A team that won't quit

Even after their athlete son has graduated, a River Hill couple remain devoted to supporting the high school football team.


December 06, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

As "team mom" for River Hill High School's football team, Kim Wharton had an exciting Friday.

That night, the football team clinched a trip to Saturday's state Class 3A championship at M&T Bank Stadium. And Wharton was there - playing her position - pouring hot chocolate at the concession stand and watching her beloved Hawks rout visiting Franklin, 56-7, in a semifinal game.

Meanwhile, some 50 yards away, her husband, Jim, was filming the game, as he always does, so the team could analyze its performance later.

After the game, they dashed to nearby Ten Oaks Ballroom, where Kim was in charge of a silent auction that raised about $10,000 for the school boosters club. The Whartons returned home after 1:30 a.m., grabbed a few hours of sleep, then returned to the school at 8:30 the next morning, bearing doughnuts, milk and orange juice for the team.

All this devotion to River Hill and its football team would be remarkable enough if the Whartons had a son on the team. They do not.

Their only child, 18-year-old Richard, graduated from the Clarksville school last year and is attending Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, N.C. He doesn't even play football any more.

That hasn't slowed down the Whartons, who travel to every Hawks football game, provide food for the boys and organize numerous fundraisers for the boosters club.

"I don't remember anytime when you had parents - after their kid graduated - that put in the time that Kim and Jim do," said Coach Brian Van Deusen. "We are certainly fortunate."

Kim Wharton has been team mom for five years, since Michael was on the junior varsity football team. And Jim Wharton has been filming games for just as long, as Michael progressed to the varsity team, where he was a safety and wide receiver.

Kim also is active with the boosters. She started collecting items for the silent auction in September, she said.

"People do ask, you know, `Why are you still doing it? You don't have a kid there,'" said Jim. "We do it because we get self-satisfaction and we really enjoy it."

Kim says her husband is a football fan, but she didn't get involved in the sport till her son started to play. "I really could have cared less," she said.

After Richard graduated, other families were available to pick up baseball-related responsibilities, Kim said, but football requires more time, and nobody else seemed willing to do it.

Van Deusen said he doesn't remember specifically asking the Whartons to continue their team involvement.

"I don't know if we really gave them a choice or not. I think we had a good feeling that they were going to stay around," he said. "They're our biggest fans."

Meanwhile, Richard dropped football to focus on his true passion, baseball. He'll be playing for Lenoir-Rhyne in the spring, probably in the outfield, he said.

He said he doesn't see anything unusual in his parents' continuing involvement with his old team. "They really like the school and they like the people there," he said over the phone from college.

The Whartons describe themselves as empty-nesters who stay involved because it gives them something to do. "We didn't know what we were going to do with ourselves," Kim said.

But that's not really accurate, since both have full-time jobs. Jim works for the science company SAIC, and Kim is executive director of the Howard County Bar Association, and works for several lawyers as well. From the beginning, their son's sports were a top priority.

"I was able to work my work schedule around my son's sports," said Kim. "It was very important to me and my husband that we never missed a game."

Supporting the football team is practically a job in itself. Van Deusen estimates that Kim devotes at least 15 hours a week to River Hill-related voluntarism. Keeping the football team happy requires copious amounts of food, much of which the Whartons pay for.

"If they're home, I'm working the concession stand," Kim said. "If they're away, I usually provide them with food after the game."

For away games, the Whartons provide hot dogs, home-baked desserts and sports drinks. Kim Wharton said she cooks the hot dogs in advance, then brings them to the game in hot packs. On Saturday mornings, the Whartons bring 12 dozen doughnuts, plus four gallons each of orange juice and milk to the school to fuel the team for practice.

Kim also helms the concession stand, a job that entails setting up before games, cleaning up after games and organizing the parents who run it during the games.

The junior varsity parents are supposed to run the stand during varsity games, and the varsity parents are supposed to run it during the JV games, but when the stand is short-staffed, Kim always pitches in, said Nora Kralowetz, whose 10th-grade son, C.J., is an offensive lineman on the JV team.

"Kim is just always there," she said. "I don't even know what to say about her, she's just fantastic. It's phenomenal how much she's there and how much she does for the boys."

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