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Coach's persistence pays off with North stadium

February 06, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN

karenh@herald-mail.com

For Greg Slick, a coach and former offensive lineman who rode the team bus to home football games, the promise of a stadium at North Hagerstown High School has been a goal long delayed.

On Sunday, the earth-moving equipment that will shape the field contours at Mike Callas Stadium was in place.

"On a team, you have to have a guy on the team that's going to block. He's not going to get in the paper, but if he doesn't block, the guy who scores a touchdown isn't going to score a touchdown," Slick said.

According to honorary chairman Jim Brown, Slick has carried the torch in a "team effort" by the stadium committee. The committee is working on securing pledges to top the $3.2-million mark, Brown said Sunday. The stadium could be ready in time for the fall sports seasons, he said.

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"Greg is probably the happiest person on the face of the earth. And, I'll tell you, he has a right to be. When you wait that long for your dream to come true, it tells you you're really patient," Brown said.

As a graduate of North High and former wrestler and football player, Slick, 51, has seen the dream of a stadium take shape since the 1970s. He has taught at North High since 1981.

Slick, who helped coach football for 20 years, barked encouragement to pairs of wrestlers in the heat of a mat-covered workout room at North High on a recent Monday night. During an interview afterward, he straddled a wood bench in a weight room. In the gym, players and spectators cheered and shouted during a girls basketball game against rival South Hagerstown.

The lessons of athletic competition - persistence, teamwork, goal-setting - have served supporters of the new stadium well, Slick said.

"I wasn't going to put it as a top priority. I don't think there was anybody on the committee who was going to make it a priority over educational needs, but I think all of us felt - me as a coach - that there's some pretty good lessons kids learn through athletics," Slick said.

As a student, Slick said he did not really question the bus rides to home games at School Stadium, which North High shares with South High, but he said believes generations of students have grown up wondering about the arrangement.

"I think they've missed something of what's a normal high school experience. They never had Homecoming," Slick said.

By the time the athletic boosters began pressing the issue in the 1990s, the crescendo of support for building a stadium - or at least improving a field outside the school - had risen and collapsed several times, as students graduated and parents moved on, Slick said.

Parents and community members committed themselves to the project because they did not want to see it die again, and they sought - and received - the support of influential leaders who gave the dream credibility and direction, Slick said.

"I'm a coach. I'm a teacher. ... I'm not a businessperson. I don't have a clue how you raise this kind of money. I know we couldn't do it through car washes and bake sales," Slick said.

While he said he sometimes acknowledged to his wife doubts that the project would prevail, Slick said the committee took pains to identify and clear one hurdle after the next.

The committee decided to pare down some of the project after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and people's priorities turned elsewhere, Slick said. The committee even scrapped plans for a major fundraiser, Slick said.

"I don't know if it's ever going to be finally done. Honest to goodness, I don't," Slick said with a chuckle.

The plans call for visitors bleachers to be added after the stadium is finished.

Slick credited committee members with bringing the dream this far.

Many of Slick's wrestlers likely will benefit from the committee's work - some of the athletes also play soccer and football, Slick said. During practice, he reminded them never to give up the fight.

"I think the only thing I did ... I was too hard-headed to take no for an answer forever," Slick said.

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