Alex Rychwalski | Remembering some of Western Allegany County's best coaches

Aug. 31—When you open the Maryland high school football preview book enclosed in today's paper, our more fastidious readers may notice one omission.

Each school has a little box highlighting its most successful head coaches, ordered by total wins, with one exception. Our booklet has no such information for Mountain Ridge.

Now, before you load up a strongly worded and grammatically unsound Facebook comment, turn to page 3B in today's newspaper for a nice surprise.

Immersing myself in this area's sports history has become one of my favorite pleasures.

It's why I chuckle when I meet one of those sporting legends in real life, and they begin to tell me about their resume (As if I didn't already know all about that touchdown they scored in Homecoming half a century ago).

Mountain Ridge, being the area's newest school having opened in 2007, doesn't have much in the way of history yet.

The Miners recorded their first unbeaten regular season last year, but it was difficult to put that into context. I knew Beall had entered the playoffs with a spotless record, but had Bruce and Valley done so?

This may shock you (and it shouldn't), but our records don't go very far back.

That's why that little box of coaching history, with just 17 names, didn't make the preview tabloid today. I had to go back year-by-year in digital copies of old newspaper clippings to determine the schools' records after each season.

The undertaking took approximately 12 hours spread over a few days, and I didn't finish by the time the previews went to print.

Perhaps the saddest part of the whole ordeal is that I enjoyed every minute of it.

Everyone gather around now and I'll share some of what I learned.

Bruce High School in Westernport opened in 1893. With the exception of a few football games it played in 1919, the school didn't formally field a football team until 1963.

It took so long because the school worried that it didn't have the numbers to field another fall sport.

Pete Ladygo directed the inaugural three teams before handing the reigns to Tom Oglebay, who, in his first season, gave me an answer to my question last year.

The 1966 Bulldogs finished unbeaten at 9-0-1, the only blemish a 21-21 draw with Paul "Bubbles" Thompson's Bishop Walsh Spartans.

Bruce had to come back to beat hated rival Valley, 19-13, in its final game. Rick Sarfino snared a 10-yard touchdown pass from John Prado for the win before 3,000 fans in Lonaconing.

The Valley-Bruce rivalry lasted 22 years until Bruce was consolidated and its students sent to Valley.

The two schools played for the Little Brown Jug. The series was deadlocked at 10-10-1 entering its final year of existence, which the Black Knights won 22-7 to retain eternal bragging rights.

The one tie came in the first meeting, a 6-6 final in 1964.

That year also marked the first season Valley, which opened in 1953, fielded a football team.

Tom Harman was Valley's first coach, and he was also the first to take an Allegany County school to the promised land, winning the 1974 Class C state championship. Valley topped Joppatowne, 32-12, in Hagerstown to finish a school record 9-3.

Harman retired after the 1976 season, and one of his assistants, a young Jack Gilmore, guided the Black Knights to another state title in his maiden campaign.

Valley dismantled a heralded Snow Hill team 58-16 in Gaithersburg to end 9-3.

Numbers dwindled at Valley and Bruce, and in 1986, Bruce High School closed and its students went to Valley.

Valley retained its name until the 1989-90 school year when there was controversy, causing the school to be renamed Westmar to better unify the two communities.

Westmar's most successful head coach was Gary Marsh, whose best seasons were in 1996 (8-3), 1995 (7-3) and 2000 (7-4). The '96 and '00 squads were the only teams in school history that made the postseason.

With Bruce gone, Valley and later Westmar needed a new Homecoming opponent, and Beall High School filled that role beginning in 1988.

The Frostburg school first began playing football in 1946 under Joe Hoopengardner. Ten years and three coaching changes later, Beall found its man.

Jerry Calhoun, a Moorefield High School graduate, coached Beall for the next 28 seasons and retired in 1984 as the winningest head football coach in state history with a 139-131-7 record.

Beall's next coach, Bill Patterson, guided the Mountaineers to their first unbeaten regular season and first state championship trip in 1993, a gut-wrenching 7-6 defeat to Boonsboro.

Patterson, a relative of current Mountain Ridge head coach Ryan Patterson and the father of Miners defensive coordinator Adam Patterson, retired following that year.

Roy DeVore led Beall to another 10-0 record entering the playoffs in his first season. Beall got back to the state title game three more times under DeVore, finishing as state runners-up in 1997, '02 and '03.

Beall consolidated with Westmar in 2007, and the county didn't make the same mistake twice, renaming it Mountain Ridge. DeVore coached the Miners' first nine teams to a 45-47 record.

Ryan Patterson, fresh off consecutive Class 1A state championship appearances, will pass DeVore this year as the winningest coach in school history. He enters his eighth campaign with a 42-27 record.

It feels wrong to state that fact because DeVore had 95 more wins if you count his 13 seasons at Beall.

I'm not adding that caveat to diminish Patterson's accomplishments but to honor those of his predecessors. I like to think it's our job to make sure that people don't forget the past.

That's why I felt compelled to track down all of Western Allegany County's coaching history once and for all.

It may have taken a dozen hours for one little box, but it was worth every second.

Alex Rychwalski is a sports reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.