Fern Hitchcock Jr.

[ Age 82 ] The McDaniel college baseball coach, trainer and teacher passed on his wisdom through his `Fernisms.'

February 07, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Fern Rudolph Hitchcock Jr. a longtime athletic coach, trainer and faculty member at what is now McDaniel College who was known for his motivational stories, called "Fernisms," died Thursday of complications from Parkinson's and heart disease at a hospital in Hanover, Pa. He was 82.

Mr. Hitchcock was born in York, Pa., and raised in Taneytown. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1947 from what was then Western Maryland College, where he played third base and outfield for several championship baseball teams. In the late 1940s, he played minor league baseball in the St. Louis Browns organization.

"Baseball has been in my life from the start," he told The Hill, the college's alumni magazine, in a 1988 interview.

After earning a master's degree in education in 1950 from the University of Maryland, College Park, Mr. Hitchcock took a circuitous path before becoming a college educator and coach. He had a bread route, taught at Westminster High School and was a salesman for the Jewel Tea Co.

From 1958 until 1962, when he joined the faculty of Western Maryland, he owned and operated a Firestone tire franchise in Westminster.

During his years at the college, Mr. Hitchcock, "spent a quarter-century taping, bandaging, caring for and worrying about the physical condition of student-athletes," said Joyce Muller, associate vice president of communication and marketing at McDaniel College.

From 1963 to 1978, he was head baseball coach, and during those years his teams compiled a record of 161-100-3 and won 10 conference championships. He described his successful style of baseball as simply "hit and run."

Mr. Hitchcock demanded that his players hustle even if the results of a play were predictable, using bursts of encouragement that soon became known as "Fernisms."

When a player hit a foul ball and slowly chugged to first, Mr. Hitchcock yelled from the dugout, "Run it out, Earl. You never can tell."

He once advised his players that if they were about to get picked off to remember that the "rundown is the most colorful play in baseball."

In 1966, Mr. Hitchcock laid out his strategy for the game in The Coaching Guide, when he wrote, "To play winning baseball you must score runs. ... Of course, you must keep the opponents from scoring more than you do."

"Fern was able to take complicated situations and boil them down to something that was real simple and resulted in his Fernisms," said Richard Carpenter, a physical education professor and former athletic director at McDaniel.

"He was extraordinarily knowledgeable about baseball because his father had played in the old Eastern Shore League. He was a great teacher of the fundamentals and recruiter of pitchers," he said.

Mr. Hitchcock served as a trainer for all sports at the college.

"He was extremely popular with the kids. Fern had the unique ability and because he was a very sophisticated man, he could interact with a board chairman or a frustrated freshman. He was a very wise guy," Mr. Carpenter said.

Mr. Hitchcock also taught courses such as golf, fly-casting and other outdoor activities as an instructor in the physical education department. Other courses included advanced athletic training and care, and prevention of athletic injuries.

During the summer months, he worked as an assistant trainer for the Baltimore Colts at their training camp, held on the grounds of the college.

He retired in 1984.

In 1987, when the college decided to construct two baseball dugouts, they turned to Mr. Hitchcock, who not only led the fund-raising but built them and had them ready for the 1988 season opener.

Mr. Hitchcock was one of the first in his field to be certified by the National Athletic Trainers Association and taught hundreds of in-service courses throughout the state. From 1978 to 1981, he was a special instructor at the University of Maryland.

In 1996, he was inducted into the Carroll County Sports Hall of Fame.

The former Westminster resident, who had lived at the Brethren Home Community in New Oxford, Pa., since 2000, enjoyed deer hunting, trout fishing, bird carving and furniture making.

Services were Monday.

Surviving are his wife of 57 years, the former Julia Taylor; a son, John Fern Hitchcock of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; four daughters, Barbara E. Scott of San Jose, Calif., Dorothy E. Keene of Marlborough, Mass., Nancy E. Sweeny of Front Royal, Va., and Sharon E. Hitchcock of Farges, France; two sisters, Alice Routsong of Hanover, Pa., and Lois Ann Smith of Taneytown; and eight grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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