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After 10 Years, Keith Mills Says Goodbye To PressBox

June 15, 2015

Goodbye and thank you. 

Goodbye to all the readers of PressBox, and thank you to a gentleman who gave me a second chance.

This is my last story for PressBox. The demands of my job at WBAL have changed. Unfortunately, I am unable to devote the time needed to write the high school column that has been a regular part of PressBox since it started 10 years ago. It's also been a big part of my life, ever since Stan "The Fan" Charles stood firm and strong in his support of me when others did not.

And how about 10 years for PressBox. Ten years of providing news, features, perspective and opinions to Baltimore sports fans.

Well done. 

A little more than 10 years ago, Charles approached me about being part of his new venture, which has evolved into a widely read and highly respected source of Baltimore sports information and entertainment. It has also led to a weekly television show on Channel 2/WMAR. I was both intrigued by the idea and honored he would include me in the original group of writers and contributors, which included one of my heroes growing up -- the legendary Jim Henneman.

And then, I got arrested, lost my job at Channel 2, entered rehab for a narcotic pain medication drug addiction and was scrambling to rebound from a humiliating phase of my life that I will live with forever. Through it all, Charles never blinked, and when I came out of the fog and started to put my life back together, he stood by his offer to have me join PressBox.

It was a gesture of friendship and support I will never forget.

That age-old cliché of "you find out who your true friends are during times of trouble" is true. And when I battled my drug addiction, many people I thought were my friends bailed on me, quickly.

Many, though, did not, including a handful of friends I had made through my career at both Channel 2 and Channel 13/WJZ, who never wavered when I looked to put my professional life back together. Among them were my close friend and mentor, Scott Garceau then of Channel 2, Baltimore attorney Ron Shapiro, John Maroon of Maroon Public Relations, Nestor Aparicio of WNST, 1570 AM, Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne, Orioles owner Peter Angelos, WBAL-AM, 1090's, Ed Kiernan, Jeff Beauchamp, Mark Miller, Michelle Butt and Jordan Wertlieb and Charles. 

While WBAL allowed me to resume a broadcasting career that began in August of 1980, Charles and PressBox allowed me to get back to my roots -- covering high school sports. My first job in the business was at the Baltimore-News American with John Steadman. I was 18 years old in 1975 and had just graduated high school when I was hired by Steadman as a weekend copy boy. Eventually, under the guidance of Frank Lynch, Mike Marlow and Jack Gibbons, I was allowed to assist Marlow in covering prep sports for the paper, a labor of love that remains one of the highlights of my professional career.

The lessons learned during that time have lasted to this day, and the friendships nurtured, both among the boys and girls who played the games and the men and women who coached them, have lasted a lifetime.

Charles allowed me to get back to the core of what I love. During the last 10 years, I've had the chance to document some of the great moments in Baltimore high school sports history, in addition to some truly inspiring stories. Kevin Lingerman overcame a rare form of cancer at the age of 6 to lead Calvert Hall's baseball team to the MIAA A Conference championship and earn Baltimore Sun Player of the Year honors in 2007. Mary Ella Marion overcame breast cancer and returned to coach the Mercy girls' varsity basketball team. 

Van Brooks was paralyzed in 2004 while playing football for Loyola Blakefield and now inspires others through the Safe Alternative Foundation. Rayna Dubose, a tremendous girls' basketball player at Oakland Mills in Columbia, Md., overcame a near-deadly bacterial disease in 2002 to motivate a generation of high school and college athletes.

The Sherry Shootout at Bryn Mawr has annually supported a variety of causes, including the Fisher House at Walter Reed Medical Center and the Gilchrist Hospice Center. 

The One Love Foundation was started in 2010 to honor Yeardley Love, the former Notre Dame Prep and University of Virginia lacrosse player who was tragically murdered earlier that year. 

One Love now educates young people on the dangers of domestic violence. A group of Yeardley's former teammates kept her spirit alive by winning the women's MidAtlantic Spring Club Lacrosse championship in May on the turf that carries her name -- Yeardley Love Field at Notre Dame Prep. 

And, of course, there's the coaches and athletic directors, too many to mention, and too valuable to ignore, who inspire their players daily. 

Tina Lockett and Dana Johnson are two young ladies I covered when they were playing at Dunbar and Western, respectively, and they are now running the Douglass and Dunbar athletic programs, respectively. Longtime Boys' Latin lacrosse head coach Bob Shriver and Park School boys' lacrosse head coach Lucky Mallonee are retiring after a combined 80 years of coaching, teaching and helping turn boys into young men. Obie Barnes, Mike Baker, Tim McMullen, Bernie Walter, Mark Amatucci and Chuck Markiewicz have all stepped down from coaching during the last 10 years after sensational Hall of Fame careers.

