First-year coach Aaron Graves often advises his Riverdale Baptist baseball players to ignore the program’s history. Yet reminders of the school’s success surround them.
When turning into Riverdale Baptist’s Upper Marlboro, Md., campus from Largo Road, the baseball field is the first thing you see. Hanging outside the field’s press box are signs listing the team’s achievements, such as its 22 professional players and six years earning national rankings. The venue, Terrill Field, is named after the squad’s past two coaches, who built the program into a powerhouse. Other baseball awards cover walls in the gym and fill its trophy case.
Riverdale Baptist has been one of the area’s top baseball programs since the early 1980s and was No. 1 in The Washington Post’s rankings as recently as last year. But after losing its coach — and then four everyday varsity players who transferred — the school does not have a varsity team this season.
Graves, the first Riverdale Baptist baseball coach outside the Terrill family since 1976, is rebuilding the program from scratch. His team, made of 10 players, features high school and middle school students and competes against other junior-varsity squads.
“He basically said he’s given us the book, and we have to write our own chapter,” sophomore Jake Clark said. “It has been hard trying to live up to that legacy and getting us all in college for baseball. You’re starting a new legacy. When you hear that, that just makes you want to work harder.”
Fresh out of High Point University in 1976, Terry Terrill began his 38-year tenure as Riverdale Baptist’s coach. He helped the Crusaders receive national recognition and even fielded two varsity teams in 1999. In 2015, Terrill’s son, Ryan, took over while Terry Terrill stayed as an assistant.
Terry Terrill, now Riverdale Baptist’s athletic director, said the transition was smooth. His son served as the Crusaders’ associate head coach for the previous eight years and helped recruit, so players were familiar with him.
Last season, Riverdale Baptist finished 32-1 and atop the USA Today Super 25 poll. After going 97-5 in his last three years, Ryan Terrill accepted an assistant coaching position at the University of Maryland Baltimore County in June.
With the Terrills off the coaching staff and nine key seniors graduating, the team’s four remaining regular varsity players transferred. Catcher Ryan Shieh, now at McNamara, said he and his varsity teammates felt they could play for stronger teams elsewhere.
Multiple junior varsity players later departed because the program’s top players were gone, said infielder Jeffrey Coakley, who transferred to Wilson.
“The Terrills were very legacy based, so when they kind of left … we didn’t have anything else to base ourselves on,” Shieh said. “There was nothing really left.”
The enrollment at Riverdale Baptist, a K-12 private school, is roughly 600 students, so the Terrills relied on recruiting to bring in talent.
For challenges such as this rebuild, Graves, who accepted the job in July after three years as McNamara’s junior varsity coach, can point to a scar on the back of his head for reassurance. As a 13-year-old, the Fort Washington native overcame brain cancer despite saying doctors gave him about a month to live.
Graves, 42, knows the process will take time. With a Riverdale Baptist player at the plate against Bullis during a game last week, Graves called for a bunt twice. Instead, the player struck out swinging to end the sixth inning. Graves walked across the near-empty dugout, pulled his navy blue and gold hat over his eyes and let out a yell. By the end of the evening, his Crusaders had dropped to 0-3-1.
While three of his current players competed on junior varsity last season, the others were in middle school. Graves, who is a weekend radio host on SiriusXM’s "The Heat,” has coached local travel baseball since the early 2000s and hopes to acquire some of those players to form a varsity squad next year.
“I’m not going to give up, and I’m not going to give up on them,” Graves said after his team’s 7-2 loss to Bullis. “I’m not leaving, so they got to deal with me.”
Three days later, Graves’s squad beat Grace Christian at Terrill Field for its first victory. As always, Graves and his players passed the program’s banners while exiting campus.
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