Lighthouse signs point to a positive experience for young athletes

At Play

September 21, 2005|By LOWELL SUNDERLAND

A little cryptic touch begins this week's column for you faithful readers: Let's just say we're rounding third and headin' home, and we'll build out from that thought in next Wednesday's column.

Now ...

Speaking of cryptic, no doubt you've noticed the constant blossoming of sports-related, roadside signs in the past couple of months, especially in the populous central part of the county. Not the ones for the Howard Bruins, a youth football club for boys who have outgrown most other clubs' weight limits.

Not the ones pitching this gym or that fitness center - they're mostly trying to offset the approach of Life TimeFitness, the Minneapolis-based "big box" of working out that has a building under construction and expects to open early next year in a Columbia industrial park.

We're talking about the signs pitching Lighthouse Sports. Here's the story behind those signs and the little company they praise.

Lighthouse Sports is owned and operated by Ellicott City resident Anthony McMillan, 41. He is trying to parlay success as a youth sports coach and a lifelong interest in sports into a business.

"I just have a passion for kids, teaching them, seeing them grow," said McMillan, who also taught - English at a Christian school in Savage - after 17 years in, mostly, the sales and marketing end of the telecommunications business. Teaching English to middle-schoolers, though, didn't pay the bills.

McMillan, who grew up in Harford County and played baseball at Maryland, has been a softball coach for a decade in the Howard County Youth Program, with teams that he said have won about 80 percent of their games. He has also coached youth basketball.

He began thinking about running his own sports program about four years ago, he said, converting that part-time exploration to all his waking hours in May. You've seen elements of his recipe: camps, individual coaching, training for speed, agility and strength, consulting with youth programs and teams.

"It's definitely a risk," he said, "but we've planned for it. It's something my wife said that I should commit to full-time if that's what I really liked to do. We have a lot of work to be done, to be sure, and it's going to take some time. But the feedback has been great and encouraging."

The program is oriented to the young athlete, McMillan said, but he will take adult clients also. He is certified, he said, as a personal trainer by the California-based International Sports Science Association, which claims to be the first organization to do that type of validation. Beyond that, his background in sports has come through his experience as an athlete when he was younger, experience as a youth coach and ample reading and observing.

He is particularly comfortable coaching baseball, softball and basketball, he said. His business focus is on developing skills and attitudes for young players, through one-on-one activities and through clinics for teams, as well as by helping coaches learn effective ways to teach.

"A lot of youth coaches know their sport pretty well, but they can benefit from learning to teach the right techniques, how to develop players," he said. "We've also worked with some teams and groups on how best to use the limited resources they have in training."

At the root of his approach, McMillan said, is attitude.

"I'm all about being positive," he said. "Every kid has something to contribute to a team, and being a coach or manager involves building on that to give kids a positive sports experience. Winning is important, because that's what's behind all sports - but not winning at all costs."

McMillan's Web site, www.lighthouses, includes references to having coached in programs aligned with Chapelgate Presbyterian Church in Marriottsville. He agrees that his choice of a business name, Lighthouse Sports, carries a religious spin for some people.

But his business, he said, is not a faith-based venture.

Lots of athletes, of course, have learned their sports in church-backed programs, not the least of which is Catholic Youth Organization basketball. In Howard County, the Columbia Community Church backs a youth football program, and First Baptist Church in Guilford has long had an active youth basketball program.

USGA fellowship

Congratulations to Laura Erdman, a graduate this year of the University of Maryland and a 2001 alumna of Hammond High School, on being chosen as one of six young adults to get a U.S. Golf Association fellowship in leadership and service.

Erdman's interest in golf and the USGA program began in 2000, when she worked on the maintenance staff at Columbia's Hobbit's Glen Golf Course. At College Park, she was active in intramural sports.

The USGA fellowship, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., is a two-year, post-graduate commitment with the possibility of working on a special project in the third year. Its focus is on building skills, education in the role of foundations and the not-for-profit sector, and gaining experience in the governance of golf.

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