Bill Hildbold was an all-state center for the W.T. Woodson High football team 18 years ago. He has been active playing and coaching a variety of sports ever since, gaining enough knowledge to diagnose a broken ankle when he sees one.
Hildbold, girls soccer coach at McLean for nine years, immediately guessed three-year starting halfback Patty Ahearne's ankle was shattered when she fell in a practice drill three weeks ago. He quickly got his truck, lifted her into the back and drove her to the school building for more attention.
His diagnosis was correct -- Ahearne needed surgery the next day. What Hildbold did not predict, however, was that even for an ex-football player, lifting what he describes as "an average-sized soccer player" could be trouble.
Two days later, Hildbold could not walk. He had herniated a disc in his back and will undergo surgery Monday. Compounding the hurt was that the Highlanders were on their way to their best season ever.
McLean finished the regular season 11-2-1 overall, 5-2 in the Great Falls District. The Highlanders defeated Washington-Lee, 3-0, Monday night in the first round of the district tournament.
"I have had a lot of outstanding players, but this is probably the best overall team I ever had," said Hildbold. "We film all our games and I have been getting the films sent to me. I try to do some things over the phone -- talking to the girls and Carl Block [the junior varsity coach who assumed double duty for the last few weeks of the season] -- but it just has not been the same."
Leading this year's Highlanders are senior midfielder Gayle Smith, who scored 18 regular-season goals; junior forward Ellen Smith, who had 12; and sophomore goalkeeper Tanya Henderson, who allowed less than one goal per game.
Smith is one of only three seniors starters, which means Hildbold has much to look forward to when he returns next year.
Another team bidding for the Northern Region title this year, but with eyes on the future, is Lake Braddock.
The Bruins, who have compiled a 58-9-4 record under Coach Carolyn Rice the past five years, won the Northern District with an 8-0-2 record (10-1-2 overall) despite starting only two seniors.
"We are very fortunate to have many girls come through excellent community soccer programs so the experience should be an advantage to us this year," said Rice. "But we are definitely looking forward to next year."
Vaughn Lewis, who was named football coach at Edison last week, said he will return to coaching with a refreshed attitude after one year of being away from the game.
Lewis resigned at Groveton after producing a 6-28-6 record from 1981-84. The school was closed at the end of the 1984-85 school year and Lewis decided to spend last season watching his sophomore son Chad play for Lake Braddock.
"I didn't realize how much I would miss coaching," said Lewis. "At Groveton, I learned there are things more important than winning and losing. I have done a lot of evaluating the past year, and I am convinced the things I believed in are correct and can work."
Lewis will change Edison's wishbone to an I-formation or split backfield, for starters.