Friendly competition

September 01, 1999

Friendly competition: Panthers using respect, fun to their advantage

By MARK KELLER / Sports Editor

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

HANCOCK - For the Hancock Panthers in 1999, it's all about having fun - at least it will be if Bill Sterner has his way.

The first-year head coach at the smallest school to field a football team in Maryland, Sterner is well aware that things have to be just right for his team to win a lot of games.

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So the focus is not necessarily on winning and losing. Instead, it's on learning and having a good time.

"I told them, 'If it's not fun, let it go. No hard feelings.' I'm not going to stare at them in school, call their house over and over again," Sterner said. "If you don't think it's fun, then don't do it."


The result: 41 kids originally committed to play this season, 39 are still in the program. That's nearly half of the 81 boys in grades 9-12.

Sterner said he doesn't attribute the turnout to anything he has done.

"We're sort of building this thing on the fact that we respect the kids, and the kids respect us," Sterner said. "It attracted some kids. I think maybe for some kids that weren't going to play, it turned the tide."

But while Sterner has been emphasizing fun, some honest-to-goodness competition has arisen for some positions in the lineup.

"We have actually three or four guys competing for the tailback spot," Sterner said. "Normally on a small team, a kid thinks, 'That's my spot.' What I've done is taken a fullback and made him an offensive tackle. I've taken a tight end and put him at tailback. I've taken a tailback and put him at wingback.

"The thing is, the kids see that at anytime, the coaches might move them to another position because we think they would be good there," Sterner said.

The toughest task for Sterner and the Panthers is trying to make up for the loss of Sam Hess, who now plays at Shepherd College.

Hess was not just a part of the Hancock offense in 1998 - he was by and large THE offense. He rushed for 1,650 yards and 15 touchdowns and set a state record with 446 yards in one game against St. James.

"I think the competition we've created, by moving the kids to different positions and using their versatility ... that's the only way you replace a Sam Hess," Sterner said. "A kid like Sam leaves a tremendous hole in your program. And the way you fill it is to get the sense of competition going until somebody really wants to struggle for their job."

In the past, that struggle for job security wasn't there. But this year, the competition has become uncommonly intense.

"Right now, I have two brothers (Josh and Elmer Wills) that are hardly talking to each other because they're both going for the same spot," Sterner said. "They go out and vandalize the other's car and get mad at each other because they want that spot."

But despite the push for positions, Sterner makes sure the focus stays on his top priority - fun. Whether it's having his players slide down a muddy hill on their bellies on a rainy day or throwing a swimming party for his players after a practice, that's what it all goes back to.

"At the end of practice, even though it's hard, they had fun," Sterner said. "I want to show them that football's a game you learn, not something you just do. It might not even equate to a win. But eventually, it's going to equate to something."


Nickname: Panthers

Coach: Bill Sterner

Experience: 1st year

1998 record: 3-7

Returning starters: 6 off., 6 def.

Key players: Paul Norris, FB/LB; Mike Hixon, QB/S; Dave Royer, TE/NG; Spencer Shives, WB/CB; Allen Murphy, G/DE; James Henershot, G/DT; Russell Browning, TE/DE.

Key stat: The Panthers lost nearly half of their scoring from last year; Sam Hess scored 92 of the team's 188 points. Hancock's last winning season came in 1990, when the Panthers finished 5-4.

Schedule: Sept. 3, Smithsburg; Sept. 10, at Beall; Sept. 17, Bishop Walsh; Sept. 24, at Northern Garrett.

  • Oct. 1, East Hardy; Oct. 9, at St. James; Oct. 16, at Bowling Brook; Oct. 22, Turkeyfoot; Oct. 29, at Clay-Battelle.
  • Nov. 5, Berkeley Springs.
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