Today, the first day of high school football practice in Maryland, is a time to ring out the old for good at Northwood High School and ring in the new at several other schools.
For the first time in 29 years, passersby won't hear shouts of coaches from the Northwood practice field. Last spring, despite several years of protests from vocal neighborhood supporters, the school was shut down by the Montgomery County Board of Education because of declining enrollment. The final memory of the football team was a 1-8 record in 1984.
Elsewhere, there are several new head coaches.
In Montgomery County, Walter Johnson, Damascus and Blair have new head coaches. There are new head coaches at Bladensburg and Laurel in Prince George's County.
At Walter Johnson, the Spartans have won two games in two years. First-year Coach Joe Mencarini will attempt to lift the Spartans out of last place in Class A.
Mencarini, who had been an assistant coach under John Harvill at Gaithersburg, will make some changes on offense and defense.
Mencarini's staff is basically new. Of five assistants, only Tom Evans, who coaches the offensive and defensive backs, was on last year's staff.
"I have to have a good staff around me," said Mencarini. "John (Harvill) put a lot of responsibility on the staff. I think with a new staff more people will be interested in the program."
Defensively, Mencarini is "bringing the package" from Gaithersburg. He said he plans to use a multiple defensive front. He would like to use the "I" formation on offense, which he learned at Gaithersburg.
"The problem is I know names and faces, but that's all," he said. "When you're taking over a program that has won two games in two years, you're a little apprehensive."
Mencarini still is optimistic. He has "a pretty solid nucleus of seniors," he said. Center Mike Simpson and guard Payam Nawab, and Rob Dorset and Cliff Dickey, both of whom will play offensive and defensive tackle, will provide strength on the line. Quarterbacks John Lastuvka and Steve Ward and wide receiver Mike Shofer could be a potent combination.
"I've had the weight room open all summer, three days a week, and we've gotten a good turnout," said Mencarini. "I'm excited to see what type of kids we have (on the field)."
At Blair, newcomer Percell Tabb's main goal is to get rid of the team's losing attitude.
"We have a problem," said Tabb. "It's called the 'Fetus Complex.' They don't know what it takes to win."
Blair has a recent history of losing, but Tabb likes what he's seen so far this year. "I've met with the players," he said. "My first impression is they want a different situation. They're tired of losing."
Nevertheless, he said making Blair an immediate winner is going to be difficult because of a lack of team leadership.
"I thought I had a few players who were team leaders," he said. "But they are, at this time, academically ineligible. Hopefully they will be able to play, but if they do, it will still put a damper on their leadership capability."
One advantage for Tabb, however, is that ninth-graders will attend Blair this year, adding to number of years he can train players for varsity. "We won't have to push them up too fast (without getting enough experience)," he said.
Tabb comes from Richard Montgomery, where he was junior varsity head coach and an assistant to varsity Coach Al Avery. He will use the Rams' "split four" defense. Offensively, there won't be many changes.
At Damascus, Dan Contesti might have a difficult time as a new head coach, as only three starters return. "I don't expect to win the state championship, but I think we'll do well," he said.
Damascus previously used a "monster-style," even-front defense under Chuck Packan. Contesti wants to move to the 5-2.
"I've worked in this program for a number of years," Contesti said. "I'll incorporate some of the things he (Packan) ran, plus some of my own things. For example, on offense, I'll utilize some of the sprint outs he used."
In Prince George's County, Pat Murphy (Bladensburg) and Chuck Hickes (Laurel) will be first-year coaches.