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Palmer follows region leaders into the Hall

November 07, 2004|by BILL STERNER/Staff Correspondent

When Marlys Palmer walks down the Hagerstown Community College athletic complex hallway where the Maryland Junior College Region XX Hall of Fame pictures hang, she will now look up and see a very familiar face.

"It's humbling." HCC's women's basketball coach emotionally said just hours before being inducted as part of the 2004 class to the shrine. "To be a part of people like Irv Easterday, Jim Brown, Bob Kirk, Cathy Kane. ... All these people are legends."

Palmer walks by the plaques in that hallway every day and always silently thanks each person she has borrowed strategy from from time to time.

But when Palmer thinks back to the grocery list of persons, places and things that helped her earn her place in the Hall, the most gratitude goes to ... well, the Herald-Mail Classified section.

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"That is absolutely true." Palmer smiled. "Way back in the summer of 1979, I read about this place needing a teacher and coach. Honestly, I had never even heard of Hagerstown Junior College." she said." But, something told me this could be a break."

Now, 26 years later, the coach still calls the college home.

Palmer, a 1998 member of the National Junior College Volleyball Coaches' Hall of Fame, was honored Saturday by the region and the state she helped shape and guide through the lean years.

"When I came out of Penn State in 1968, women were not pursued as coaches," Palmer said. "I was a motivated health and physical education teacher and my first concern was to teach my students the joy and benefits of physical activity and a healthy lifestyle."

Palmer had short teaching and coaching stints at Chambersburg High, the Greer School in Tyrone, Pa., and Wilson College before reading the ad that brought her to Hagerstown. Former athletic director Irv Easterday asked Palmer to coach both basketball and volleyball, and the rest is history.

Palmer was 667-162 - a .804 winning percentage - in 21 seasons with the HCC volleyball team. In nine of those seasons, HCC won the Maryland JuCo championship and advanced to the NJCAA national tournament.

Palmer has won 447 games in 26 years as HCC's basketball coach, using mostly local talent from the tri-state area.

"She does a fantastic job with the kids from our community." Boonsboro girls basketball coach Bernie Semler said. "I have followed the team for 12 years and she takes the average player and elevates their game."

Anita Kay of Hagerstown, who has been a fixture at HCC athletic events for 25 years, said Palmer's work has brought nationwide recognition to the school's programs, proven on one occasion when Kay was introduced to former Washington Mystics general manager Melissa McFarrin.

"She asked me where I was from and I said Hagerstown." Kay said. "She knew all about Coach Palmer and our program."

"(Palmer) is the reason I keep coming out here - joining the boosters and enjoying these games." Kay said. "This program wins consistently and the kids have a lot of sucesses to celebrate."

Palmer was nominated by Hagerstown athletic director Brian Beck, who called her the "ultimate educator" and "a teacher who puts the student before the athlete."

"Dr. Palmer is great for our program." Beck said. "She is a coach who hasn't rested on what she has done. She has adjusted well over the years and is always innovative, looking for a way to help her kids be successful. I am proud to be a collegue."

Palmer credits her stance on education to always having the mind set that her parents instilled in her.

"Education is the ticket for these kids." Palmer said "Not sports. I owe everything to my parents who afforded me my college education. That has meant everything to me."

Palmer is not sure what lies in her future, but she admits she can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

"I would be lying if I said I never think about retirement." Palmer said. "I'm pretty much self-analytical though. If I think I'm standing in the way of my program, I'd definitely step down. But right now, it is still fun being in the gym."

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