Letter: Another perspective on district play

I’m writing to take issue with statements made by Amy Hitt in her letter [“Run, don’t walk, back to Bull Run,” March 18] published in the Rappahannock News.

Ms. Hitt believes that Rappahannock County High School (RCHS) should rejoin the Bull Run District for basketball and football. That’s an honest belief, but Ms. Hitt and other proponents should be aware that RCHS with only 299 students in grades 9-12 will be at a distinct disadvantage. Clark County High has 760 students in those grades, Madison 650, Manassas Park 665, Strasburg 670, and George Mason 637.

I also very much disagree with the following assertions made by Ms. Hitt: that the JV and varsity programs have recently “floundered” and that there has “clearly” been “no success”; that “. . . not too long ago, in fact only three years . . .we were competitive in basketball . . . Not only with single-A but Double-A schools”; that the supposed demise is somehow due to how coaches are hired and retained; that “we are lucky to get 25 people in the stands”; and that “We need to bring the pride back to our school . . .”

Some facts: between 2001 and 2007, the boys basketball team had a record of 5 wins and 66 losses in district play. The girls record was 7 wins and 67 losses in the district. Between 2005 and 2007, the football team played 15 district games and lost all 15 by an average of more than 30 points per game.

Two years ago, at the beginning of our supposed decline, the girls varsity basketball team went 15-10 (the most wins they’ve had this century). The boys won 17 games. This year, nearly half of the games were canceled due to the snow, and, although our young teams started slowly, it is impossible to say how well they would have done in a complete season.

I will say this about the girls varsity, though. An excellent new head coach, Donald O’Meara was hired this year. Coach O’Meara’s resume is as follows: five years’ great success as head coach at Highland School, coaching at the college level before that, and playing in college before that. The girls varsity has many outstanding players coming back next year and I can guarantee Panther fans that those girls can compete against anyone on a level playing field (or court). (Full disclosure, I have been the Girl’s assistant varsity and head JV coach for the past two years.)

Attendance at basketball games has not been the “lucky to have 25” claimed by Ms. Hitt. Gate receipts show an average of 61 paying attendees per game. That total does not include students, staff, and children who are all admitted for free.

I am not familiar with all the other coaches and their programs, but I do know that RCHS’s volleyball team, softball team and wrestling team have all enjoyed recent success and have strong programs. The coaches I know firsthand — Rich Hogan, Amy Gubler, Jimmy Swindler, Donald O’Meara, Bob Czekaj, Larry Settle, Robbie Thornhill — are fine coaches who have all told me on separate occasions that they coach for the same reason – and that is love of the sport and love for the kids.

Now, can RCHS athletics be much improved? Absolutely. Do coaches need the constructive criticism of parents and others with relevant knowledge of their sports to be better coaches? Of course they do. Are coaches at RCHS automatically rehired every year? No, they’re not.

And finally, is the athletic program at RCHS “floundering,” “clearly” lacking success, and in need of pride? Well, don’t take my, or Ms. Hitt’s, word for it. If you want to spend a wonderful spring evening with your family, take them to see a RCHS baseball or softball game and see for yourself. Don’t judge the coach’s ability by his or her demeanor on the sidelines — coaches make tactical decisions during games but knowledgeable sports fans know that 95 percent of coaching is done at practice.

Instead, look to see how well-coached the RCHS players are. See how well they know their fundamentals, see how well they compete and carry themselves, see their sportsmanship, and see their pride. At the end of the game, I bet that, win or lose, you’ll be mighty proud of how well these young people play and how well they represent RCHS. You may even be inclined to say “thank you” to their coaches for all the great work they do for our athletes and for Rappahannock County. Go Panthers!

John J. McMahon

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