Tag: Caleb McClatchey

3 Coaches. 1 Program. Still Soaring

Words: Caleb McClatchey

41 years ago, Centennial’s Varsity boys basketball team celebrated their first win in program history, a 68-64 double overtime victory over rival Mount Hebron. Over four decades and 450 wins later, generations of Eagle athletes have built a program rich in tradition and full of history.

In the landscape of high school basketball, continuity takes a backseat to change far too often. A team which wins a championship one year may have a completely new lineup the next. Come back four years later and there won’t be a single familiar face. In a competition level where turnover is inevitable, can a program really be considered a program? Is there truly any connection between Greg Brouse of Centennial’s inaugural season and Stafford Smith of today’s?

The answer –in the case of Centennial– is yes. But this story isn’t about the connection between any of Centennial’s players, it’s about the three coaches who tied them all together.

Samuel Leishure became coach of the Varsity team when the school opened in 1977. Leishure, 34 at the time, transferred to Centennial after spending 11 years working at Northwestern High School. Although he stepped down from coaching after the 1983-84 season, Leishure continued to work as a guidance counselor at Centennial until his retirement in 2002.

As coach, Leishure was tasked with a unique challenge: building a program from scratch. Unsurprisingly, Centennial’s inexperience proved too much to overcome in their inaugural season. After their thrilling, double-overtime win over Mount Hebron, the Eagles only won one more game and finished with an overall record of 2-18.  However, Centennial improved dramatically the following year and finished 15-9 — the first winning record in program history.

Unfortunately, that 15-9 record proved to be the high water mark of Leishure’s tenure. Over his next five seasons, the Eagles were consistently mediocre, never finishing with a better record than 12-8 or a worse record than 8-14. Nevertheless, Leishure’s influence on the program extended far beyond wins and losses. Although he may not have achieved the final results he desired, Leishure set the tone for how the program should be run.

“He did what was right,” said Jim Hill, Leishure’s successor. “He was always kind of a moral pinnacle.” As coach, Leishure demanded excellence from his players both on and off the court. He made sure they never cut corners, and never put up with players cutting classes or getting into fights.

According to Hill, Leishure would “make sure that [his players] were willing to pay the price to be good, and be a good person as well.” It was in this way that Leishure shaped the program from the beginning, serving as a great example for the two coaches who followed him.

When Leishure stepped down from coaching at the end of the 1983-84 season, Hill applied for the job and got it. Hill had already been a part of the program for two years as coach of the Junior Varsity (JV) team, making the switch to Varsity more of a natural step.

Although Hill’s more aggressive, pressure-oriented coaching style differed from Leishure’s more conservative approach, Hill believes he benefited from watching Leishure coach before taking over as Varsity coach.

“I think he rubbed off on me in a very positive fashion,” Hill recalled. “He made me a little more cautious and [got me] to consider other aspects of the game.”

“[Leishure] did what was right. He was always kind of a moral pinnacle.” – Jim Hill
Ben Lubbehusen, who played for both coaches, noted that even though Leishure influenced Hill, Hill “never became Leishure. He took those skills and implemented them into his personality.”

Despite their distinctly different philosophies, Hill produced similar results in his first seven seasons as Varsity coach. From Hill’s first season in 1984-85 to the 1990-91 season, the Eagles went a combined 59-95 (.383 winning percentage). In comparison, the Eagles went 64-84 (.432 winning percentage) from 1977-78 to 1983-84 under Leishure.

Entering its 15th season in 1991, Centennial’s basketball program had become defined by mediocrity. The program had no county titles, no regional titles, and owned an overall winning percentage barely over .400. The Howard County Sun, in their 1991-92 Howard County Basketball Preview, put it bluntly: “The Eagles have talent, but need the confidence to overcome a losing tradition and the consistency they’ve sorely lacked in the past.”

For Hill, two of the most important things in establishing a winning culture were getting his players to “buy in” and truly dedicate themselves to the program.

