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No bugs in Buddy System

May 30, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

This is a column about the "Buddy System."

No, this column has nothing to do with individuals being elected to high office and appointing supporters, close friends or relatives to cabinet positions.

This is about the Smithsburg girls track team and its remarkable and perhaps underappreciated seven straight Class 1A state championships, and the coach, Buddy Orndorff, who orchestrates it the way a chess master plots his strategy three or four moves ahead.

Buddy said to me Saturday that very few people understand the magnitude of what Smithsburg's girls have accomplished. "There's always people coming up to me and asking, 'How did you do last year?'"

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The reply?

"I tell them, 'Oh, we did pretty good.'"

Understand this: The Leopards girls outdoor track team is currently the biggest dynasty in Maryland prep track and field, if not all sports. Their seven straight titles are the longest active streak in the sport and second-longest in state girls outdoor track history, behind only Central's 12-year streak from 1981-92. Under Buddy, Smithsburg has won nine titles in 11 years.

And as you're reading this column, the chess master is already looking at this year's state meet results. (I know this, because he asked me to fax them to him.) And he's thinking about, debating and starting to plan out what his Leopards have to do next year in order to win an eighth straight title.

"What we try to do as a staff, and what we'll do again this year, is when we get home and when everyone's gone, we'll sit down and evaluate what we did and what the other teams were strong in, and then adjust the next year to what they did," Buddy said last Wednesday.

There is no rest with Buddy, a passionate competitor whether walking the sidelines during football season or along the fence during outdoor track.

Several times, Buddy has mentioned to me how he may not come back to coach the next season, that maybe it's time to turn the reins over to assistant Ray Shriver. Yet when March rolls around, there Buddy is, rolling up his sleeves and diving in head first, the only way he knows how.

"You have to scout teams, you have to read the paper, you have to keep up with what other teams are doing," Buddy said. "It's a lot of things. It's not rocket science, (but) there's a lot of things that goes into it."

Buddy knows there's no magical formula for success in a sport that fluctuates every year, and that the key to success is knowing what everyone has, and just as important, what everyone does not.

"Every team is different," Buddy said. "Every championship that we've had has been different. We've done it in different ways."

Then, during the season, Orndorff starts moving his pieces - the athletes, of course - into places where he believes their contributions will help the team the most.

Before big meets - especially the regional and state meets - Orndorff talks with each kid, telling her exactly where she needs to finish in her event for the team to succeed. The goals serve as challenges while also keeping things in perspective. No one kid is asked to carry the entire load, and the athletes, far more often than not, have risen to their assigned tasks.

Buddy always downplays his role, saying it's not about him. He'll tell you it's the kids and their accomplishments that make the current streak possible, and he's right. He'll tell you his assistants deserve credit, and he's right. Year after year, while his kids run onto the UMBC field to pick up their state championship trophy, Buddy is in the stands watching from afar. He believes it's a moment for the kids, not for him.

But there is no such thing as a great army without a great leader. And while Smithsburg has had leaders on the track -Laura Stouffer and Michelle Feiser are perfect examples - the Leopards' best leader is their coach.

"We'll go home tonight, look over what we did and obviously enjoy (the victory)," Buddy said moments before the Leopards ran onto the field Saturday to accept yet another trophy.

"(Then) we'll talk about what we did and what everybody else did. We'll look where everyone else is strong (next year), and we'll look to get strong there."

You could almost hear the gears turning in his head. Barely minutes after his Leopards had clinched the state championship, and moments before they held the trophy high, the Buddy System was starting all over again.

Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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