`Soccer's been my life,' says Stitz, with retiring and a title on his mind

Baltimore native jumps at Curley coaching chance

February 12, 2000|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Ultimately, Blast midfielder Barry Stitz didn't want to risk having to wait 14 years for another chance.

So he decided to retire after this, his eighth season with the Baltimore franchise in the National Professional Soccer League, to take over the coaching job at Archbishop Curley High School, his alma mater. His coach at Curley, Pep Perrella, had been there 14 years, a norm for soccer coaches, which is why Stitz is seizing the chance.

"If I want to get into coaching, then I think this is a good step," Stitz said. "Soccer has been my life. You can only play so long. I still think I have some years left, but this was something I needed to do."

It also does not hurt that Stitz may very well go out a champion at the end of the season -- if the Blast (17-10) can continue its American Conference-leading ways. The next challenge comes at 7: 30 tonight, with the Harrisburg Heat (10-16) visiting Baltimore Arena.

"A lot of guys play sports all their lives and don't win one," Stitz said. "I think that we have the team that can do it. I'm not just playing out the season. I want to win. Maybe retiring will give me a little kick-start [toward] realizing that this is it."

The Blast has been playing good soccer recently, and Stitz is one of the major reasons. He had a season-high three goals and one assist in last Friday's 17-14 win in Buffalo -- a performance coach Kevin Healey said was, by coincidence, possibly his best game in two seasons.

"He just played an outstanding game. Danny Kelly and Paul Wright were out. I looked into people's eyes to see who was going to pick it up," Healey said. "Then Barry definitely picked up his level of player. He gives a total class effort, on the field and off."

Stitz, 30, is the most tenured Baltimore player, which gives him a wealth of experience in dealing with high-school kids. Blast players frequently put on soccer clinics and talk to young players around Baltimore, and Stitz has been one of the primary participants.

Because he is a native, playing at Towson University and spending his pro career here, Stitz figures he has a great deal to relay to his soon-to-be players. He will have the added responsibilities of being Curley's assistant athletic director and a teacher.

He will leave the Baltimore franchise first in most games played, two-point goals, power-play goals and fouls.

Most of all, Stitz will leave defenders Jason Dieter and Lance Johnson, players he has been with seven years. Together, the three have 22 years of service for Baltimore, and Stitz said they will be friends for life.

"Barry is a guy you can rely on," Johnson said. "Night in and night out, you know he is going to work hard. He can play up top, in the middle, or in the back. When he goes, we are really going to miss that.

"He is very humble -- not really outspoken. When he talks, people listen, because he has been around the game for so long."

Said Dieter, Stitz's roommate for several years: "Everybody talks about us being inseparable, which is pretty much the case. Barry and I grew up together, playing soccer when we were 5 and 6 years old. We are going to miss his hard work, his leadership."

Blast tonight

Opponent: Harrisburg Heat

Site: Baltimore Arena

Time: 7: 30

Radio: WCBM (680 AM)

Outlook: Blast coach Kevin Healey expects a desperate Harrisburg team, fighting for its playoff life. The Heat played that way last week, upsetting Philadelphia and Cleveland on the road. But the Blast has won the last three meetings. Heat forward Gino DiFlorio's 135 points lead the league.

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