There's also Bob Wade, still mentoring me as the coordinator of athletics for Baltimore City Public Schools. 

I got to watch Cal Ripken Jr. coach his son, Ryan, at Gilman and see Gilman beat DeMatha in football. I got to see Vince Bagli watch his grandson, Ben, call a football game at St. Paul's and Justin Fratantuono, a young man I coached at Cardinal Gibbons, graduate from the Naval Academy in May. 

The community said goodbye this year to a pair of coaching icons -- longtime Loyola Blakefield basketball head coach Jerry Savage and longtime Calvert Hall soccer head coach Bill Karpovich. 

Meanwhile, the McDonogh girls' lacrosse team from 2010-15, the 2013-14 City College boys' basketball team and 2008 Dunbar football team all stood out by overcoming the odds to achieve perfect seasons. 

The City College Black Knights, led by Timmy Bond, Omari George and Kamau Stokes and head coach Daryl Wade, finished the 2014 basketball season 27-0 and won the school's third state championship. 

On May 10 at Stevenson University, McDonogh beat Roland Park, 15-14, to win its seventh straight Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference girls' lacrosse championship and run its winning streak to a national-record 133 games. The streak began April 13, 2009, when the Eagles beat Winters Mill, 15-13. The team has featured some of the finest players in the area's history during that time, including Taylor Cummings, Steff Holmes, Megan Whittle and Casey Pepperman, all of whom now play for the University of Maryland.

The 2008 Dunbar football team capped its undefeated season with a 20-19 victory against Fort Hill to win the sixth of its nine state championships. How the Poets won that game remains the greatest finish to a high school sporting event I've ever seen. Trailing, 19-12, with 1:27 remaining and no timeouts, Dunbar faced a fourth-and-7 from its 12-yard line. Eleven plays later, the Poets cut the lead to one after Jonathan Perry connected with Sean Farr for a touchdown. Tavon Austin then won the game with a successful two-point conversion run that triggered a wild celebration at M&T Bank Stadium Dec. 6, 2008. 

And it was athletes like Austin, who grew up playing in the Northwood Pop Warner football program and is entering his third season with the St. Louis Rams, who have made the journey that much more rewarding. 

Olympians Michael Phelps (Towson High), and Matt Centrowitz (Broadneck); current MLB players Gavin Floyd, Mark Teixeira and Steve Clevenger; the army of local NBA players led by Carmelo Anthony and Rudy Gay, the Fuller brothers of the NFL (Vince, Corey and Kyle), Arundel's Kyle Beckerman of the U.S. National soccer team, and Cummings have gone from Baltimore high school superstars to the top of their sports, either professionally or collegiately, since PressBox started.

Cummings is the answer to a question I get all the time. Who is the best all-round high school girls' athlete I've ever seen in Baltimore? There are actually two -- Cummings and Mandy White of Dulaney. 

White was a member of the vaunted North Baltimore Aquatic Club championship women's swim team during the early-to-mid 1990s. From 1992-94, she won 13 individual cross country and track state championships for head coach Bob Dean. In the fall of 1993, she also won a national prep cross country championship before moving on to Stanford, where she ran track and cross country and was also a member of the school's nationally-ranked swim team.

Cummings was an extraordinary three-sport athlete at McDonogh, leading the Eagles to IAAM A Conference championships in soccer, basketball and lacrosse. She just completed her junior year at Maryland, where she led the Terps to a second straight national lacrosse championship and won her second straight Tewaarton Award, given to best player in college lacrosse. 

White and Cummings are both part of a special fraternity of Baltimore high school athletes, but so are their coaches.

And there may be no more valuable member of a community now than a high school coach. They teach, mentor and educate student-athletes at a time when the external pressure on kids is greater than ever. Pressure to get a college scholarship. Pressure to live up to the often over-inflated expectations of their parents. And pressure to simply perform at a high level.

I have used a lot of words and headlines during the past 10 years urging the parents of high school athletes to take a step back and just let the kids play. It became almost a mission of mine since I got back into coaching at Cardinal Gibbons in 2007 and saw firsthand the enormous toll that unrealistic expectations can place on a young athlete. 

The reasons are simple. There are not as many college scholarships available as most parents think. The next level is much more difficult and competitive than even most players realize, and most are simply just not good enough.

But in no way should that diminish the value of the high school athletic experience. I was fortunate enough to play for some tremendous coaches and fantastic men growing up in Brooklyn Park. To have been able to document prep sports in Baltimore during the last 10 years has been both humbling and satisfying.

And for that, I thank both the readers and PressBox staff.

And I certainly thank my great friend for so many years, Stan Charles. 

Issue 210: June 2015