By Syl Sobel
It’s been more than ten years since my youngest child graduated from QO, but I still follow QO football.
My kids ask me why. Many of my friends ask me why. My wife – who gamely accompanies me to many of the games – sometimes asks me why. And over the past couple of years, frankly, I’ve been asking myself why.
For eight years I had a good excuse. I covered high school sports for The Town Courier, the Kentlands/Lakeland community newspaper, whose tradition of covering QO sports was started and maintained for years by Mike Cuthbert and who I was privileged to succeed.
But the Town Courier has been out of business for a couple of years now. So why do I still follow QO football, sitting in “The Mayor’s Box” on Friday nights at the Cougar Dome with Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman, friends from the city government and QO staff, and a few other former QO parents?
Last Friday’s state championship game reminded me why.
Sitting in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium with our transplanted Mayor’s Box group, it seemed like the QO side had twice as many fans as the Wise side. I looked around and saw many familiar faces – parents of kids that our girls went to school with; recent QO alumni, including former football players; young families with elementary and middle school students who were there to cheer for their future high school. It wasn’t just a Quince Orchard High School crowd that filled the home side of the stadium. It was a turnout by the QO community.
And that’s what QO has always been about –community. In the 25-plus years we’ve lived here, QOis and has been the focal point of a large, diverse community that families are part of from the time theirchildren are in elementary school to, well, the rest of your life if you want.
The QO community is the reason why so many alumni and alumni parents still drive to Annapolis on a Friday night in December to support the football team when it’s playing for the state championship. And why so many alumni parent friends of ours who weren’t at the stadium were messaging me about the game as they watched it on livestream at home.
The QO community is the reason why Quincy’s, the unofficial community watering hole, had a full house last Friday night to watch the livestream of the game, rooting for QO.
Community is why so many alumni parents still volunteer to work on the field, or in the grill shack, or concessions, even after their kids are no longer in school.
And it’s why QO students so often excel not just in football and other sports, but in academics, theater, art, music, and other extracurricular activities. Because the QO community – its teachers, administrators, coaches, and parents – make a deal with our students: You find something you like and want to do well, and we will provide the support, and the time, and the facilities to help you do it as well as you can.
And so often, they do. And we enjoy watching and taking pride in their accomplishments.
QO’s 2021 state championship culminates a quest over the past two decades to become the best public school football program in the state. It was an ambitious goal, almost ludicrous when it began. QO football, but for a state title in the school’s early years, was a middling team for most of the 1990s.
But first under Fred Kim, then under Dave Mencarini, and now under John Kelley, the program and its players have practiced the mantra of getting just a little better every day. And they have, from their 2007 state championship, to defeats in the 2011, 2012, 2016, and 2017 state championships (the last three times to Wise), to another state title in 2018.
And now, after beating Wise convincingly in the 2018 state semifinal and last Friday for the championship, there can be no doubt that the Cougars have achievedwhat they’ve long sought. QO is for now the best public school football program in Maryland, and our community can share in their glory.
Early Saturday morning, still savoring QO’s achievement a few hours earlier, Mayor Jud, my wife and I, and new Gaithersburg council member Lisa Henderson sat in Quincy’s with owners, Alexis and Marty Magill, themselves the parents of two members of QO’s 2007 state championship team.
Marty, Jud, and I shared recollections and stories of QO football teams and players past and present and struggled to explain why, after all these years, we remain as attached to QO football as we were when our children were young and we first began sitting under the Friday Night Lights in the Cougar Dome.
“It’s like an addiction,” Marty said.
“Yes, it is,” I agreed.
“I’ve got it, too,” said Jud.
“I think I’m starting to get hooked,” said Lisa, who at Jud’s suggestion attended her first QO game just a few weeks ago.
It’s not just the players or the action on the field. It’s not just the atmosphere with the band, and the cheer squad, and the poms, and the Red Army. It’s not justthe parents, and the grandparents, and the neighbors, and the siblings, and the little kids. It’s not even the state titles – though admittedly that helps fuel the addiction.
It’s the whole thing, the whole QO community, the support it takes from so many, the quest for excellence,the work and effort and the sheer drama necessary to get there, and now the commitment it will take to stay there.
When Friday’s game ended, and the players and coaches had gone through the traditional handshake line to congratulate and show their respect for eachother, Wise’s coach and several of his players stopped and looked up at the QO stands.
And then they lifted their hands and applauded, a sign of respect to the QO community as well.
See you next season at the Cougar Dome.
— Makhi Walker #5 (@_makhiwalker_) December 4, 2021