of sarcastic. But you can't let them get to you."

The irony of the situation is that the Pointers were good, very good, before the slide started against Towson High in late autumn 1989. They had been 7-0 beforehand and still qualified for the playoffs despite three straight losses. The Pointers lost to Smithsburg in the playoffs that season.

Now, they are undermanned and caught in a vicious cycle. Some talented athletes at the school could help the team, but they have been reluctant to be associated with a team with a losing stigma.

"It's just a bad thing," said senior Jason Judy, a guard and linebacker. "After a bad year, there isn't as much interest. And a lot of people who could be good football players don't show up. Tenth-graders who could be on the JV just refuse to play."

Said Gilliam: "I don't know if they don't want to be affiliated with a losing team or they're just too lazy to play. If we win a few games, they'll probably show up."

Coach Russell Lingner, in his fourth season at the school, prefers to emphasize the guys who are playing, not the ones who are not.

"We don't have to remind them of the streak," he said. "They know it's there. But this group of kids has to be one of the best I've ever worked with in terms of desire, willingness to learn and listening.

"And they were always there practicing in those hot summer days. There weren't many no-shows. A lot of these kids work and they go to their bosses and work around practices."

One, running back Pat Hill, has a job in Perry Hall a half-hour's drive away. He has to rise at 4 a.m. to report to work, then goes to school, then attends football practice.

"If he didn't want to be here because of the losing streak, he certainly has reason," said Lingner.

The coach feels the downturn is simply cyclical and sees enough close games and improvement of the skill level that the situation is not hopeless, although Sparrows Point has one of the smallest enrollments in the state. In numbers, the Pointers are at a disadvantage.

Second halves are particularly unkind as the nine players who play both ways begin to wear down.

"In a lot of our games that were close, every time you looked the other team had a fresh body coming in," said Lingner. "Sure, our kids get tired. We try to spell them as much as possible, give them a break. But there isn't that much opportunity."

Support from the student body has come from the other athletic teams, who empathize with football's plight.

"There are jokes around, but a lot are still behind us," said Judy. "We get a pretty big crowd considering."

L And the opposition has been amazingly understanding as well.

"I think I've only ever heard one bad comment in two years," Judy said. "And that was from someone on the sidelines. The other teams don't rub it in on us. They're pretty good sports. They just tell us good luck next time."

"Our record rarely comes up," said Gilliam.

Lingner was concerned in late summer that the school might not have a junior varsity team. But 27 players are on the JV after the ninth-grade class responded well. It bodes well for the future.

"We remind ourselves a lot of Hereford last year," said Lingner, who played under Hereford coach Frank Ewing at Patapsco in the late 1970s. "You could see that team coming on, and every day I see us getting better. That's one thing Frank stressed a lot, going back to fundamentals."

After going winless in their first seven games, the Bulls won three of their last four in 1991.

Lingner has not known victory as a head coach since 1988, when Patapsco, his alma mater, defeated Hereford, his old coach's new school.

"All you can do is keep going," said Gilliam. "We've been improving and hopefully, it'll come soon."

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