Remembering a dynasty

High schools: Players and coaches look back with pride at Howard's record, 47-game win streak of the '70s that Urbana can break tonight.

High Schools

November 16, 2001|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

During the day, they strutted in the school hallways wearing blue and white football lettermen jackets, oozing confidence.

On Friday nights, having been turned into muscular dynamos by an ahead-of-its-time weight-training program, Howard High's Lions took out their aggressions on rivals in an electric atmosphere - playing to a soundtrack of thousands of cheering fans, a precision marching band and squealing pompon girls.

Little did the Lions dream that their efforts would result in a historic winning streak.

There were 47 straight victories from 1971 through all but the last game of 1975, when the run ended in a crushing defeat by former University of Maryland coach Roy Lester's Paint Branch Panthers in the state Class B championship game, 28-6.

City had a 54-game unbeaten streak from 1934 to 1941 that included ties, but no other Maryland high school football team had ever won so many games straight.

None would do it again for a generation.

Now, 26 years later, Urbana of Frederick County has tied the streak and can break it tomorrow against Gywnn Park in the quarterfinals of the state Class 3A playoffs.

Some former Howard players mourn the fact their streak is on the line; others embrace the reality that records are made to be broken.

"It's a sad day," said Scott Swope, a strapping quarterback who threw a school-record 18 touchdown passes in his senior season in 1974, later played semipro with the Baltimore Eagles and is now an assistant coach at another Howard County school that has produced five state champions, Wilde Lake.

"It was my dream that we [Wilde Lake] could make the playoffs and meet them [Urbana] in the first round, so I could have a hand in stopping them. I never thought it'd be broken. That's a heck of a record."

Others, like Elbert Robinson, a high school All-American in football and track, and the first black football captain at Howard, said: "I have nothing but admiration for Urbana. It takes a lot to persevere for four to five years. It shows they have character. We had character."

The Lions also had pride - a pride that stemmed from head coach Bill Caudill, who, with the help of principal Noel Farmer, built a football dynasty and a Howard mystique that left behind lasting memories.

Days of change

Change was everywhere in Howard County in those days. Columbia was 3 years old when the streak began. School integration in Howard County had existed for just six years.

Howard, once a rural, homogeneous school, had become a melting pot of blue-collar and white-collar kids, black and white, rich and poor. Some of them lived in the new town of Columbia and brought new ideas with them.

People longed to hold onto something familiar, like high school football. And Caudill fulfilled that desire by providing a first-rate program.

A coal miner's son from Bluefield, W. Va., the ex-Marine had been a Golden Gloves boxer and was a disciplinarian who believed in setting goals and then accomplishing them.

Building a great high school football program was his goal in those days. And great it was, by any measurement.

During Swope's junior year, in 1973, the team went 11-0, outscored the opposition 284-22, posted eight shutouts and won the District V title game.

In Swope's senior year, the team went 12-0, outscored the opposition 488-34, posted eight shutouts and won the Class B title in the first year for state championships.

From coaching staff to equipment and fan support, Howard had it all.

"We had 10 coaches," said Farmer, who left Howard in 1976 to become Howard County's director of high schools, then assistant superintendent and finally Frederick County's superintendent. He now teaches at Hood College.

A tall, powerful-looking man who used to drive a Cadillac and sometimes wore 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots, he frequently walked the perimeter of the field during home games to prevent trouble from breaking out.

Formidable staff

The 1974 staff consisted of mainly young, aggressive coaches - Jerry Lowe, Ned Sparks, Chuck Bragg, Dave Freeland, John Kemmerer and Danny Ross, with the older, more laid-back Jim Fink coaching the freshman team.

Sparks, who played center at North Carolina, was head coach at Howard for the 1975 season, when the streak ended. For the past 20 years, since leaving Howard in 1981, he has been executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, which operates the state tournaments.

"Losing the state-championship game and ending the streak on the same day was difficult," Sparks said. "There were some wet eyes and emotion in the locker room. The kids took it hard, and I felt bad for a long time. Paint Branch pounded us pretty good. We had had to come from behind [18-3 at halftime] against Cambridge the week before, and we just ran out of gas against Paint Branch."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.