Under Hill, basketball became a near year-round commitment for Centennial players. The team began to play in summer and fall leagues together, strengthening team unity and giving players more opportunities to practice and improve.

“[They] bought into the concept that you had to work at the game to get better,” said Hill.

In addition to playing in summer and fall leagues, Hill began taking his teams on overnight team camps in the summer. While staying at colleges like Syracuse or the University of Delaware, his players had a chance to learn from other coaches, practice, and bond on and off the court.

Hill believes that playing basketball almost year-round, along with the discipline they developed and their overall dedication to the program, “made them realize that they had to work at it and become better at it and they did.”

Perhaps as a result of their work ethic and dedication, Hill’s teams became known for their sound fundamentals and great defense. Both of these characteristics stemmed from Hill’s emphasis on the team over the individual. Hill pushed the idea that it’s much better for five players to score ten points than for one player to score twenty. It was Hill’s goal to make opposing defenses feel as if they had to stop all five players at once — an extremely difficult task.

“[The team] bought into the concept that you had to work at the game to get better.” – Jim Hill
Over the next ten seasons, Hill’s methods and philosophy proved successful as the Eagles completely changed the culture of the Centennial basketball program. After ending a streak of four straight losing seasons with a 14-9 mark in 1991-92, the Eagles won the first county title in school history the following year. Three seasons later, the Eagles won their second county title. The next year, they won their third, en route to an undefeated season and 22-1 overall record. Three seasons after that, they won another county title. As if that wasn’t enough, they won yet another in the 2000-01 season.

After leading Centennial to five county titles and a 145-82 record (.639 winning percentage) in a ten-year span, Hill had not just erased the program’s losing tradition, he had replaced it with a winning one. He led Centennial to one more county title, his sixth, in the 2004-05 season before retiring two seasons later.

Following his departure, JV Coach Chad Hollwedel took over the Varsity job. Hollwedel had been part of the program since 1997, serving as JV assistant, Varsity assistant, and JV head coach in that time. According to Hollwedel, Hill was supportive of him getting the job and even put in a good word to Scott Pfeifer, the principal.

“I felt that the program would be in great hands with Coach Hollwedel,” recalled Hill.

With ten years of experience coaching in the program, Hollwedel was already familiar with the program’s new, winning culture and Hill’s philosophy. Just as Leishure had rubbed off on Hill, Hill gave Hollwedel valuable insight on coaching and leading a successful program.

Coaching wise, Hollwedel says that watching how the system which Hill taught in practice translated to games taught him a lot. While the system which Hollwedel runs now differs from the one Hill ran, the three major tenets of Hill’s philosophy: great discipline, great defense, and sound fundamentals, are still a major focus in the program according to Hollwedel.

Off the court, Hollwedel learned the importance of developing interpersonal relationships with his players.

“Being able to relate personally as a player and coach was obviously critical,” he said.

Hill also taught Hollwedel that mutual respect between and unity within a program’s coaching staff is essential for success. Hollwedel noted that players will see through a disunified coaching staff right away – ultimately leading to a more divided program.

As Varsity coach, Hollwedel took this concept of unity within the program and expanded on it, implementing a system similar to the one he had been a part of in the football program. Instead of traditional JV or Varsity assistant coaches, Hollwedel decided to have “program assistants.” These assistants rotate between JV and Varsity every day, giving them the chance to work with all players in the program.

“There’s continuity in what we teach because all of the coaches are teaching the same thing to every kid,” explained Hollwedel. As a result, JV and Varsity are more like one unified program and less like two separate teams.

Another important point of emphasis for Hollwedel is focusing on one game at a time rather than the season as whole.

“You’re not worrying about having a winning record, you’re not worried about consistently winning over the course of the season. You’re worried about trying to be your best every night to be 1-0 at the end of that night.” Hollwedel believes that having this mindset the whole season helps prepare his teams for the playoffs, a time when each game is truly a must-win.

