St. Mary's: The little school that wins Profile: This cramped, small Annapolis institution with no practice or game fields of its own nevertheless stands tall competitively these days, with a BTC growing, winning, 26-sport athletic program.

November 03, 1996|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Jim Moorhead looks out his office window at St. Mary's School in Annapolis, and he sees Spa Creek.

"It's a beautiful creek and has become part of our tradition over the years," said the school's president and lacrosse coach who made Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" last July 29 for compiling a 194-67 record in 17 years at St. Mary's.

Oh, yes, Spa Creek.

In some ways, it represents much of the charm and mystique surrounding this small Catholic school that prides itself on providing the perfect mix of academics and athletics.

In other ways, the creek is a major roadblock to any future growth in the cramped school's athletic facilities.

And in this modern age of bigger almost always being portrayed as better, one has to wonder how long St. Mary's can continue to run a highly successful and growing, 26-sport athletic program with no practice or game fields.

The school rents most of its fields from the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel Community College, forcing its athletes to dress at school or home or in a car and travel to every practice and home-game site.

"All our athletes are proud of the fact that we have been able to adapt to the adversity of changing clothes on the run all the time and still continue to have successful teams," said Moorhead.

"We've looked at property to buy for athletic fields," he continued, "but it's tough to find the right place for the right money. We're right on the water with no room to expand, in terms of facilities."

If anyone doubts just how prolific boys and girls sports are at St. Mary's, just take a look at the weekly polls in The Sun.

Last spring, the 17-0 Saints boys lacrosse team was No. 1 in the Baltimore metro area for the fifth time since 1980 and was ranked No. 1 in the entire nation by Lacrosse Magazine.

Last winter, the St. Mary's girls basketball team flirted with the No. 1 position most of the season, winning the Catholic League regular-season championship for the third time in the last five years.

This fall, the Saints girls soccer and field hockey teams were both No. 1 earlier in the season before dropping back in recent weeks.

But the most remarkable sports accomplishment in the school's 50-year history has to be the football team's No. 2 ranking in the metro area this week.

Traditional Baltimore powers City, Loyola and Mount St. Joseph are all ranked behind the Saints. Poly and Calvert Hall aren't ranked at all.

"I never dreamed this would happen," said Fred Kramer, who played football and lacrosse at St. Mary's in the late 1960s. "We never thought there was even a remote chance we would ever get to play the Mount St. Joes in football, much less beat them, like we did last week. They used to ship us out to southern Maryland to play people like Great Mills to get a 'W.'"

Kramer credits Sister Phyllis McNally, former St. Mary's principal, for having the vision to bring in a very progressive Brad Best as a full-time teacher and football coach at the school in 1989.

"A lot of the football success has to do with Brad always being available for the players year-round," said Kramer. "He'll go open up the weight room in the summer, giving the players a chance to lift, and he does a lot of other little things that coaches don't get paid for but do if they love their job. Most of the football %% coaches before Brad didn't teach at St. Mary's."

Carmine Blades has been through 36 years of teaching, coaching and being athletic director at St. Mary's and readily points out the significance of a coach also teaching at a school.

"The coach can pat a kid on the head during the day, eat lunch with him and boost his morale," said Blades, who is St. Mary's girls athletic director.

Two views of football

Best is also boys athletic director and marvels at the difference in high school football at St. Mary's, compared to the game in the Pittsburgh area where he grew up and his father coaches.

"Down here, football is kept in the proper perspective and is used as a learning tool," said Best. "If you teach the kids the game, that's the most important thing. In Pittsburgh, you can teach all the football you want, but if you go 5-5, you're fired. My father comes down here and watches us play, and he says there isn't that much difference in the level of play. It's just that the Pittsburgh high schools have a big name for football."

Best has taken the Saints football team from a 3-7 record in the C Conference in 1989 to its current 7-2 record, in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference this season. St. Mary's is 25-13 since moving up to the A league in 1993.

That is impressive, considering that St. Mary's has the smallest number of boys (240) to draw from among A conference schools.

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