South River football player Kyle Young told his teammates they'd probably run more on the first day of practice than they had last season, so much more that someone might throw up. Soccer player Morgan Triggs feared her day would involve too little scrimmaging. Field hockey star Toni Lee, a defender, worried her position would somehow be ignored.
On the first day of high school practice at South River on Monday, more than 150 athletes met new varsity coaches -- and almost every athlete harbored at least one concern. With six new head coaches, players prepared for almost everything to be different.
Almost everything stayed the same.
In large part because South River filled four of its coaching vacancies with former assistants, a day many entered with concern ended in relative comfort. Neither Young nor any of his teammates got sick; Triggs scrimmaged; Lee and her teammates talked plenty about defense.
All 12 Anne Arundel County public schools endured a hot and sweaty first day of practice. Temperatures climbed above 90 degrees, and some teams went at it for five hours. But when practices finally concluded at South River a little after 7 p.m., athletes felt more secure about the months ahead.
"I guess when you come into the first day, you never know what to expect," Young said. "It went a lot smoother than I thought it would. You always fear the worst."
And at South River, the worst looked pretty bad. Since the end of the 2004 fall season, the Seahawks have undergone an overhaul unlike any other at the school in 20 years. Athletic Director Jim Haluck had to hire so many new head coaches -- for football, cheerleading, boys' soccer, girls' soccer, cross-country and field hockey -- that he sometimes joked he had to forgo his summer vacation.
In an effort to maintain some consistency, Haluck hired former assistants for four of those jobs -- a decision that was much appreciated by South River athletes.
"Every one of these coaches has experience, and they all know what our programs are about," Haluck said. "They're all doing some of the same things as their predecessors."
Football Coach Steve Erxleben said he borrowed his first-practice format from Mike Heatherly, whom Erxleben assisted last year. Communicating as much through his whistle as through words, Erxleben, 26, walked through practice and barked out goals at his players. "Playoffs. Playoffs," he said. When he gave his team a water break, he chased them to the fountain to make sure nobody walked.
"He's really energetic. It's almost like he's a player," said senior wide receiver Danny Von Ahn. "He's up in your face, and that gets you going. Other than that, he and [Heatherly] seem pretty similar."
If that's similar, then how about new girls' soccer coach Mike Aman and his predecessor, Keith Fontaine, best friends who actually live together? Before Aman left for his first practice Monday morning, he turned to his roommate and asked for advice on how to evaluate players and make cuts, things he'd often watched Fontaine handle.
Aman, who expects his team to contend for a county title, served as an assistant to Fontaine last season, and his job often involved consoling players after Fontaine's lectures.
"He was the bad cop and I was the good cop, so I guess that will have to change," Aman said. "I'm going to have to be a little harder on them now. I even yelled at them during the first practice."
Said senior midfielder Laurie Jordan: "He's going to be tougher on us now. That's the only difference with him being the head coach."
And that might be more of a change than there will be in boys' soccer -- where Lewis Schrumm replaced Greg Carroll -- or in field hockey. Coach Katie Corcoran, an assistant for five years, gathered her field hockey team Monday and told it to expect few changes. "What we've been doing has been working," she said, "so I don't want to mess with it."
Her players nodded their heads, reassured.
"You've got so much to worry about on the first day of practice that it's nice to know things are going to stay the same," senior defender Kelly Patterson said. "That's almost perfect."
Problem Comes to a Head
St. Mary's first-year football coach Mike Clay wanted to spend the first week of practice figuring out what his players had, but he was more overwhelmed by what they lacked: helmets.
Instead of evaluating players, Clay spent significant time during the Saints' first week of practice on the phone with helmet-maker Riddell. St. Mary's sent its helmets to the company to be fixed after last season with the assumption they would return by Aug. 1. The Saints still hadn't received the helmets last Sunday.
Private schools were allowed to start some practices earlier than public schools and the St. Mary's and Spalding football teams were among those who took advantage of the extra days. But without helmets, the Saints did not get much of a head start.
"It was pretty frustrating, because we keep waiting for them and they never show up," Clay said. "They said we'd get them before practice, and we never did. They said we'd get them last Friday, and they never came. We're kind of at Riddell's mercy at this point. We've already sort of lost a week of practice that we can't get back."
Lacking helmets, the Saints had to cancel a scrimmage with Pallotti. They ran through drills wearing shorts and T-shirts, but players began to get bored after three days of non-contact practice.
"We were sort of getting anxious," Clay said. "We were just out there doing whatever we could to keep working and stay busy."
At Spalding, teams missed two sessions because of heat during the first week.
When the heat index is higher than 106 degrees, MIAA rules prohibit teams from practicing. Football Coach Mike Whittles checked the Internet every morning and brought a thermometer to the football field. Even though the Cavaliers practiced at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., the heat index often reached 100 degrees.
"We were supposed to have an intrasquad scrimmage [last] Saturday, and we just had to cancel it," Whittles said. "We figured we'd rather give the kids the day off than put them out there in that heat. When we practiced, we were wearing shorts, light pads, that kind of stuff. You don't want to push it."
The weather made Severn Athletic Director Tank Duckett even happier that his Admirals had waited an extra week to start practice. Even though MIAA teams were allowed to begin practicing Aug. 8, Severn decided to begin practice Monday -- the same time public schools started.
"We always do it that way," Duckett said. "It's important to give the kids a full summer and let them come back rested. It gives them an extra week with their families. It's another week out of the heat."