With Hollwedel at the helm, the winning tradition that Hill began has grown even stronger. After finishing with a losing record in his first two seasons, Hollwedel has led Centennial to nine straight winning seasons. Although Hollwedel has not won as many county titles as Hill, he has demonstrated a knack for taking his teams deep into the playoffs.

In the 2010-11 season, Centennial won regionals and advanced to the state tournament for the first time in school history. Like Hill’s success with county titles, the floodgates opened after winning the first. In fact, the Eagles won regionals again the very next year and again in the 2014-15 season.

In their 1979-80 varsity basketball preview, Pam Harrison and Brent Burkhardt of the Wingspan wrote that Leishure, “says that winning the state championships would naturally be his ultimate goal, but a more attainable one would be just to make it to the state championships.” On March 14, 2015 –12,889 days after the Wingspan’s preview was published– Leishure’s “ultimate goal” finally turned into a reality for the program. With a 57-43 victory over Westlake at College Park, Centennial earned its first boys basketball state title in school history. That win wasn’t just the result of one team’s year of hard work. Instead, it was the culmination of 38 seasons of Centennial basketball. 38 seasons of dedication and a commitment to excellence from Centennial players. 38 seasons of support from the Centennial community. 38 seasons in which Leishure set an example, Hill created a winning culture, and Hollwedel improved on their success. And so, as the Eagles try to win that elusive last game of the season once again this year, they are not merely playing for themselves or for Hollwedel. They are also playing for Hill, Leishure, and all the players who came before them. They are the Eagles of course; they play for Centennial.

To read this article in the March print issue click here.

Featured Image by Ellie Zoller-Gritz.

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.

Centennial Boys’ Victorious over Glenelg in 57-56 Thriller

Words: Caleb McClatchey

Photos: Noorie Kazmi

The Centennial Varsity Boys’ basketball team defeated Glenelg 57-56 on the Eagles’ home court Friday night.

The Eagles and Gladiators fought back and forth all night, with neither team able to take control of the game and pull away from the other.

Glenelg’s early foul trouble helped Centennial jump out to a seven point lead midway through the first quarter, the largest by either team during the game. However, Glenelg battled back and tied the game at 23 with 4:40 left in the second quarter. At the end of the half, the Eagles trailed 31-30.

The second half began much like the first, with Centennial jumping out to a 41-36 lead. Glenelg answered with a 10-0 run of their own, and led 46-41 midway through the fourth quarter. This time, Centennial closed the deficit and cut Glenelg’s lead to one point, setting up a nail-biting final two minutes.

With two minutes to go, a three-point shot by Centennial’s Ryan Hollwedel gave the Eagles a 52-50 lead. After both teams scored two points, a three-point shot by Glenelg put the Gladiators back in front 55-54 with just over a minute left. Following a Glenelg free throw which extended their lead to two points, Centennial’s Stafford Smith made a layup on a fast break to tie the game at 56.

Shortly after, a foul by Glenelg sent Centennial’s Brandon Bonner to the line. Bonner sunk his first shot but missed his second, giving the Eagles a one point lead and Glenelg one last possession. The Gladiators ran the clock down as they passed the ball around, trying to find an open look for a game-winning shot.

With only three seconds left in the game, Glenelg’s shot clanked off the rim- securing a 57-56 Eagles win and sending the Centennial crowd into a frenzy.

Centennial was kept relatively quiet from beyond the arc for most of the night, making only three three-pointers over the first three quarters. However, the Eagles’ deep shot came in clutch in the fourth quarter. Two three-pointers by Stafford Smith and one by Ryan Hollwedel helped propel Centennial to victory in the dramatic final eight minutes.

Both teams had trouble scoring in the paint all night thanks to solid defensive performances by both squads.

Stafford Smith led the Eagles in scoring with 17 points, followed by Brandon Bonner and Cameron Berkeley with 11. Carson Dick finished with a team-high 21 points for Glenelg.

