When the Potomac football team lost in the 2003 Maryland 2A title game, Prince George's schools chief Andre J. Hornsby was in attendance. A little more than one year later, at the county championship basketball games, Hornsby watched from courtside. When a Japanese baseball team came to the county to play games in the spring, Hornsby threw out the first pitch.
The message, according to coaches, athletic directors and others in the school system was clear: This was a leader who cared about athletics.
In the wake of Hornsby's resignation late last month, however, there is concern over whether the same commitment to sports will continue under a new administration, one that is not even in place. Interim schools chief Howard Burnett is scheduled to retire in the fall, and it is unclear when a successor will be chosen with school board elections looming next year.
With that in mind, many believe it is too early to say whether Hornsby's departure will affect the county's athletic programs. But they were quick to acknowledge that Hornsby was in their corner.
"It was huge," said Crossland football coach Keith Howard, who also worked with Hornsby in the Prince George's County Chamber of Commerce. "If nothing else, you always had a listening ear or a sounding board. If we have a policy or procedure or equipment issue, it's better to have somebody who likes it than not likes it.
"Obviously, it helps when [a schools chief] is interested in athletics."
Hornsby led the county's schools for only two years, but his imprint certainly was felt in athletics. During Hornsby's tenure, the county's middle school sports program was revived and contracts were signed with apparel companies Russell and Adidas in an attempt to provide uniforms and supplies at lower costs.
Hornsby also supported plans to create a full-time position for the high school athletic directors, who currently also carry a teaching load. He strongly pursued plans for a 5,000-seat gymnasium at a new high school planned for between Upper Marlboro and Bowie; it remains uncertain whether the gymnasium will be built.
"He was just very interested in middle school sports and high school sports, and how many students got scholarships and what they were doing after high school, things of that sort," said Earl Hawkins, supervisor of athletics for county schools. "And he was very concerned about academics, making sure they were prepared to go to college."
County schools spokesman John White said: "He definitely thought athletics was a key component of a well-rounded education."
Hornsby's impact also was felt by many of the school system's coaches who are not employed as teachers. State regulations mandate that schools can only hire non-teachers as coaches in emergency situations for one year at a time, and Hornsby insisted this was followed, leading to the ouster of a handful of longtime coaches.
More recently, the procedure for filling coaching vacancies was changed so that "emergency coaches" were considered for a position only if all applicants who were certified teachers had been declared unqualified or unacceptable.
While that stance has irked some coaches, most coaches and administrators said that Hornsby's overall attitude toward athletics was positive.
"I can't say a whole bunch of other previous superintendents were at championship games," said Potomac football coach Eric Knight, who also is the Oxon Hill school's athletic director. "If they were, they didn't make themselves known. To me, the superintendents are separated from the general teaching population to a degree. I felt he was mixing with us."
Although the future is uncertain, White said there are no plans to change current policies and procedures.
"Howard Burnett is focused on keeping the school system on the same course, until the [school] board advises otherwise," White said. "He wants the students, parents, teachers and other employees to know we are not standing still or changing direction. We have our priorities and that will continue."