This year, as I do every year, I filled out my NCAA basketball bracket. Like most years, I did not do very well. My wife kicked my butt (again, like most years), and I barely beat my 10-year-old son. The one thing that saved me from finishing last was my faith in the University of Southern California (USC). I had them in the Final Eight, and that’s exactly where their run ended when they lost to Gonzaga. I really knew nothing about them and had not seen them play all year. I picked them for one reason: Andy Enfield.
As a Sports Writer and Editor for The News-Letter in the late ‘80s, my prime assignment was to cover the men’s lacrosse program, led by the likes of Dave Pietramala and current ESPN Analyst Quint Kessenich. Covering a team that both won the national championship my sophomore year (1987) and got to the finals my senior year was great, but I really enjoyed covering the “other” programs as much or more.
Heck, I even wrote articles about the junior varsity basketball team. Full disclosure though, I was a benchwarmer on the legendary 1986-1987 squad. My mission was to provide a little bit of notoriety to the soccer players, field hockey players, cross-country runners and others who competed for the Blue Jays mostly as a way to stay involved with the sports they played in high school.
Most of our teams back then were decent, but certainly not of national championship caliber. But when I would interview players or coaches, they were genuinely excited to be talking to someone that was going to give them some coverage in The News-Letter.
I loved it when athletes would stop me on campus to thank me for an article. It kind of made the late-night sessions of manually laying out the Sports section before we sent it off to the printer worthwhile (that’s right — we had to retype articles into a central system, print out copies to develop the layout, cut off the end of articles with an X-Acto knife and repaste it on the next page; it was pretty primitive stuff even by ‘80s standards).
One of the things that stick out to me most about that era in Hopkins sports was the rebirth of both men’s and women’s basketball at Hopkins under the leadership of coaches Bill Nelson and the late Nancy Funk. To me, this was when Hopkins started to emerge as a leader in Division-III sports. Both Nelson and Funk were the real deal — they had won before coming to Hopkins, and you could tell right from the start that they planned to win in Baltimore.
Enfield was one of the anchors that Nelson brought to Homewood to rebuild Blue Jay basketball, and it was immediately clear that Hopkins was lucky to have him. He was automatic from the free throw line and deadly from three-point range, and he played with a ton of grit and determination. But it was really his performance in one game my senior year that led me to pick his USC team this year.
Hopkins played conference rival Washington College on this particular night in late January of 1989, and Goldfarb Gym was packed — the students, especially the other athletes, had really started to get behind this team. But not a lot went right for the Jays for most of the game, and they trailed by 20 with under five minutes to play in the game when Nelson called timeout.
I asked him the next day what was going through his mind during that timeout, and he said that he was honestly considering emptying his bench. But he told me that he changed his mind when he looked around the gym and saw that most people hadn’t left, and he looked at his team in the huddle — they looked determined, not defeated.
After the timeout, Enfield hit consecutive three-pointers, and by the under-four timeout, we had a game. Hopkins kept chipping away at the lead, hit a few more threes and that gym got as loud as I have ever heard it. Ultimately, the Jays tied the game and forced overtime, and by that time the outcome was a forgone conclusion — there was no way Enfield was going to let them lose. The Jays ultimately won by two, and it remains to this day the greatest basketball comeback I have ever witnessed live.
Hopkins finished that season 17-10, but you could tell that the seeds were planted for future success and not just in basketball. For me, covering sports for The News-Letter in the late ‘80s, that basketball game sticks out in my mind as the turning point for Blue Jay sports other than lacrosse. Since then, Hopkins has won nine national championships, and only two of those were in lacrosse. We have become a cross country juggernaut, won a women’s volleyball title, gone to the D-III Baseball World Series and made it to the national semifinals in football!
The emergence of Hopkins as a Division-III sports powerhouse is nothing short of miraculous to those of us who roamed Homewood in the ‘80s, and it is a tremendous source of pride for the alumni.
So that is why I picked USC, and why I will likely pick them again next year. And for the Blue Jay athletes who toil away in practices and games when they think no one is paying attention, just know that The News-Letter, and people like me, are out here. We are still watching, and we are proud and somewhat amazed by how far our sports programs have come. Today and every day — it’s a great day to be a Jay!