Centennial improved to 7-4 overall and 6-1 in county with their win over Glenelg. The Eagles will look for their fourth straight win on Wednesday at home versus River Hill.

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.

Students Dress Up as their Favorite Holiday Characters

Words: Caleb McClatchey

Photos: Eliza Andrew

Centennial students dressed up as their favorite holiday personalities for Holiday Character Day on Friday. Students dressed up as characters like Santa Claus and even Clark Griswold from Christmas Vacation.

The fun theme helped cap off Spirit Week and put students in the holiday spirit before winter break.

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.

Centennial Choral Ensembles Perform in Winter Concert

Words: Caleb McClatchey

Photos: Ellie Zoller-Gritz

The Centennial Music Department hosted the annual Winter Choral Concert Wednesday night, featuring performances from all of Centennial’s choral ensembles and clubs.

Concert Choir, the largest ensemble in the Centennial choral program, kicked off the evening with their rendition of Hlohonolofatsa, a South African greeting song. Rebecca Vanover, Director of Choirs, explained how her goal was to explore many different cultures in the music her ensembles performed.

While additional songs by Concert Choir, Bella Voce, and Chamber Choir provided more international flavor, the various ensembles helped put the audience in the holiday spirit as well. Vocal Jazz and Chamber Choir sang the traditional winter songs of The First Noel and Carol of the Bells, respectively. Chamber Choir also sang Serenissima una noche, a holiday song with an international twist.

In addition to Concert Choir, Bella Voce and Chamber Choir, Centennial’s choral clubs, C# Acapella and Vocal Jazz, also made appearances. C#, a student-led acapella group, performed 715 – Creeks. Vocal Jazz, a new group this year, sang The First Noel and They Say it’s Wonderful.

Following performances by all five groups, every singer packed on to the stage for one final song. Afterwards, Vanover thanked the audience for coming and praised her students for their success.

“They truly make me proud to do what I do,” she concluded.

The choral concert capped off a week of concerts for the Centennial music program. All choirs, bands, and orchestras will play again during the spring concerts beginning April 2nd.

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.

Centennial Boys’ Basketball Defeated in Season Opener

Words: Caleb McClatchey

Photos: Jenna Marie Torres

The Centennial Varsity Boys’ basketball team fell to Atholton at home by a score of 58-40 in its season opener on Friday.

Centennial’s Matt Merkey scored the first point of the season, making a free throw which gave the Eagles a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Eagles, however, that ended up being their only lead of the night. Atholton quickly answered with a 6-0 run, setting the tone for the rest of the game.

Both teams played solid defense early, with only 12 total points being scored in the first quarter, but Centennial had trouble capitalizing on their possessions the whole night. Atholton’s physical and aggressive defense forced many turnovers and helped the Raiders go on another dominant run in the 2nd quarter, outscoring Centennial 13-1.

The Eagles entered halftime trailing 22-12, a large deficit but certainly not insurmountable. However, Atholton began the 2nd half hot and jumped out to a 38-16 lead, their largest of the night. Centennial battled back late in the 3rd and early in the 4th quarter, going on a 14-4 run which cut Atholton’s lead to 12. The comeback attempt ended up falling short in the 4th, however, as Atholton took back control of the game and defeated Centennial 58-40.

One of the stories of the game for Centennial, besides turnovers, was Atholton’s dominance from the three-point line. While Atholton made six from beyond the arc, Centennial only managed two- both by Ryan Hollwedel late in the 2nd half.

Senior Michael Kefyalew led the Eagles in scoring with 15 points, followed by junior Joey Sedlacko with 9 and senior Cameron Berkeley with 7. For Atholton, senior Casey Parkins led the team in scoring with 26 points.

The Eagles will play Atholton again on February 1st and have a chance to avenge Friday’s loss. Last year, Centennial also began its year with a season-opening loss to Atholton but ultimately had the last laugh as Centennial eliminated Atholton in the playoffs.

