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Paying tribute to some well-known MoCo Black athletes

Marcus Mason Gary GuytonIn the spirit of  recently concluded Black History Month let’s pay homage to some of Montgomery County’s past sports heroes from the Scotland and Lincoln Park communities.

These are historically black neighborhoods that have fostered some of the area’s top student-athletes over the years.


In MoCo, all football playoffs are related

DSC 2814It’s been nearly 15 years since John Harvill last coached a high school football game in the state of Maryland but his impact still reverberates around Montgomery County and beyond.

Harvill spent nearly 50 years coaching football at Gaithersburg High School including 43 years as the Trojans’ head coach before stepping down in 1999.

During his tenure, Harvill coached players such as Guy Prather, Phil Livingston, Kreg Kephart, Tony Greene, Greg “Shorty” Carter, Ellsworth “Tookey” Turner, Garland Owens, Calvin Fitz, Jackie Holland, Jason Scott, Robert Jackson, Mark Bason, Donnie Nolan, Hank Fraley and Tom McHale among dozens of others.

Prather, Livingston, Greene, Fraley and McHale all played in the National Football League.

This weekend, top-seeded Quince Orchard (10-1) will host Northwest (8-3) in the 4A West region final. Both head coaches have direct ties to Harvill. In fact, Northwest head coach Dave Neubeiser was once a standout at Gaithersburg High before continuing his football career at Wake Forest University.

Quince Orchard head coach Dave Mencarini is the son of Joe Mencarini, a former assistant at Gaithersburg under Harvill.

In 1984, the Gaithersburg coaching staff included Harvill and his assistants Fred Joyce, Joe Mencarini and current Trojans head coach Kreg Kephart.

This year, the Northwest coaching staff includes Neubeiser along with Joyce, his uncle, and former Gaithersburg assistant Fran Parry. Joe Mencarini is a part of his son’s coaching staff at QO.

So it’s a safe bet to say that the Quince Orchard and Northwest coaching staffs are familiar with one another.

The other playoff matchup in Montgomery County this weekend features Seneca Valley (10-1) hosting Urbana (8-3) in the 3A West region final.

Al Thomas, a legend in his own right, was once an assistant at Gaithersburg under Harvill before taking over the Seneca Valley football program when the Germantown school opened in 1974.

During his tenure at Seneca Valley, Thomas coached players such as Ed Sheahin, Dennis Rieghard, Earl Hill, Wayne Turner, Richie Fisher, Bobby Allen and Eric Drain among others.

Drain went on to play collegiately at the University of Missouri and Allen, who played at Virginia Tech, is currently a Division I assistant for the Arkansas Razorbacks.

In Friday night’s contest, Seneca Valley will be led by Rieghard’s son Calvin, a junior quarterback for the Screaming Eagles.

Meanwhile, the Urbana Hawks will counter with talented sophomore quarterback Donovan Pannell whose father, Brian Pannell, once played for Harvill.

What’s more, Seneca Valley junior Kevin “Twos” Joppy is a cousin of Urbana sophomore running back Raekwon Gray whose grandfather, Ivan Gray, also played for Harvill at Gaithersburg.

Did I mention that Seneca Valley head coach Fred Kim and offensive coordinator Bob Plante both have sons who play for Urbana?

Brandon “Bumpy” Plante has been a key cog in the Urbana secondary unit and J.P. Kim was called up from the junior varsity for the postseason. Plante’s best friend also happens to be teammate Darren Ambush, a cousin of Northwest’s Tyler Ambush.

Fred Kim also once played at Seneca Valley for Al Thomas and now seeks his first state championship as a head coach after earning state titles as both a player and assistant coach.

I guess John Harvill and Al Thomas are smiling somewhere right now.


You can reach Brandy at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Football playoffs are finally here!

Brandy Simms.jpg
The Maryland state football playoffs are finally here. Hooray.

In a few weeks, state champions will be crowned in the 1A, 2A, 3A and 4A classifications.

No. 1 seed Quince Orchard (9-1) hosts Bethesda-Chevy Chase (7-3) in a 4A West region game. The Cougars are trying to get back to M&T Bank Stadium to capture the state title that eluded them last season.

Meanwhile, Churchill (7-3) travels to Northwest (7-3) in the other 4A West region matchup. The Bulldogs seek to avenge their 27-24 regular season loss to the Jaguars.

In the 4A North region, Blake (6-4) is making its first playoff appearance in school history but the Bengals are facing an unbeaten Westminster team that features talented senior quarterback Deryk Kern.

The highly-touted signal-caller has thrown for over 3,000 yards and tossed 52 touchdown passes with only eight interceptions through ten games. The Owls have beaten Urbana and Linganore and snapped Martinsburg, WVa.’s 32-game winning streak earlier this year.

Sherwood (8-2) hosts Catonsville (7-3) in the other 4A North region matchup.

Poolesville (7-3) travels to play at Walkersville (9-1) in a 2A West region matchup. The Falcons will be making their first postseason appearance since 2005 against a Walkersville team that boasts the leading ground-gainer in Frederick County, Avery Ezell.

However, Poolesville is on a roll after finishing the regular season with four wins in its last five games.

The 3A West region features Seneca Valley (9-1) hosting North Hagerstown (9-1). The Screaming Eagles are on a mission to capture the Germantown school’s 13th state championship trophy and are a heavy favorite against the Hubs from Washington County.

Perhaps the most intriguing matchup on this weekend’s first round playoff slate is the battle in Damascus between the undefeated Swarming Hornets and the Urbana Hawks (7-3).

Damascus (10-0) and Urbana are among the state’s top programs with a combined 12 state titles. The Hawks last won a state championship in 2010 when they defeated Wise in the 4A title game, 6-0. Meanwhile, Damascus won state titles in 1981, 1992, 1993, 1996, 2003, 2005 and 2007.

Coaching icon Al Thomas guided Damascus to back-to-back state titles in the early 1990’s and captured five state championships at Seneca Valley and one at Sherwood. He now serves the role of defensive coordinator at Damascus where he works alongside one of his former players, Swarming Hornets head coach Eric Wallich.

The connections between the two storied programs are endless; the Urbana coaching staff is dotted with Al Thomas disciples including head coach Ryan Hines and defensive coordinator Andy Hirshorn, a Seneca Valley graduate. Hirshorn also once coached junior varsity football at Damascus with Wallich.

There are also various Montgomery County connections with Urbana’s players. The Hawks are led on offense by sophomore quarterback Donovan Pannell who has already drawn interest from Division I college programs.

Pannell is the son of Brian Pannell who played at Gaithersburg in the 1980’s for legendary head coach John Harvill. Did I mention that Al Thomas was once an assistant at Gaithersburg under Harvill?

Raekwon Gray, Urbana’s talented sophomore running back, is the grandson of former Gaithersburg Trojan Ivan Gray.

Urbana junior running back and defensive back Brandon Plante is the son of Seneca Valley offensive coordinator Bob Plante.

If Urbana beats Damascus then the Hawks would likely play a second round game against Seneca Valley. That would definitely make for an interesting week of conversation in the Plante household.


You can reach Brandy at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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