Winning support

The North Harford team made the state playoffs last season for the first time in 32 years. Now it has fans showing up at practices.

Football

September 10, 2006|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,Special to The Sun

It was a scene the players on the North Harford football team weren't accustomed to seeing. Fans were showing up with chairs and sitting on the hill above the team's field - for a midweek practice.

North Harford lineman Corey Jubb was one who wondered why they were there.

Running back-linebacker Bryan Woolson was taken by surprise, too, when he started seeing inspirational messages for the football team scrawled on the window of a local convenience store.

North Harford is an old-fashioned, community-oriented high school whose fans like their football. And last fall, there was a lot to like.

They were energized by a team that won six games in a row, went 8-3 and made it to the state playoffs for the first time in 32 years. People were talking about the football team throughout the rest of the school year and the summer. Interest remains high as the No. 14 Hawks hope for even bigger things this season.

Principal David Thomas said many in the Pylesville area follow the North Harford sports teams because the school is in a central location in the upper part of Harford County. Ken Brinkman, in his sixth year as coach, said his team has benefited in recent years from a growing fan base that regularly travels to away games and makes its presence known with its cheers.

But Brinkman said last year was special. More people were talking to him about the football team, asking questions and wishing him luck.

"It was picking up," Brinkman said. "The attitude and enthusiasm surrounding the program definitely had grown within the school. I had people coming up to me at school [and] after games, saying, `I'm going to drop my Ravens season tickets and come here - it's more exciting.'"

It had been exciting the year before, too, when North Harford went 7-3 but just missed the playoffs. Coming so close prompted the Hawks to adopt a "Why Not Us?" approach, with T-shirts to match.

The turning point last year came in a 22-7 victory at Joppatowne in the season's fourth game. North Harford dominated the Mariners on their home field, no small feat, given that Joppatowne had made the state finals in each of the previous two years.

Brinkman, Jubb and Woolson said that's when things changed. That's when people started showing up for practices, messages started showing up on that window and people started talking Hawks football.

"Teachers would [talk] to me during the middle of class during the season and start asking questions [like], `Who will you play, and how will you do?'" Jubb said. "It made it more fun. It gave us a boost and more intensity to go out and play. I think it made us want it more."

Members of the Endzone Club did their part as well. Club President Troy Jubb - Corey's father - said the football team's support group raises and spends $25,000 annually. Last year, the club purchased a new four-wheel minicar to help bring football equipment from the school, carry off injured players and take care of the field.

They also began providing meals for the players to eat on the bus when traveling, because the Hawks often have long trips.

Athletic director Brady Green thought the football team's success set the tone for other teams at the school.

The girls soccer team beat longtime power Severna Park on the road before losing in the region semifinals; the boys basketball squad had a winning record for the first time in several seasons; and the boys and girls lacrosse teams won county titles, with the boys advancing to the state final four, while the girls fell in the regional finals.

"I think when people [saw] the success of a team that hasn't been in that kind of limelight for a while, it kind of gave everyone a sense of pride in the school," Green said. "I think the school really rallied behind the team."

The community's interest has carried over into this year. Woolson said local people know that those with the North Harford football helmet stickers on their car are players. "A lot of people come up to us in the community ... just walk up to us and ask, `How are you looking this season?' " Woolson said. "I've been getting it all summer long. But it's cool. I like it."

Thomas played for North Harford in the early 1970s and remembers the installation of the bleachers that still sit under the press box. That was a sign of the football program's growth after its start in the late 1960s.

"We had winning seasons right away, and it was really neat ... because the whole school was excited about the program being here," Thomas said. "That's what it was like last year. You could feel it again."

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