By Devon Ashby
Special to The Sentinel
SILVER SPRING – Montgomery County, Maryland, has seen its share of athletes ascend from its schools and programs to the highest levels of their careers for many years, without much notable recognition.
After years of planning, the inaugural class of the Montgomery County Sports Hall of Fame was finally celebrated and the ceremonies on Sept. 13 at the Silver Spring Civic Center became one of the first steps in honoring the county’s best.
From the most decorated high school football coach in the state of Maryland who won 12 championships between three programs (Bob Milloy) to a pitcher for whom a school was named in his honor (Walter Johnson), the county honored their inaugural class with six athletes for their standout accomplishments on the field.
“The Sports Hall of Fame was created to honor the men and women who, through sports, have brought honor and pride to our county,” said Trish Heffelfinger, who serves as the Hall of Fame Chair. “Sports bring people and communities together; we’ve all learned powerful life lessons through participation in sports; we’ve built lifelong friendships, and, most of all, I hope we’ve had a lot of fun.”
The Hall of Famers, together with their families, spent the night reflecting on the many memories they made in the state and beyond. For many of them, like Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, it was the roots they had in Montgomery County that made them especially proud of this achievement. Ledecky won four gold medals in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Ledecky’s mother, Mary Gen, who accepted the award on her daughter’s behalf, recalled a unique story about the popularity of the Montgomery County Swim League, where Katie used to train.
“Last year, she swam in Tokyo and gave a clinic to 100 Japanese swimmers, and there was a mother and daughter there with a ‘MCSL’ T-shirt on, who had lived in Montgomery County for two years and were part of the Montgomery County Swim League,” Mary Gen said. “This past summer, when Katie swam in South Korea, a young guy in his twenties and an American flag wrapped around his back came up to me and said, ‘I swam at (Rockshire Pool)!’ We have so many great memories of our kids growing up here.”
Beyond the accomplishments they achieved within their sports, the inductees were acknowledged for their efforts to enhance their sports in other areas. Gymnast Dominique Dawes, who won Olympic Gold with the 1996 “Magnificent 7” team, said that she hoped to open her own gymnastics academy in 2020 as a way to combat a disturbing culture of abuse in gymnastics.
“We saw what happened in 2016 with the Larry Nassar scandal, and there are a lot of unhealthy cultures and people in the sport of gymnastics; emotional abuse, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse are very real,” Dawes said. “As a mother of four kids with a love for gymnastics, there is not a healthy culture in the state of Maryland that I feel confident with. That’s why I’m so motivated to open this business and continue to inspire today’s generation and future generations.”
The inductees ended the night by thanking everyone, from their loved ones to board members and supporters. They also shared what made Montgomery County so special beyond the field of play.
Bruce Murray, a former two-time NCAA Men’s Soccer champion and a member of the 1990 U.S. Men’s World Cup qualifying team, grew up playing high school soccer in Winston Churchill High School and club ball with the Montgomery United Ponies. Those days playing county soccer allowed him to build his 10-year professional career.
“I owe Montgomery County everything,” said Murray. “I owe Churchill and my principal, who wouldn’t let me quit when I didn’t care about school as much as I should have, or I wouldn’t have gone to college. I’ve been to 44 countries, but wherever I went, Montgomery County was on my mind.”
For Milloy, being honored as a Hall of Famer was an extra award for his time of coaching high school football. Seeing how his players have succeeded outside the field made his career worth celebrating.
“I’m the oldest child of 10, and we’ve lived in Montgomery County for longer than I want to tell you,” Milloy said. “Just being at the school every day around these kids and getting to see them from time to time, this is what it’s all about.”
Springbrook High School graduate Shawn Spring who became an All-Pro cornerback during his 13-year NFL career which included four years with the Washington Redskins was also honored as an inductee.