I WAS over at River Hill High School the other day, watching one of those "final" activities for the 2,500 seniors in the Howard County system who hope to graduate in a few more weeks.
For my son, it was the last time he would play in River Hill's annual spring break baseball tournament. He's a senior at Oakland Mills High School. OM doesn't have a strong baseball team this year, but he had a remarkable day; two triples, a double and a single in two games.
Sitting on a grassy knoll, enjoying the sunshine and an occasional breeze, my mind drifted back to 12 years ago when a beefy kid and his skinny sister both took up this sport. It's hard to believe the tall, athletically built young man I call son today is the same child.
End of a rite of spring
It's hard to believe our family's annual rite of spring -- heading to some park or school to see him play ball is coming to an end. If he gets to play in college, we won't be close enough to jump in the car to go to a game.
I thought about the changes that have already occurred in my son's young life. I thought about how we used to wonder whether he would graduate from kindergarten, not to mention high school. Those were the days when exasperated teachers said he couldn't keep still.
You might have found himplaying on the floor as often as he was in his seat. But he matured. I think moving may have helped. It made him more serious. It made him appreciate relationships.
We moved from Birmingham, Ala., to Philadelphia and back before he was in first grade. Two years later, we moved across town. When he finished seventh grade, we moved to Maryland.
That was almost five years ago. It has been a good five years for my son. He has made friends he will have the rest of his life, most of them fellow band members. He has become a good student, a member of the National Honor Society. He has become a better athlete. He has become a leader.
My wife and I have to chuckle to ourselves when we hear him on the phone chewing out his best friend for not being diligent with his schoolwork. He wants to make sure they graduate together.
He doesn't know how proud I was when he took up the challenge of trying to generate interest among underclassmen in the baseball team after two seniors gave up the sport for lacrosse, two more were suspended and became ineligible, and another suffered a football injury that required surgery and will limit him when, and if, he gets to play baseball.
The result is an inexperienced baseball team that will find it difficult to win games in the tough Howard County league. But they really are a team. They pull for each other. They find victories that have nothing to do with what's on the scoreboard. They are learning.
Next year, they will be better ball players. And I'd like to think they will be grateful to the three seniors who did come back for a final season to be their mentors.
When my son and other Howard County graduates finally walk down the aisle with their diplomas, it will be with happiness but also some regret.
They will think about all the things they got to do and some they never got around to. They will be happy with their accomplishments, but wish there were a little more time to have fun.
Leaving Howard County
I'll know exactly how they feel. With this column, I will be ending nearly five years with The Sun. I've decided it's time to move again -- back to Philadelphia.
It was a hard decision because I have so enjoyed watching my children grow into maturity here in Howard County. I have enjoyed my wonderful neighbors in Allview Estates, who have always made me feel at home.
But with plans for both children to be away in college next fall, it's the perfect time to take advantage of a new opportunity.
Although a resident more than four years, I have covered Howard County as an editorial writer only for the past year. During that 12 months I have gained a much better understanding of the place that I've been calling home.
One of my most important lessons wasn't as obvious as it sounds. I learned that Howard County isn't Columbia. People who live in Columbia often forget that, but people who live in Howard County never do.
There's a disconnect between folks who have roots to the county's rural past and those who don't that sometimes gets in the way when they discuss environmental and development issues.
No more stimuli
I've also learned that as wonderful as Howard County is, it would be better if more of its emphasis were directed away from spurring new development.
The county doesn't need any more stimuli to bring in new residents.
It needs to do more to increase the attractiveness and viability of older communities and schools such as OM before they become as much a problem for the county as inner-city neighborhoods are for Baltimore.
My education in Howard County has been rewarding. I will use the knowledge I have gained in my new position, just like my son and the other 2,500 seniors graduating from county high schools.
Pub Date: 4/04/99