JB, you're not alone

November 02, 2000

JB, you're not alone

By MARK KELLER / Sports Editor

Believe it or not, Yugoslavian skiier Vinko Bogataj and the James Buchanan football team have something in common.

Bogataj is the man forever linked with the phrase, "the agony of defeat." The words echoed from the mouth of Jim McKay as the image of Bogataj's body tumbling off the edge of a ski ramp signaled the beginning of 'ABC's Wide World of Sports' for many, many years.


The Rockets know that feeling all too well, having gone 36 straight games without experiencing the preferred "thrill of victory." They get their final chance to break the streak this season when they play host to 9-0 Middletown (Pa.) tonight.

Kevin Gustafson is in his second season as the JB coach. The streak was in full swing at 17 games when he arrived and, despite his best efforts, he and his team have been unable to find the answer to the $64,000 question.


How do we stop this streak?

The good news for Gustafson and the Rockets is that they are not alone in enduring a losing streak. In the last five years, there have been 11 losing streaks of 10 games or more in the Tri-State area.

"It's nerve-wracking, frustrating, depressing ... there are so many emotions wrapped up in it," said North Hagerstown coach Glenn Cross, who's team lost 15 straight games from 1995-97.

As frustrating as it is for the coaches, they all agree that its just as hard on the kids.

"They're here because they want to play football, but also because they want to win," said Hedgesville coach Dave Lopez. "Everything I do, I do for the kids. Winning is a good feeling for me, but they paid the price and went out there and played."

Lopez's situation is similar to that of Gustafson. He is in his second year as a head coach after going 0-10 in his first season.

But Lopez found success in his second season, ending a 12-game losing streak in the second week of the season and finishing the year with three straight wins to reach the .500 mark.

He said one of the keys to the Eagles turnaround was his own belief in the Hedgesville system.

"When I looked back at that first year, I did a lot of second-guessing because I went against a lot of the things that I believed in," Lopez said.

"We tried to fit the system to our personnel. This year, right off the bat, I said, 'The program is going in this direction, and we're not going to change.'

"When they started to see it work, and started to believe in what they were doing, they started to see results."

Brunswick coach Mark Mitchell, who's team lost 13 straight in 1996-97 and dropped their first five games this season, said without such belief, players cannot be expected to follow.

"I think when the coach believes and puts forth that belief, it shows," Mitchell said. "Not only do you have to say it, but you have to act it and live it. Otherwise, the kids will see right through it."

Fortunes change so quickly in high school football that a streak - or the end of a streak - could be right around the corner.

Hedgesville was just a year removed from a trip to the West Virginia Class AAA semifinals when it began its 12-game skid at the end of the 1998 season.

Musselman was a state semifinalist last year and won its first two games this year before losing its final eight. The Appplemen's eight-game streak is currently second-longest in the area.

Gustafson's predecessor, Ed Snyder, knows both sides of the story.

Snyder became the Rockets' coach in 1990 while they were in the midst of a 28-game winless streak. They lost all of their games in the 1990 and '91 seasons before finally ending the 48-game drought on Sept. 4, 1992, with a 36-0 win over Hancock.

"Basically, I'm numb and relieved," Snyder said after that victory.

Snyder was also on the sideline for the first 17 games of JB's current streak. In between the two losing skids, the Rockets posted a respectable 27-24-1 record.

The end of Brunswick's streak in 1997 was the beginning of an incredible run of success for the Railroaders. They won three of their final four games that year, made the playoffs and finished 8-3 in '98 before reaching the Class 1A final and going 10-3 in '99.

South Hagerstown ended a 19-game losing streak in the second week of this season and now finds itself at 5-3 and in the running for a playoff berth.

"We knew sooner or later it would turn around. It was just a matter of when," said South coach Greg Kellick. "Everything will turn around, it always does. When you're talking about high school kids, if they get a break and start to believe and get momentum going, it's hard to stop that."

Whether or not the Rockets finally win tonight or next year, Cross said the jubilation that will accompany the death of the losing streak will engulf not only coach and players, but fans and community as well.

"I think every win is exhilirating, but is that one sweeter? Yeah, it is," Cross said of the Hubs' 1997 win over Williamsport that ended their streak. "I told the kids to get away from me and go thank those fans that were here and supporting you through all this. Seeing that was one of my finer feelings as a coach."

And while everybody wants to win, Mitchell said there's something that comes out of going through a losing streak that a kid otherwise might never learn.

"It's a great feeling for me to see young men fight through something like that," Mitchell said. "On teams that I've had that have struggled, I don't worry about those kids going out into the real world.

"They know what adversity is, and they've made it beyond that adversity."

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