Hawk heaven

HCC's Palmer closes in on 500th career basketball win

HCC's Palmer closes in on 500th career basketball win

January 30, 2007|by BOB PARASILITI

Marlys Palmer has built a career just because she has taken the time to read the small print.

In fact, she probably wouldn't be in her 28th year as Hagerstown Community College's women's basketball coach if she didn't stop and squint at the prose.

"I'm an avid newspaper reader," Palmer admits. "I'm here because of the Herald-Mail. ... I love reading the classifieds. Back then, I saw that Hagerstown Junior College was advertising a job for teaching position and I interviewed for it."

Little did she know that paying attention to that itty-bitty type would lead to a fulfilling career with some big headlines written about her.


Stay tuned. There is a possibility that no one will need a magnifying glass to read "Palmer wins 500th career game" on the front of Thursday's sports section.

Palmer enters Wednesday's home game against Harford with a record of 499-304 after Monday's 99-62 victory over Northern Virginia. When the time comes that the Hawks do record their surprising 19th win of the season, it will be the validation of everything that the 60-year-old coach has done with the program.

"I never thought this would happen. I didn't think it would happen this year," Palmer said. "I didn't come into this thinking I would win 500 games."

Yet, the love of reading the tiny print of the classifieds almost characterizes Palmer's whole approach to her nearly three decades of employment at the community college and the program she constructed.

She sweats the small stuff. She has done it with a style and a flair that is born from enthusiasm and love of the sport and development of the players she guides. And it is all fortified by a personal competitiveness.

The proof comes from winning nearly 62 percent of her games and 22 winning seasons in her 28-year tenure. She is on the verge of her 12th 20-win season with the possibility of a sixth Maryland JuCo Conference tournament title and a chance of going to a third national tournament.

But it all started with a "Help Wanted" ad that probably should have been labeled "Opportunity."

"I interviewed for the (physical education) job and got beat out by (current HCC athletic director Bo Myers)," Palmer said. "They asked me if I would consider coaching the women's basketball team as a part-time employee, and that if I did, there was a possibility that there would be a full-time position for me the next year."

Palmer accepted, partially because there weren't many coaching opportunities for women in 1979. She was greeted with a team consisting of five players that went 2-18 in her first season.

Palmer didn't recruit for the next season because she wasn't coming back unless she was hired full-time. When it materialized, she was coaching in much the same situation and the team finished 4-16.

But then, Palmer was in the house. She began recruiting. The Hawks were 15-13 in the 1981-82 season and went to the NJCAA nationals the next season.

"After we went to nationals, I thought I had it," Palmer said. " I just have to go out and recruit more players like my first class. It doesn't work that way. In fact, the year after the nationals, we had a losing year."

It started a long learning process that Palmer still builds on today. On one side, her path is drawn from getting and giving the opportunities to women that she didn't easily find in her playing days.

"I have held on to the philosophy that the local community college should be for the local community," Palmer said. "It was supposed to be to give local women a chance."

On the other side, it was a coaching chance not many women had been offered.

"When you were a teacher, you also had to coach," Palmer said. "I had coached a lot of other sports, but there weren't any women coaching basketball."

Palmer has coached, won and recruited through times when local athletes didn't think coming to the local junior college was en vogue. She remained successful while playing conference games against Baltimore city schools. And she kept the HCC program thriving while a number of her competitors went through numerous coaching changes - 69 by her count - or disbanded their programs or forfeited games because of a lack of players.

"I'm excited for all the players first and I'm so proud of the program. I'm proud we kept the program going," Palmer said. "We never became a club team. We never postponed a game. We never refused to play a team. My first year, we got beat by Baltimore 120-something to 30-something and I said, 'This is the way it's going to be?' But what we have done, I'm proud of."

Palmer admits she watched closely as Texas Tech coach Bob Knight became the all-time winningest Division I men's coach. She followed him as a fan and as a coach.

The thing that makes me a fan of him that I think he has his athletes at heart," Palmer said. "He worries about his athletes graduating. He had the right approach when he said that the milestone has nothing to do with the coach. It has to do with all the players along the way."

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