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Petry making his mark on a new generation of Rebels

October 11, 2012|By BOB PARASILITI | bobp@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Football still makes Phil Petry feel a twinge.

These days, though, it is for much different reasons.

In the old days back in 1962, Petry was the prize quarterback who led South Hagerstown to its last undefeated season before heading off to play and graduate from the University of Maryland. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that he is a local legend.

Now, 50 years later, the Rebels are trying to repeat history. They are undefeated (6-0) this late in a season for the first time since Petry-mania was the talk of the town.

In many ways, it still is.

Petry has those memories that kind of draw him back to the old days. Some of the reminders are rather painful.

“I’m an old man,” Petry said. “Back then, I was 17 and 50 pounds lighter. Now I’m all beat up from playing the game. That’s why football doesn’t affect me the way it used to. Now, it’s more spiritual.”

Five decades later, Petry is still a leader for the Rebels, in an entirely different form.

Instead of huddling the team up to call signals, he helps to bring this year’s Rebels together to spread the Word. As a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Petry brings in speakers to talk to the Rebels every Friday morning, something he’s done for the last three years for coach Toby Peer’s program.

Because he was an athlete, Petry can appreciate the results the Rebels have produced on the field. But because he is a Christian, a father and an alum, he really appreciates the results the Rebels have produced behind the scenes.

“The kids have bought into the program,” Petry said. “They come and lift weights every morning together. They are respectful of others. When I’ve met with them, some of these players knew who I was. They are a team. They have some outstanding individual athletes, but they are a team. It’s just nice to see how they act.”

In the time between Petry’s then and South’s now, Petry is aware of the reputation the Rebels created. Petry identifies the big difference in the present Rebels.

“I played, I played in college and I refereed high school football for 20 years,” said Petry, 67. “I’ve been around the game and know a little about it. For me, the thing that is exciting is the program and what the coach is doing. (Peer) is a leader and commands respect. He cares for the kids ... and they are winning.”

 Like a good football player, Petry avoids traps. He won’t really compare this edition of the Rebels to the ones he played with, but there are some similarities.

“There is a world of difference in 50 years,” he said. “The one thing these kids don’t do is hot-dogging. In the past, they did. One of my classmates made a film of our undefeated season. Back then, we didn’t. We just handed the ball off. We weren’t surprised when we scored on a play. We expected it.”

The emphasis on team and workmanlike demeanor sets the Rebels apart from other teams.

“It’s a tremendous asset,” Petry said. “If you aren’t arrogant and you are humble, you are part of a team. You don’t have to go too far back when some players played as individuals and there was resentment. This team is very supportive of each other.”

The other part of the equation in Petry’s eyes is the work and belief the Rebels put into the program.

“I’ve seen a number of their games. It is a fitness program. It is a disciplined program,” Petry said. “They get stronger in the second half.

“We had some really good coaches back when I played, like Coach (Doug) Cochran. All the coaches played football. This coach knows the game. I met him before he was hired. I sat and picked his brain about what he was going to do. After we were done, I told him that he knew what he was doing.”

Petry singled out South’s recent win over Thomas Johnson as the second benchmark victory for the Rebels’ program. Last year’s 40-7 win over North Hagerstown was the first.

“For me, the main thing is I see a difference in the kids,” he said. “I see them in a different setting when I’m there on Friday mornings. It lifts the spirit.”

Petry admits though, that it would be tough to see these Rebels match the feat he was part of in 1962, but once a Rebel, always a Rebel.

“I’m going to be excited for them,” he said. “I’ll get more excited for them the closer they get (to an undefeated season). Fifty years from being the quarterback of the undefeated team, there are so many things that are more important than football. It is about character.”

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