Poly recognizes coach who didn't drop the ball

October 31, 2001|By Gregory Kane

THE ERA started off quietly enough. It was the autumn of 1967. American troops faced a tough, deadly foe in a place called South Vietnam. The summer had seen Detroit and Newark, N.J., experience two of the worst race riots in U.S. history.

In Baltimore, the proud football team of Polytechnic Institute had its own, albeit less important, problems. Once a Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference power, Poly's team had faltered badly. Edmondson High School, Calvert Hall College High School and Poly's nemesis and arch-rival, City College, ruled the roost and engaged in a three-way donnybrook for the A Conference title.

Poly alumni must have been aghast. What went wrong here? Who's coaching the Engineers these days, anyway? Some guy named Waibel. Augie Waibel. Up from Edmondson, where he was the cat's pj's. Won 27 straight games. But that was when Edmondson was in the B Conference. This was the A Conference, the big leagues, pal. Who was this guy Waibel?

Poly rooters may have called for Waibel's scalp (City and Poly alumni take football at their schools very seriously) after the team lost to Calvert Hall and then, horror of horrors, to Patterson, the league doormat, late in the season. Undefeated Edmondson was next on the list. It was in that game that the legend - and the era - of Augie Waibel started.

Tomorrow night, Poly - its students, staff and alumni, probably with a bunch of well-wishers from City and Edmondson tossed into the mix - will honor that legend and cherish that era when the Augie Waibel Athletic Center is dedicated at Maryland's premier math and science school. The ceremony begins at 7 p.m.

The athletic center is the gymnasium - scene of many classic wrestling battles - the swimming pool, locker rooms, playing fields and "anything that has to do with athletics," said Ian Cohen, Poly's principal.

Waibel retired from coaching after the 1997 season, his 31st at Poly. He racked up 280 career victories and steered his disciplined, steamroller squads to a 16-game winning streak in the City-Poly game (that's Poly-City game, to Techsters) that began in 1970.

He died of a heart attack in January while on a hunting trip in northern Baltimore County. In addition to the athletic center, Poly also has established a Waibel scholarship.

Waibel's reputation started at Edmondson, which had just started varsity football when he took over the reins as head coach. From 1963 through 1965, Waibel's B Conference Edmondson teams lost not once. They didn't even tie.

His legend, and the Waibel era, started at Poly, on that mid-November afternoon in 1967 when his Engineers - battered, beaten and out of the race for the A Conference title - marched on to Edmondson's field and pulled off the high school football upset of the season.

Waibel had his team prepared for that game, as well as the season finale against City on Thanksgiving Day. Prohibitive underdogs - Poly had lost to City 42-6 in 1966 and 52-6 a year earlier - and behind 20-0 in the fourth quarter, Waibel's scrappy bunch pulled to 20-16 and came within inches of pulling off another major upset. That was Waibel's first loss in a City-Poly game. He wouldn't lose many.

"His big thing was preparation," said Chris Wright, who played for Waibel as a defensive back in 1989 and 1990. "He stressed it on the football field and in the classroom."

Wright is a 1991 Poly graduate who earned a bachelor's degree in architecture from Hampton University in 1996. He's back at Poly, teaching in the school's engineering practicum and coaching the school's junior varsity football team.

Wright stresses the same things to his junior varsity players that Waibel taught him: preparation, discipline, getting the job done, studying. Oh, and a couple more things: the small matters of dignity and sportsmanship that most of today's National Football League players lack.

"He stressed being a class act," Wright said, "and told us there was a Poly way. I remember in one game, a guy scored a touchdown and celebrated in the end zone. Coach Waibel pulled that guy out of the game. He told him, `You have to act like you've been here before.' He told him that you don't show up your opponent."

That message would be completely wasted on the boogie-meisters, gyrators, popinjays, egomaniacs and plain danged fools who make up today's NFL. Their antics might be one reason why Waibel decided not to move up in the coaching ranks - to college and possibly the pros.

Instead, Waibel stayed right where he was. Poly is a better school for it - and Baltimore a better city.

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