Hereford Boys Continue Tradition: Another State Crown
By Keith Mills
With the seconds ticking down May 24 at UMBC, and the Hereford boys' lacrosse team about ready to celebrate a fifth straight state championship, Bulls athletic director Mike Kalisz slipped on his lucky jacket.
"I've worn it every year," Kalisz said of his plaid sports coat, which won't win any fashion awards but has been a staple in his closet and on the sideline since he took over as the school's athletic director 19 years ago. "Hopefully, it's bringing us some luck."
The Bulls beat Glenelg, 13-8, to win the state Class 3A/2A championship, the school's 11th overall title and eighth since the MPSSAA began holding state championships in 1990.
Four of the last five have been under the guidance of coach Brian King, a former assistant to Carl Runk. King took over the program in 2009 and has never left UMBC and the state finals with anything less than a championship trophy.
"I don't know what I'd do," King said, "if I had to look at a kid and say, 'Great season, we just came up short.' [I've] never had to tell the seniors, 'Thanks and good luck,' and never had to tell the underclassmen 'Let's get back next year and try and win it.' So I'm excited, yet relieved, because I really don't know what I would do if we had lost."
King grew up in Bel Air and went to C. Milton Wright High, where he played lacrosse and football and graduated in 1994. He then went to Washington College, where he helped coach John Haus and the Shoremen win the 1998 Division III national championship.
He was an assistant under Runk when the former Towson State coach led the Bulls to the 2008 state title. One year later, King was named Hereford's head coach and has continued a tradition of excellence, which began when coach Whit Morrill led the Bulls to state titles in 1996 and 2000.
This year, the Bulls took an 18-1 record into the state championship game. Their only loss was to Gilman, of the MIAA A Conference, March 23. Four days later, they beat St. Paul's, another A Conference team, and have not lost since.
Against Glenelg, last year's Class 1A/2A state champs under coach Josh Hatmaker, the Bulls jumped to an 8-1 lead behind junior Joe Seider, who scored five goals and helped open a commanding lead.
Glenelg regrouped late during the second quarter, and when Nick Wynne fed Glenn Lucas for a goal about halfway through the third period, the Gladiators cut Hereford's lead to two goals, 9-7.
King watched his team keep its poise as Jason Ashwood answered the Glenelg rally with two of his four goals. The Bulls extended their lead to 11-7 and ultimately regained control of the game.
"How can we not respond with the leadership and talent we have?" King said. "I was very proud of how we responded."
When the game ended, both teams walked across the turf field at UMBC to share the moment with their friends, families and classmates. Glenelg finished with a 17-3 record and was also named the winner of the tournament's sportsmanship award, named after Ron Belinko, who retired after 45 years of teaching, coaching and running Baltimore County's many sports programs as coordinator of athletics.
"I was really wrapped up in the game," Belinko said, "especially when Glenelg was making its comeback. It was exciting and I want to thank Hereford for helping me go out on top with a win."
Belinko watched the game from the Hereford sideline, along with Kalisz and Mike Sye, the former Woodlawn track coach and athletic director who has replaced Belinko as Baltimore County coordinator of athletics. Belinko said that at times he couldn't help but take a long look around the UMBC lacrosse complex and see how far the state lacrosse tournament had come.
Belinko and Paul Rusko, former coordinator of athletics for Anne Arundel County, came up with the concept of a lacrosse state tournament for both boys and girls. Before 1990, championships were strictly decided at the county and district level.
"I guess we got together in the early 1980s to talk about the possibility," Belinko said. "At that time, Anne Arundel and Baltimore County were really the only two counties that played lacrosse. But that was starting to change. Carroll County, Howard, Harford County were starting to field really good teams. And the girls, a lot of girls were playing and we just felt that it was time for a state tournament."
The first one was played in May 1990 with Dulaney's and North Harford's boys and Severna Park's and Loch Raven's girls winning initial state championships. Now, 22 years later, the game has exploded, with teams from Montgomery, Frederick, Kent, Queen Anne, Washington and Worcester counties all starting to make an impact at the state level,
Once dominated by Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard County teams, the tournament is now wide open. This year, South River (Anne Arundel), Hereford (Baltimore) and Fallston (Harford) won boys' championships, while Severna Park (Anne Arundel), Century (Carroll) and Fallston (Harford) won girls' state titles.
