At City, players thankful that Petrides still roams sideline

November 24, 2005|By MILTON KENT

There will be turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and all the necessary Thanksgiving accouterments around City football coach George Petrides' house today, just like usual.

But dinner will be early, just as it has been for the past 12 years, since the City-Poly football game was moved from this day to accommodate the entrance of Baltimore city public high schools into the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

"I never thought of it [coaching on Thanksgiving] as work," Petrides said. "I enjoyed it. Thanksgiving was different when the game was moved away for us. We had the game at 2 o'clock. Dinner was late, but everything was kind of built around the game. I miss that part."

The ballpark that hosted so many battles between the Black Knights and Engineers, Memorial Stadium, is gone, demolished by a wrecking ball three years ago. And the coach who was on the other sideline for so many of those clashes, Poly's Augie Waibel, is gone, having retired in 1997 and died four years later.

But there's Petrides, still roaming the sidelines after 33 years at the imposing-looking school up the hill from where Memorial Stadium stood, still teaching, as he did the other day until the last ounce of daylight could be squeezed from the sky.

And the kids still appreciate what he has to say.

"He's the total package," said Sheldon Bell, a senior wide receiver-defensive back who will go to Duke next fall. "He's caring, but he's tough. He won't baby you. He wants you to get out there and keep working hard. He's just preparing you for the next level, if you do go to college."

If you started coaching in the days when bell-bottoms and disco were all the rage, how do you stay relevant with a crowd that loves hip-hop and wears jeans that barely cover their bottoms?

The answer, for Petrides, is that you stay on message, using the same approach that worked when Donna Summer was in vogue to the age of Beyonce.

"What he has instilled in us, and what we do as coaches, is if you teach a solid thing that's real, that endures time," said Douglass coach Joe Holland, who played for Petrides at City in the late 1980s.

"What kids see is when they start to see that you know what you're talking about and what you're teaching them is the right thing, they're going to buy into it, no matter what the age. That's what happens to us at Douglass and that's what's been happening to him through the time. He's been teaching good football and good lessons as a young man. That endures time."

This year's team, which carries a 10-1 record into Saturday's Class 3A North regional final against Catonsville, might be among Petrides' best coaching jobs, which is saying a lot, considering that his 193 wins are third in the area behind Wilde Lake's Doug DuVall and Patterson's Roger Wrenn.

The 11th-ranked Black Knights ride a nine-game winning streak into Saturday's contest behind a ferocious defense that has allowed just more than six points a game during that stretch and the quaint concept that the players and coaches like each other.

"It may sound corny, but it's good team chemistry," Petrides said. "There's nobody that needs the credit for the wins. There are no stars. We don't have anybody ... that's high in statistical rankings. A lot of people take part in it. It's been a team effort in terms of chemistry or whatever you call it. That's what has guided us so far."

With his top two quarterbacks from last year's 6-4 team having graduated, Petrides turned to Ellis Foster, the first time he has let a freshman start at quarterback. The results have been surprising for everyone.

"At first, it probably would have surprised me," junior tailback Earl Townes said. "I didn't believe that we would have a freshman quarterback this year. But that's why he's a great coach. I like playing for him. There are things that he does that somebody might question. But it's great to play for him."

Sure, the kids squabble over whose turn it is to take in the pads after a hard practice. What kids don't argue over the small stuff? What makes Petrides happy is that his kids get the important stuff - accountability, respect for each other and having each other's back.

Perhaps, because it is playing with such a young quarterback and is so unconcerned with glory and stats, this year's team has been like found money under the seat cushion, or perhaps an extra slice of pumpkin pie for Petrides.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed this season and not just because of the team," Petrides said. "The coaches can see it. It's exciting and it's fun to see this team do what they've done and to see where they've come from. If you would have seen our first scrimmage, you would know what I'm talking about. We were really concerned. But they have a good team chemistry. This is one of the more pleasant teams I've coached."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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