Centennial’s next game is on Wednesday, December 12th at home against rival Mount Hebron.

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.

REBEL Chamber Ensemble Performs at Centennial

Words: Caleb McClatchey

Photos: Ellie Zoller-Gritz

On Friday, the REBEL Ensemble for Baroque Music performed for Centennial orchestra students in the auditorium.

In addition to playing multiple pieces, the group also taught students about their unique instruments and playing style. Following their performance, REBEL held a clinic for one of Centennial’s orchestras during 6th period.

A professional chamber orchestra, REBEL formed in 1991 and specializes in music from the 17th and 18th centuries.Their use of period instruments- instruments from the time period the music was written- sets them apart from other ensembles. These instruments produce an authentic sound and allow the musicians to be more expressive.

REBEL is currently on tour and was in the area for a concert at Howard Community College on Saturday.  They will return to Maryland on March 29th for a concert at St. John’s College in Annapolis.

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.

Five Years in the Making: The Decline of Centennial Football

Words: Caleb McClatchey

It all began on a chilly November evening five years ago. Students filed out of Angelo Fortunato Memorial Stadium, celebrating Centennial’s 59-13 win over Hammond to close out the regular season. Seniors on the team like Chase Conley couldn’t help but feel bittersweet despite the blowout win; it was the last time they would put on a uniform and take the field as Eagles. They would finish their careers as members of one of the best Centennial football teams in recent memory, finishing with a 7-3 record for a program that managed only four wins total the previous two years. For the seniors, it was the end of something great. For the Centennial program, it was the beginning of something quite the opposite.

Half a decade has passed since that day. During that span, the Varsity football team has played in 39 games. Of those 39 games they have won exactly one; an away game, quite ironically, also against Hammond. The fact that they have not won a single home game in that span is baffling. How could a program go from being in playoff contention one year to having the worst record in the county over the next five years? There is obviously no clear answer to that question, but what is clear is that the story behind it is very unique.

A combination of depth, experience, and health were all key reasons for Centennial’s strong 2013 campaign. However, a senior-laden team meant that the lineup looked very different in 2014. In addition, two key returning players, Patrick McKinnis and Austin Kraisser, did not play. The Eagles had only four returning starters as a result, fewer than any other team in the county. This dramatic roster turnover did not bode well for Centennial. They were shutout in six games and outscored 452-44 on their way to a 0-10 record. Quickly, it became clear that the team’s hopes laid in its future, not its present. At a certain point, said McKinnis, “our team accepted the 2014 season as a re-development year for all the young talent from JV.”

Mason Smith, a sophomore on Varsity in 2014, was an example of the young talent McKinnis spoke of. In his sophomore year, player turnout was an issue due to the number of seniors on the team previously. To make matters worse, a dismal season only exacerbated the problem in 2015. Most students at Centennial did not have high expectations for the next year and were not interested or willing to try out for a team that had just played one of its worst seasons ever.  Although the players’ motivation to win didn’t decline, said Smith, interest in the team certainly did.

Unsurprisingly, the Eagles did not fare much better that year. Led by new head coach Carlos Dunmoodie, the team finished 0-10 for the second year in a row. The season played out very similarly to 2014, with injuries depleting an already small depth chart. Although it certainly did not reflect in the win column and was of no consolation to the players, it was evident that the talented young core from 2014 was gaining experience and beginning to develop. After being outscored by an average of 40.8 points per game in 2014, the Eagles cut that number to only 26.6 in 2015.

Despite the Eagles’ slight improvement, it was still clear that they were not a good football team. Over the past two seasons, the program had developed a reputation for being the worst team in the county, whether justified or not. As a result, attendance at home games dropped dramatically in 2014 and 2015. By the time the 2016 season came around, the team was not only on a mission to win their first game since 2013, but to win the respect of their peers, too.

