Fall into winter wasn't much fun in Harford sports

December 05, 2013

This was always the worst time of year.

Covering Harford County sports years ago, I thought the lull between the end of the fall season and the beginning of the winter was dreadful.

There were only two sports - basketball and wrestling (three if you count boys and girls basketball separately).

The late Al Cesky, then the head of interscholastic athletics after a legendary career coaching football at Bel Air High School, was working on adding swimming as an interscholastic sport.

Dick Slutzky, another legendary coach, had his Aberdeen High School wrestlers working and sweating in preparation for the coming challenges.

Keith Watson was a Bel Air High School football player. As a junior, he played what he now, as John Carroll's wrestling coach, calls the oldest excuse in the book.

"I'm lifting for football," he told Coach Mark Jacovitte was his explanation for why he wasn't going to wrestle.

That changed the following year when Watson decided to give it a go. That decision led to a lifetime of wrestling, mostly coaching Harford County high school kids, culminating with his recent induction as a Lifetime Service Wrestling honoree into the National Hall of Fame.

In the same era, the late 1970s and early '80s, the state high school football playoffs, where Harford County was well represented, had only four teams in each of the four size classifications qualify for the postseason. That means the season ended the weekend before Thanksgiving for all but eight teams in Maryland.

Also in those days, the Ravens were the Cleveland Browns, the NFL played on 33rd Street at Memorial Stadium, Baltimore had yet to either face the trauma of losing its beloved Colts to Indianapolis or the disappointment of years of being bypassed by the NFL when it expanded. And Hammerjack's was the most popular attraction in the area that became the home of sparkling stadiums for the Orioles and Ravens.

This weekend, the first after Thanksgiving in 2013, there are 16 teams, none from Harford County, trying to become one of the eight to advance to the state championship games at M&T Bank Stadium, the home of the Ravens, in Baltimore.

Joppatowne, coached by Tom Marron, was the first state champion. In 1974, Jim Harris coached Havre de Grace to the regional championship, which was as far as the state playoffs went that first year, and to a state championship in 1978.

Aberdeen and Joppatowne followed some years later with state championships; Perryville had a couple of recent state championship game appearances.

The cruelest fate of all, at least locally, was foisted on Edgewood, coached by Forest Weist. The Rams finished 10-0 one season, but didn't make the playoffs because they didn't have enough points in the state's system for determining who got in and who didn't.

But that was then and this is so many years later. I don't hate this time of year nearly as much as I did when I was a young sportswriter trying to give readers their money's worth.

Football - college and the NFL - has grown to have plenty to fill what used to be that lull. All of those big-time football players started somewhere as youngsters, and as a former mediocre high school player who got his bell rung a time or two, I have often thought about the big decision many parents face: should I let my son play football?

I've been blessed with two wonderful daughters, each better in their chosen high school sport, softball and swimming, than I was in mine. I won't mention my envy of their academic success.

But if I were a parent of a youngster who wanted to play football, I don't think I would give my permission. Would you?

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