High school graduation is a time for reflection. In interviews with staff writer Donald Huff, three D.C. area coaces discussed their feelings as they watched senior athletes shed helmets, pads and uniforms for caps and gowns.
When High Point High School held graduation exercises at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House this week, John Voight was sitting in his office back at school.
"I very seldom go to graduation," said Voight, the football coach who has been at the Prince George's County school 19 years. "I have other things to do, like get ready for next year.
"Besides, I've seen the kids all year and this is their moment. I don't bother going unless I'm aiding a teacher."
Several days before graduation, Voight, dean of coaches in the county, reflected on the past at the annual senior class awards banquet.
"That's when we (coaches) bring back our memories." said Voight, "and we've had some good years."
At the banquet Voight got his biggest thrill when one player everyone thought "had no business even going out for football" strolled up to receive his award.
"Every year, a kid comes out of the blue. You can't figure out why he's out there and suddenly he becomes a key person for you." said Voight. "It happens every year. But as far as losing him or everybody else, for that matter, it's something you accept.
"In football, especially, you lose 25 to 30 kids a year. You know there're leaving and you have a warm spot for them," he said. "But you can't wish they were still here. You can't live in the past."
Voight is not always happy at the final hurrah for his players. Many with unlimited potential don't realize their possibilities.
"Quite a few have done well, and the good kids far overshadow the bad ones." said Voight. "But you always have a few with all the talent in the world that have told you for two years. 'Next year I'll do it (study).' Next year never comes. At the banquet, they say, 'I wish I could do it over again."
Voight, teaching a physical education class, points out several under-classmen with potential who have already promised to "do it next year."
"What more can I say?" asked Voight shaking his shoulders. "They could be excellent."
Voight became a notoriety of sorts during the past football season when a girl came out for his football team. She stayed two days before hanging up her cleats.
"I don't want to talk about that," said Voight, rolling eyes Skyward.
What Voight prefers to discuss is strategy.
"You had to do your homework against these coaches out here," he said."These guys, like (John) Merricks at Crossland, (Jim) Crawford at Friendly and (Tom) Rae (formerly) at Parkdale were always prepared. Football is like chess to me, every other sport is like checkers.
"In baseball, the left fielder is always in left field. In football, you don't know where anyone is, only where they're supposed to be. Thats's the challenge."
A native Baltimorean, Voight led High Point to an 11-0 record and its first state football crown in 1973. Rarely finishing below .500, Voight said he got an even bigger charge out of coaching the '74 team to a 7-3 mark.
"I remember that undefeated team and they were great. But the next year, we didn't have a lot of experience and had to fight," he said. "We had to work that year. And that's what coaching is all about."
Voight attended Patterson High in Blatimore before earning a track scholarship to Oklahoma State. He was a prospect to play quarterback and running back but a knee injury forced him to finish out his athletic career on the track.
"I ran the 440 and had pretty good times too," said the easygoing Voight perhaps 50 pounds over his running weight.
As a coach, Voight tries to keep his awards ceremony as low key as possible.
"You don't want to single out too many kids if you stressed team play all year," said Voight. "You want the kids to enjoy the night and not leave slighted. There are some cases where you talk about one player, like the tackle (Tim Norris) who lost 110 pounds this year.
"But you have to make the seniors feel important. Over the years, I think I've done that. Anyway, I've tried."