Severna Park beat Westminster, 13-6, for the girls' Class 4A/3A title. It was the Falcons' 11th state championship under coach Carin Peterson since the tournament began, though now the Anne Arundel County powerhouse shares the stage with Century High of Carroll County as the state's two premier girls' programs.
Under Rose Pentz, the Knights had won five of the last eight girls' state championships heading into this week's finals. Becky Groves replaced Pentz last year and they haven't missed a beat, winning their sixth state title May 23 as they beat Queen Anne's, 12-9, to win the Class 3A/2A crown.
"I was looking around at the crowd the other night for that game," Belinko said, "and it was packed and I'm thinking how far the girls' game has come. The girls' game is exploding. I can't tell you how satisfying that is to see."
Belinko grew up in South Baltimore. He played lacrosse and football at Southern High School, and graduated in 1962. Four years later, he graduated from the University of Baltimore and soon began what would be a nearly 45-year career as a coach and teacher in the Baltimore County school system.
In 1970, he helped open Eastern Tech High School before moving to Overlea High two years later. There, he coached football, baseball and wrestling and was the school's athletic director. Belinko became one of the most successful wrestling coaches in state history.
A member of the Maryland State Wrestling Hall of Fame and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, he spent 12 years at Overlea before taking over as Baltimore County's coordinator of athletics and eventually joining the MPSSAA.
Obie Barnes, the now-retired former lacrosse and football coach and athletic director at Forest Park High School in west Baltimore, is one of Belinko's closest friends and a member of the state lacrosse committee. When Baltimore City public schools joined the state athletic association in 1993, it was Belinko who Barnes and many of the city coaches sought out to offer guidance and direction.
"He really helped in the transition from the Maryland Scholastic Association to the state association," Barnes said. "Ron and I came up at a time in Baltimore City when coaches were more like part of your family. We tried to instill in the younger and coaches now, today, that these kids are like part of your extended family."
Belinko has been committed to advancing boys' and girls' high school sports. His devotion to girls lacrosse in particular has resulted in the Baltimore area, and now almost the entire state of Maryland, being an absolute hotbed for an ever-growing girls' game.
"He's been very instrumental in how far the girls' game has come," Barnes said. "We had girls' lacrosse for six or seven years at Forest Park and Ron was the first person I went to. I didn't know who was involved in the girls' game at the time, and Ron helped us get our program off and running."
The growth of the girls' game, and the increase in skill level and athleticism, was on display last week at UMBC, where Fallston won its second state crown during a four-year span and Severna Park and Century solidified themselves as public school powers.
It was an especially emotional win for Severna Park, which sandwiched two wins in the regional playoff tournament last week around a viewing and funeral of sophomore Tracy Vander Kolk, who died May 10.
With her twin sister Rachel, a sophomore goaltender, watching from the sidelines, the Falcons spotted Missy Cohen and Westminster a 1-0 lead before ripping off seven straight goals to take control. Junior Morgan Torggler led Severna Park with five goals, while Ryan Bathras added three and Ally Adams two.
It was a game Belinko watched with pride, not just because of how the Falcons dealt with the death of Tracy Vander Kolk, but because the entire Severna Park community, it seemed, had turned out in her honor, and also because of how far the girls' game has evolved during the 22 years of the state tournament.
"It's very rewarding," Belinko said, "to come over here to a school like UMBC and see how many people come out to watch the girls' game. It makes all the hard work worthwhile."
"Ron is an amazing guy," King said. "He travels down to our games in Annapolis and gets really excited when we play well. He was best friends growing up with my uncle, Mike Dailey, so I knew Ron. To shake his hand and send him off is kind of cool, because I did know him before because of my uncle."
"I'm very grateful for working with so many great people," Belinko said. "I've been very lucky."
Posted May 27, 2012