The Eagles began the 2016 season with a 20 game losing streak hanging over their heads. It had been over 1,000 days- nearly three years-since that senior night win in 2013. However, the Eagles finally put their notorious streak to rest with a 30-21 season opening win over Hammond.

Eli Ross, a senior on the team, credited their improvement to the dedication of his fellow seniors. “We all had the same mindset, to work harder in every way” he said. According to Smith, what the team truly wanted was not to win one game or even ten, but to “bring back the tradition of a thriving football team” to Centennial.

In a sense, the team did exactly that. Centennial did not win any more games in 2016, finishing 1-9, but there was still something special about the 2016 season. Almost all of the Eagles’ games were relatively close; they only lost three games by more than 20 points. In addition to the team being more competitive than it had been in 2014 and 2015, the opening win generated a renewed level of excitement among students that remained strong throughout the season. Smith remembers how, even in a game against undefeated Howard, the stands were full of Centennial students.

Unfortunately, the energy and excitement from the 2016 season did not, or more accurately, could not, carry into 2017. In late August 2017, just one day before the Eagles were scheduled to play their first scrimmage, the Howard County Public School System announced that Centennial’s varsity football team had been disbanded for the year. The school system deemed that a lack of players- less than 20 showed up for the first few days of tryouts- posed a significant safety risk for the players who had come out.

The announcement made plenty of local, even national, headlines. It was the first time that a Howard County high school was without a football team – ever. The news hit most players hard, particularly seniors. Although the county allowed juniors to play on junior varsity given the extenuating circumstances, seniors ended up losing their entire season as a result of the disbandment.

Centennial’s lost 2017 season was the culmination of a downward trend in turnout that began in 2014. Ever since 2013, when the varsity team had 40-50 players on the team, the Eagle’s roster has been continually shrinking. By 2016, that number was down to 20-25. The Eagles, well aware of this disadvantage, had fought hard over the past three years to overcome it. Nevertheless, they often found out that no amount of heart and passion adequately substituted for the depth they lacked.

“Most of our players played the whole game,” Ross remembered, “ by the end … they were just gassed out.” Finally in 2017, with less than 20 players on the team, the Eagles’ depth was too small to overcome.

Heading into 2018, Centennial students wanted to make sure 2017 stayed an anomaly and didn’t become the norm. In February, Centennial hired Billy Martin as head coach of the varsity team, replacing Coach Dunmoodie. Returning players, combined with some new faces eager to revive the program, gave the Eagles just enough players for a team. Their roster, albeit only around 21 players, was bigger than it would have been in 2017. However, playing on such a small team made players prone to injuries. At one point, recalled junior Sam Baeq, “we had as low as 14 players capable of playing.” In fact, Centennial was forced to forfeit a game against Howard because too many players were injured.

In the games which the Eagles had enough healthy players this season, the results were completely lopsided. Centennial gave up a remarkable 50.7 points per game and didn’t score a single point all season. For the program, which hasn’t seen a winning season since 2013, it was a new low.

Now, five years after its last winning season, there are two ways to look at the Centennial football program. It is either rebuilding, slowly yet resiliently bringing back a competitive varsity team from nothing, or dying, valiantly fighting till its last breath in a battle which has already been lost. The latter view, while bleak, is one that must be at least considered.

There is no denying the heart of those who come out for the Centennial football team every year. Perhaps no other team in the county faces the level of adversity that they do. However, in a sport where depth is critical, there is no amount of effort and dedication which can overcome a lack of participation. Due to a large senior class, participation fell off after the 2013 season. Consequently, the team’s performance declined drastically, and with it, student interest as well. Ever since then, the team’s overall poor performance and low student interest have fed off each other. A bad season leads to lower turnout, which leads to another bad season, and so forth. While it is certainly possible that the program is able to break this cycle and become competitive again, there is also a distinct possibility that it does not. Ultimately, Centennial students, both current and future, will be the ones to decide how the story ends.

For more breaking news and photos, follow The Wingspan on Instagram and Twitter @CHSWingspan.