Playing With Heart

Out of a time of great loss, the Sparrows Point soccer team builds a winning season.

October 30, 2003|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

Before the regional playoffs started, not everyone thought the team from Sparrows Point High School would make it this far.

Not little Sparrows Point, the second-smallest public high school in Baltimore County.

Not after Tropical Storm Isabel destroyed much of the community and so many of the players' homes.

And certainly not after a car wreck on Oct. 1 killed one of their teammates, Adam Parr, and left another student, Zachary Bradley, in a coma at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, clinging to life.

Yet the boys on the soccer team not only made it to yesterday's second round of regional playoffs, they beat Bohemia Manor of Cecil County, 7-6 in penalty kicks after a double overtime left the game score 2-2. The win earned them the right to play Joppatowne in tomorrow's semifinals.

One person who has not been surprised by their success is their coach, George Bischoff. Months earlier, when practice began, Bischoff saw what the rest of the community - and many outsiders - would later see: an ordinary group of boys capable of extraordinary things.

The first hint came early in the season. Bischoff, who has coached the Sparrows Point Pointers for six years, is used to a team of 18 to 20 boys. This year, he had only 16.

The team had lost many valuable seniors, too: among them, a sweeper and two midfielders, positions hard to replace. It was also a young team. Of the 16, one is a freshman, three are sophomores, six juniors and six seniors.

Athletic director Russ Lingner considered it a solid team, the kind that would maintain the school's reputation for a competitive program, but not a team likely to win the Baltimore County championship.

In the first games, Bischoff and his assistant coach, Scott Wooddell, saw more hints when the boys stepped into new positions. Chuck Ulrich proved to be an impressive sweeper; Danny Faircloth dynamite on defense; Matt Zinner, a sophomore, showed incredible speed and talent as a striker.

They lost their first matchup, a non-division game against Perry Hall, a school four times their size, but they were coming together as a team by the time Isabel swept up the Chesapeake Bay and flooded much of their town. Tony Marzocchi - who has lived in a house his family has owned for four generations - lost everything on the first floor to 3 feet of water. Jamin Thiess not only suffered damage to his house, but his family also saw much of the inventory at their office supply store destroyed.

Bischoff, a computer operator for Baltimore Gas and Electric who coaches on the side, saw the damage first-hand the next day. "It was horrifying," he said.

Bischoff worked 16-to 17-hour days through the weekend, while the boys worked, too. Many showed up at the high school, where the county had set up large trash bins to throw out their own ruined belongings or to help friends and family get rid of theirs.

When practice resumed the following Monday, Bischoff was late because of work, and some of the players arrived with mud on their faces, having come from more cleanup.

Bischoff wondered if the trauma would weigh on them at a time when their toughest game was less than two weeks away. Eastern Technical, the two-time defending Baltimore County champion, was the team Bischoff knew would make or break Sparrows Point.

Yet life is like the weather, full of surprises.

After Sparrows Point started out 2-0 against Eastern at halftime, Eastern scored two goals and tied the game. They went into double overtime, and then Kenny Dotter, the kid Bischoff calls his "go-to guy," took the ball down the side, shot and scored.

It was a deeply satisfying win after the storm, but around noon the next day, tragedy put the game into a new perspective.

Adam Parr, quiet and well-liked, an A student who loved soccer, was, like several Sparrows Point seniors, taking college courses during the day at the Dundalk campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. Parr, who was 17, was riding with his friend Zach Bradley, who is also 17, and they were en route to the high school, approaching the flashing yellow light at the intersection of Bethlehem Boulevard and Wharf Road. A tractor trailer carrying powdered cement from nearby Bethlehem Steel was in the intersection, and the boys could not stop in time. The car was caught under the tractor trailer.

Principal Robert SantaCroce arrived in time to see paramedics saw off part of the roof and then airlift the boys to Shock Trauma. Many of Adam's teammates were also heading back to school and saw the accident.

By 9 p.m. that night, 100 people, including every member of the varsity team - and many of their parents - were at the hospital. They were there when Adam's mother and father, Gail and Leonard Parr, came out and said Adam was not going to survive. The team was there when one of Adam's favorite teachers led an impromptu prayer meeting in the lobby. The team was there when the hospital allowed six at a time to go into the emergency room and say goodbye.

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