The Old Town Team

March 07, 1995|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

EMMITSBURG -- This is a one-stoplight town. The Knights of Columbus, the local VFW and an ice cream shop are on one side of Main Street. The Farmers State Bank, the local pub and a fire station are on the other.

"It's like a 1990s version of Mayberry, except we don't have Barney Fife," said Robin Glass, 20, a lifelong Emmitsburg resident.

If so, Mayberry is hooked on Mount St. Mary's basketball.

And Sunday night, after the men's team qualified for the NCAA tournament with a 69-62 victory over Rider, the little town went wild.

Two fire engines and a police car met the team bus at the Maryland-Pennsylvania line. They turned on their sirens and accompanied the bus through Main Street and onto the Mount St. Mary's campus. Emmitsburg residents came out in droves.

"Everybody was on the streets, clapping and waving," said Robert Koontz, 65. "I believe everybody in Emmitsburg had their television sets tuned into the game yesterday."

If Emmitsburg does have a Barney Fife, it's Koontz. A longtime policeman and the current "code enforcer," he came to town in 1954, the same year as basketball coach Jim Phelan. Koontz has been following the team ever since.

Yesterday, Koontz sat down with a number of longtime Emmitsburg residents at The Ott House, the pub at the corner of Main Street and Seton Avenue. They talked about why Mount St. Mary's basketball games have been a focal point of their lives.

"That's the only thing we have, other than high school sports," Koontz said. "I tell all the new policemen who come here that Emmitsburg doesn't need a newspaper. We can still sit down and have a cup of coffee and know what's going on."

Emmitsburg is still a small town, a community of roughly 1,700 people -- not including 1,400 Mount students -- nestled in the Catoctin Mountains. It is the home of the National Firefighters Training facility. Fire patches from across the country line the wall behind the bar at The Ott House. It also is the home of several religious shrines. Foremost among them is the Grotto of Lourdes, a statue of the Virgin Mary that overlooks the Mount St. Mary campus, not to mention its basketball arenas, old and new.

It is the townspeople who keep the basketball program going. Lynne Phelan Robinson, the assistant athletic director and the coach's daughter, said her father has been supported by the townspeople from Day 1.

"He said when he came here they were very crazy about basketball," Robinson said. "He remembers walking into the gym for the first game, and it was packed with townspeople."

With the town's support, Phelan built a top-notch Division II program. He won the College Division championship in 1962 and went to the championship game in 1981. The team got a new gym in 1987 -- 3,500-seat Knott Arena -- and made the switch to Division I a year later.

As the only Division I basketball school within about a 1 1/2 -hour drive of Emmitsburg, the Mount has quite a regional following. But the team's regional fans, not to mention the school's students, can be fickle. The townspeople are not.

"The faithful, the townspeople, they're the ones who are the constant, win, lose or draw," Robinson said.

The Mountaineers games are not for men only, far from it. Loretta Adelsberger, 66, and Mary Teresa Miller, 65, have been going to the home games together for 30 years. They even have a favorite spot in the new gym, and they go to the games 90 minutes early to get it.

"It's Section 9, the back row, next to the rail, so we can lean on it," Adelsberger said.

"And we can stand when it gets exciting," Miller said.

The women even have gotten their grandchildren involved, enrolling them in the Junior Mountaineers Club, which, for $5, gets them a T-shirt, a cap and admission to every home game.

Adelsberger has five grandchildren enrolled. Miller has four.

Adelsberger said she is more into the games than her husband, who often leaves the room when she watches them on television. Adelsberger said she does not go to the games when the weather is bad, but Miller, who lost her husband several years ago, will not miss one.

"You feel like they're family," Miller said.

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