By any standard, the St. Paul's lacrosse team is extraordinary.
College coaches everywhere concede that the Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference is the best high school league in America. St. Paul's has won the championship of that league the past two years. It is favored to win it again this year.
Coach Mitch Whiteley's Crusaders are 10-0, 8-0 in the MSA. The school has a 31-game winning streak stretching over three seasons.
Two days ago nearly 2,000 spectators gathered on a sunny afternoon at Gilman and watched St. Paul's win, 12-10. Gilman is the No. 2 team in the state. St. Paul's has beaten the Greyhounds twice this season.
Since many of Whiteley's players have been on the team throughout The Streak and the championship run, people are beginning to refer to this as a dynasty. They're entitled.
Yesterday Whiteley, who is in his fifth year as varsity coach, sat on a bench outside his office at the school's beautiful campus high on a hill in Brooklandville and reflected on this success.
"Great kids, that's the key," he said simply enough. "I agree with Abe Lemons, the old basketball coach [at Oklahoma City and Texas]. Abe said he gives the same halftime speech at every game but it works better when his players are better than the other team's players."
Whiteley is too modest. His teams win a lot of close ones -- overtime victories this year over Gilman and Boys' Latin, 12 one-goal victories during the streak. That takes coaching.
"St. Paul's was down when I took over," Whiteley said. "The year before I started, we lost to Loyola, 11-0, on a Blue and Gold Day [homecoming]. I decided four years ago to go with a younger group including some freshmen, and they really developed."
One of those was his son, Timmy, now a freshman attackman at Virginia, where he has started every game. Timmy Whiteley set an all-time St. Paul's scoring record with 234 points.
Michael Watson, a Virginia-bound senior, is within striking distance of a record. He has 195 points with at least five games to play, depending on how far St. Paul's goes in next month's playoffs.
No one outside St. Paul's is more painfully aware of The Streak than Bob Shriver, the highly regarded lacrosse coach at Boys' Latin. Boys' Latin has been in hot pursuit of Whiteley's teams for years, often coming up a goal short.
"St. Paul's has an exceptional group," Shriver said yesterday. "Their kids came out of the Cockeysville Little League, which is the best one in the state. Timmy Whiteley and Watson were stars there and their friends followed them to St. Paul's.
"What they have now is a superstar in Watson plus a lot of other very good players. They're well coached. Plus what was already there."
What was already there at St. Paul's was a tradition like no other.
St. Paul's has won 23 MSA championships. Next is Gilman with 10. St. Paul's tradition was built upon coach Howdy Myers' unbeatable teams in the '40s. They won 72 straight games from '43 to '47. They won seven straight MSA championships.
Myers' teams didn't win one-goal games. They didn't play any. In 1946 the Crusaders outscored their opponents 230-50.
Among the spectators at the St. Paul's-Gilman game was Harry Marcoplos, who played at Forest Park in the '40s and went on to Hopkins. He recalled the season-ending series played annually on a Friday night at Homewood with St. Paul's facing the MSA All-Stars.
"We [the All-Stars] had the best players from all the other schools," Marcoplos recalled, "and even with all our depth we never beat St. Paul's."
In '46 Princeton's varsity played St. Paul's here during spring vacation and lost, 11-1. Dick Coleman, the Princeton coach, invited St. Paul's to play a rematch at Princeton a month later. Myers' team won again, 16-6.
And Princeton was runner-up that year for the Wingate Trophy, which went to the national collegiate champion. Today it is inconceivable that even an outstanding team like St. Paul's could stay with a North Carolina, Princeton, Syracuse or Johns Hopkins.
Many of Myers' St. Paul's players -- Bob Sandell, Jim Adams, Ray Greene, George Mitchell (who later coached St. Paul's for many years), Tommy Gough, Ham Bishop (now Boys' Latin's headmaster) -- went to Hopkins with Howdy and won four consecutive national championships.
Lacrosse, like everything else, has changed in five decades. Today there are many more players and many more good teams. There are now, according to Lacrosse Magazine, 118 summer lacrosse camps. When Howdy Myers was at St. Paul's, there were none.
Today St. Paul's faces a strong opponent every time it plays. There are terrific players at Boys' Latin, Loyola, Gilman, St. Mary's and Calvert Hall.
St. Paul's will remain excellent even after the present seniors graduate.
Its goalie, junior Sean Keenan, is "as good as any I've coached," says Whiteley, who coached Princeton All-America Scott Bacigalupo. Tucker Radebaugh, a sophomore transfer from Loyola, "is a great player now," says Whiteley. Freshman Chris Berrier, Whiteley says, will be "as good as anybody who ever played here."
At St. Paul's, that covers a lot of territory.