Great Mills boys basketball coach Jake Heibel took a look this fall at his team's schedule and groaned when he got to the final regular season game.

Tuesday, February 22. 6:30 p.m. Great Mills at Lackey.

Heibel didn't groan because of the opponent. And the date and time aren't unusual. But the site, well, that made Heibel wince. A game at the Indian Head school guarantees Great Mills at least an hour-long trip along Southern Maryland's winding roads in a cold school bus--each way.

"It probably doesn't help us because it is the end of the season, and at the end of the season everyone is already tired," said Heibel, entering his third year as coach. "The problem I have always had with it . . . is that we always have to travel on a school night, and that is hard for our kids. Even when we play a little earlier, we still don't get back until after 10 p.m., and that is always a concern."

The length of the trip is not as bad as the cold weather, Heibel said. Those yellow school buses are neither well insulated nor well heated. Last Wednesday, the Hornets traveled to Arundel for a scrimmage, and the temperature dropped below freezing on the way home. Heibel saw it as a preview of the February trip to Lackey.

"It's cold. It was cold last night," Heibel said Thursday. "The bottom line is: We love coaching, love being with the kids, love practice and love the competition. But we hate the bus rides."

The Southern Maryland Athletic Conference consists of 12 schools spread out over Calvert, Charles and St. Mary's counties. Long bus rides have become the norm in the SMAC. With basketball teams playing roughly 20 games in the winter, those trips likely seem even longer. The longer trips are those between Northern and Westlake (34 miles), McDonough and Patuxent (46 miles) and Lackey and Patuxent (52.2 miles).

But the mother of all commutes is likely the Great Mills-Lackey road trip, which is roughly a 55-mile journey, lasting an hour and 15 minutes.

Lackey first-year coach John Mappas is now with his fifth SMAC school and agrees that going from Lackey to Great Mills and back again is the toughest trip. Only the Lackey-Patuxent trip is comparable.

"The biggest problem is the next morning," said Mappas, who previously coached at Chopticon, La Plata, McDonough and Thomas Stone. "You have to check the absentee list and make sure kids are getting into school on time. In the past, I've had to dismiss players from the team because after long road trips they refused to come to school on time."

However long the road trip, Mappas said the basic rule is the same. It's likely that the rule was developed to help coaches survive 10 or more trips a season.

"Talk quietly," Mappas said. "Win or lose, talk quietly."