Second in a series

In many ways, Broad Run softball coach Ed Steele says, it seems like forever since the school's athletic programs were up and coming rather than the known commodity they are today. Still, he vividly remembers the sting that reverberated through the athletic department in the mid-1980s when a local newspaper rated each of Loudoun County's sports teams and placed the Spartans last in nearly every category.

"It was the pits," said Steele, who headed Broad Run's wrestling program from 1985 to 2004 and took over the softball team in 1992. "We got a low ranking in all of our sports. Part of that was a function of how many kids we had at the time -- we were a small school -- but I'll never forget the feeling our athletic director had after seeing that. . . . So much has changed since then.

"Now I'd say we're pretty competitive in just about every sport. But that wasn't always the case."

There was a time when Steele roamed the school's hallways in search of soccer players -- the sport was then played in the fall -- hoping to persuade them to try out for softball. These days he's forced to cut players to keep his roster at an acceptable number.

He recalls, too, how in the pre-booster club days he and Roger McLean, his former assistant wrestling coach, would go to auctions and sell just about anything they could get their hands on -- once even an old stove -- in hopes of raising money for the Spartans' teams.

Circumstances have improved significantly within and around Broad Run, where both the facilities and athletic programs have blossomed in recent years even though the student body has been split four times to accommodate the openings of new high schools: Park View, Potomac Falls, Stone Bridge and, this season, Freedom.

"We've come such a long way," Broad Run Athletic Director Jack Kirby said. "But I think the biggest thing that's going to help us in the future is that, finally, we should keep the kids we have coming in now as ninth-graders all four years. So many times we've ended up splitting with a new school and losing half of the kids we had on our freshman and even our JV teams. But now we're going to have some real stability and continuity in our programs, and I think that's critical to our continued improvement."

Stability and continuity are among Steele's hallmarks. In 20 seasons as the Spartans' wrestling coach he posted a 200-95-3 record, coaching 45 individual district champions, 24 individual regional champions and all four of the Spartans' individual state champions. He also has surpassed more than 200 career victories in softball since taking on that program in 1992 and says he intends to remain the Spartans' coach for as long as he is "healthy and wanted."

But it's not just prolific numbers that have made Steele, 61, such a vital part of the athletic program. It's also the manner in which he has achieved such success that makes him so treasured, Kirby said.

"Ed Steele is a gentleman and a constant," Kirby said. "He never yells at the kids or gets too excited. He motivates them without that, and they just go out there, have fun and win. Even in wrestling I never heard him yell at a kid or belittle a kid. I don't think I've ever heard a profanity come out of his mouth, even in casual conversation. Kids have a tremendous respect for him, and our other coaches do, too.

"Ed's one person who has been through it all here. He's our foundation."

Broad Run softball coach Ed Steele remembers when the Spartans were ranked near the bottom in almost every sport.