More than a decade ago, Brooke Kuhl-McClelland looked like she might be well on her way to becoming, in her own words, the best tap-dancing attorney in town.In her heart, she was always going to be a dancer.She
couldn't deny that.When she
was growing up in Lutherville, coaches begged her
to come out for their teams, but nothing quite grabbed her
like dancing, and even the hours on top of hours of classes only served to whet her
But eventually, as the girl became a woman, it came time to earn a living.And if there was one thing she
could do almost as well as a jazz step, it was argue.
"My mom used to tell me if I said something was white, and she
said it was black, eventually she'd just throw up her
hands and say 'OK, Brooke
, it's white,' just so I would stop bugging her
said."I've always loved to argue, so I thought I might want to be a lawyer."
So this is what happened: The young woman with a passion for pirouettes and John Grisham books weighed happiness in one hand, financial security in the other, rolled the dice and decided to become a high school dance teacher.She
dues, forged bonds with sweat and tears and earned the trust of an army of kids and administrators.Eventually, she
nailed down a permanent job at Hammond High School
, and built a respected high school dance program.
...And that is how Brooke Kuhl-McClelland, 37, who never played organized lacrosse, came to be the head coach of the Mount Hebron Vikings, who just may be the best high school girls lacrosse team in the country this year.
Make sense?If it doesn't, don't worry.Some days Kuhl-McClelland still has a hard time believing it all.
"For a while there, it was all pretty surreal," she
...Kuhl-McClelland has never been a varsity head coach before, and there are few jobs as difficult as leading the Vikings.
is also the first woman to hold the position, and will be coaching girls who have been coached by men for nearly all of their lives."When the coaches first talked to me about [an assistant coaching] job at Hebron, I couldn't understand why they would want me," said Kuhl-McClelland, a Vikings assistant for two years.
"I mean, they could go out and get so many big-name former players, I wondered, 'What do I really have to offer them?' "
Plenty, it turns out.
"I love Brooke
," said Mount Hebron junior Kristen Waagbo, an honorable mention preseason All-American.
But it wasn't just good fortune that gave Kuhl-McClelland
the chance to follow two revered coaches at Mount Hebron.It involved a lot of hard work and sleepless nights, and it likely will involve more of both.But more than a decade ago, who could have predicted how high the dancer would soar?In 1987, Kuhl-McClelland was a wide-eyed graduate of Towson State, and with an abundance of charm, she managed to convince the Howard County school system that they were in dire need of a dance program.
It did not get off to a smooth start.
"My very first class at Howard [High], I had to break up a fight between two boys, and there were kids running in and out of the gym the whole time," she
said."I knew then I had my work cut out for me."
A home at Hammond She
stayed at Howard for six years, then bounced around high schools as her
program and reputation grew before eventually sticking at Hammond in 1995, and it was there that things started to click as word got out.Kids wanted to dance for the teacher they could call by last name only, who gave them a grin every time they yelled out, "Hey, Kuhl!"
"We were beating the hallways just to get kids to come out," Kuhl-McClelland
said of lacrosse."And on JV, we literally were teaching kids how to hold a stick and how to cradle the ball.It was fun, but we couldn't really go too far beyond the basics."
At least not until the day in 1991 when Mount Hebron's JV hung an 18-1 thumping on Hammond's JV squad.It didn't just make Kuhl-McClelland mad.It made her
...Assistant coach Emily Petrlik, Gay's daughter, was going to be Hammond's choice to take over as head coach when Gay decided to step down, and though it was hard to admit, Kuhl-McClelland felt hurt.
"When she told us she wasn't going to coach at Hammond anymore, I think we were all really upset," said Hammond senior Ashley Pietryka, an All-Howard County soccer player and one of Kuhl-McClelland's
Still, it wasn't easy at first for Kuhl-McClelland
to break those ties.That first Hammond-Mount Hebron game in 2000 - an easy Vikings victory - ended in tears for both the Bears and their former assistant coach.
"I worried about the kids on both sides, because ultimately they're children," said Kuhl-McClelland
."Deep down, I wanted to say [to Hammond], 'You overlooked me.Now take it to them.' But I couldn't.How could I be happy about letting my children beat up on my other children?"
For two years, she
stalked the Mount Hebron sidelines with Chris Robinson and defensive coordinator Scott Robinson, absorbing every scrap of knowledge she
scribbled notes during every practice, watching the way Chris Robinson would scold one player, encourage another, and end up motivating both.
is really able to adjust to different personalities well, and that's the key to being a good coach," said Melissa McCarthy, a four-year starter and preseason All-America midfielder for the Vikings.
"When the decision came down, I was like, 'I don't think I can do this,' " Kuhl-McClelland
husband wouldn't hear any of it.
told me, 'Oh, yes, you can, Brooke
.You're there for a reason,' " Kuhl-McClelland
said: 'You may not know it yet, but you can do this job.' "
Starting the season
And so two days ago, after a 27-0 tuneup win against Oakland Mills, there she
was, guiding the No. 1 Vikings onto the field against rival No. 3 Bryn Mawr - the team that ended Mount Hebron's 54-game winning streak with a 9-9 tie last year.
ran the gamut of emotions, from relief to joy to pride and back to relief.She
got hugs from parents, players, coaches and friends.
At Mount Hebron
, the steady beat of tradition is always urging things forward, and Kuhl-McClelland
couldn't help but think about the next game, April 4 against St. Stephen's/St.Agnes, their biggest test of the year.
"It's perpetual motion here," Kuhl-McClelland
said."Things never stop moving.There is always another challenge waiting.That's what makes Mount Hebron special."
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun
...Mount Hebron girls lacrosse coach Brooke Kuhl-McClellandMount Hebron girls lacrosse coach Brooke Kuhl-McClelland (Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby)