As rain poured onto Gaithersburg High’s football field Friday night, Seneca Valley players jumped in puddles, danced and slid across the turf, celebrating their 48-12 win over Wheaton. Seneca Valley Coach Fred Kim felt a sense of relief while watching his players as he gathered his equipment.
Usually at this time, Seneca Valley would be prepping for a playoff run, with a game against Wheaton just a wrinkle in the way. The Screamin’ Eagles have won a Maryland-best 12 state championships, and the Knights are a perennial Montgomery County bottom feeder.
But in the midst of the Screamin’ Eagles’ worst season ever, Friday was a reminder of what used to come so easy to them.
With its school undergoing construction, Seneca Valley dropped from Class 3A to 2A, and it dipped from one of the area’s best teams to a squad searching for an identity. The Screamin’ Eagles (2-8, 1-4 Montgomery 3A/2A) capped just their second losing season Friday.
“That was uncharted territory for us, playing an irrelevant game,” Kim said. “It’d been eight straight weeks of losing. That’s just unbelievably surreal to us.”
The field where Seneca Valley built perhaps Maryland’s most accomplished program has turned into dirt, with construction equipment and portable storage units topping it. After Kim motivated his team in the gym Friday, the players jumped on buses to Gaithersburg instead of storming their home field in front of a packed crowd as the team had so many times.
Seneca Valley’s construction, which began last year, cut the Germantown school’s enrollment to about 1,150 students and shifted the football team’s home field roughly six miles away. Many students who attended Seneca Valley were sent to other local schools, such as Northwest, Quince Orchard and Watkins Mill.
Legendary coaches Al Thomas and Terry Changuris constructed Seneca Valley’s dynasty. Kim, who became head coach in 2004, grew up in the area hoping to play Seneca Valley football, but he said redistricting destroyed that sense of community.
As Seneca Valley’s talent depleted and its results grew worse, Kim said, fewer players took football seriously. A handful of players and longtime assistant coaches quit. Seneca Valley’s players have long prided themselves on community service, but the past two years, some players skipped practice, arrived to school late and started arguments with teachers and other students, Kim said, resulting in him handing out suspensions.
Seneca Valley entered its loss against Magruder on Oct. 5 with 22 different starters than it had at the beginning of the season. The Screamin’ Eagles also fell to Poolesville and Gaithersburg, teams they usually blow out.
Kim said Seneca Valley’s administration is focused on improving the school’s academics, while health and concussion threats also decreased interest.
“The Seneca base that we do have here are stunned,” Kim said last week. “In [some] games, we’re not even competing.”
Seneca Valley’s reconstruction is expected to be complete by August 2020. The school will be the largest in Maryland; enrollment is expected to double. That change — and his team’s improved performance Friday — give Kim hope that Seneca Valley will add more hardware to its already packed trophy case.
“You get this recency bias, but that doesn’t take away from the history of the program,” Athletic Director Jesse Irvin said. “These kids still take a lot of pride in being a part of Seneca Valley football.”
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