- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Many times, the boys never knew what hit them when Rod Stewart’s Northern High School varsity girls basketball team scrimmaged the boys junior varsity squad.
“They were intense, those girls were good,” said Trey Sirman, who was the boys JV head coach back then and is now the Northern High vice-principal. “I think it shocked some of the boys how hard and how good they were. I don't remember if we beat them or they beat us, but it was physical; they played hard against us. [The boys] were shocked at how hard they would press us, [the girls] didn't back down.”
Stewart’s teams battled and played hard until the final whistle, which is what the 43-year-old Stewart himself did before he died July 2 of a stroke following a 10-year battle with leukemia.
“I thank him for being the person he was,” said John McGuffin, who was a assistant varsity boys basketball coach at Northern at the same time Stewart was coaching the girls. “[He was] a good son, a good husband and father, a good man and a great friend."
Stewart leaves behind wife, Karin Marie, and two teenage daughters, who attend Calvert High School.
“Rod had many admirable traits as a person and coach,” said Rob Halstead, who has known Stewart for 15 years and was the girls junior varsity coach during Stewart’s varsity tenure. “He was one of the coaches who was most willing to share his experiences and thoughts with his assistants. He was also willing to listen to the opinion of those that worked with him, although he always made the final call. I think there are few coaches I have seen who cared for his players more than Rod.”
Stewart developed leukemia about 10 years ago and his health failed rapidly. But he refused to let the disease get the better of him.
“He wasn't a complainer,” Calvert athletic director Brad Criss said. “He came to almost every [one of his daughters’] softball games and I saw him one time when he was walking back [from the field] and he was obviously in pain and had a lot of swelling in his legs. I told him, 'Rod, anytime you want to drive around back and park out back, that's fine,' but he never did. He didn't want any special treatment. He was selfless. He wanted to be there for his girls and he didn't want to stand out. That was him giving back to the girls.”
Rick Weber, the current principal at Huntingtown High School, was the athletic director at Northern when Stewart was coaching.
“He was determined to stay active and stay involved and do as much with his kids and not let this slow him down any more than it had to,” Weber said. “He was a tough guy, he really was.”
Stewart, who worked at Northern Middle School, coached the Patriots for seven seasons, even reaching the Class 3A state semifinals one year. Northern had a double-digit lead in that game, but a power outage disrupted the team’s momentum and the Patriots ultimately fell.
When asked for their thoughts of the popular coach, one word kept popping up: Intense.
“He was intense, he worked those girls pretty hard,” Sirman said. “He worked them hard, but they liked him. He was intense with them; they practiced hard and they played hard in games.”
“I would watch him at practice and he was very intense at practice, he always had them working hard,” said Weber, whose daughter, Mattie, played for Stewart. “He really put a lot into it. He was tough on them and I’m sure there were times where they disliked him because of how tough he was on them, but they all respected him because he was trying to make them the best they could be.”
Sonja Carroll, who was a longtime Stewart assistant coach, added, “He believed in discipline, hard work, dedication. We practiced anytime we could get into the gym. There were no ‘days off,’ no sick days and God forbid it snow or they canceled after school activities.”
Instilling the basics
Stewart also helped to start a very successful youth basketball program at St. John Vianney Church in Prince Frederick, which stressed teaching children the fundamentals of basketball.
“You knew you were going to be in for a battle against a team that was always fundamentally sound and fundamentally coached,” said Criss, who was an assistant coach to Frank Moore at Calvert High, on the type of game the Cavaliers would face against Stewart’s Patriots.
Carroll said she’d never forget a game against Meade, of Anne Arundel County, during a Christmas tournament.
“There was a foul called on us, which of course Rod thought was ridiculous and started his stampede up and down bench saying whatever came to his mind,” Carroll recalled. “The officials warned him and warned me. Meanwhile, he [had been called for a technical], so I went to the end of the bench and got him some water in a cup and walked it down to him and tried to hand it to him and somehow it ended up in my face. So I’m standing there dripping [and] it seemed like the gym went quiet and we just stared at each other. I kind of think it shocked both of us and the girls. I know the parents were shocked.”
“There were always stories about how excited I got at games, but he used to get more technicals than me every year,” Weber said, “so I would keep reminding him of that.”
Stewart was named to the Northern High School coaches’ Hall of Fame. He’s also a former All-Southern Maryland Athletic Conference Coach of the Year and was a member of Maryland Basketball Officials Association, Elks Lodge 2620 and Dilltown (Pa.) Sportsman’s Club. He was an avid outdoorsman, followed the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Penguins and enjoyed spending time with his family and friends.
“He loved to fish and hunt and I didn't know much about that, so we did other things together, such as golf,” McGuffin said. “We had so much fun playing golf and cards together. He so much wanted to get back on the golf course and I believed he would. He now gets to play on any course he wants. In some ways, I can't wait to jump in the cart with him and go play 18.”
It appeared Stewart was getting better. He watched several of his daughter Meggie’s softball games, watching Carli play basketball and had even applied for the head girls varsity coaching position at Calvert High.
“His eyes sparkled in recent times when he would get on the floor and help [me coach],” McGuffin said. “He kept the book for many games when he could for our AAU season. I loved seeing his face when he saw Carli on the floor.”
One of Carli’s teammates on the Storm 13-U AAU team this year was Emily Curren.
“My daughter played for Rod at Northern Middle School when she was in sixth grade,” said Curren’s mother, Suzanne. “That was her first experience on a middle school sports team and she really enjoyed playing for him. He was a tough coach, but he had a way of bringing out the best in his players. When he became an assistant coach for the Storm, Emily was excited at working with him again.”
But while taking a detour to see his in-laws before a tournament in Ohio, Stewart fell ill and eventually succumbed to a stroke.
“Rod is in my heart and I know he will be part of me forever,” McGuffin said. “He is with me in spirit all the time [and] he will come through in future pregame speeches. He will come through during the NFL season. He will come through me when I coach again on the basketball court. Until we meet again my friend.”
Memorial donations may be made to the Calvert High School Athletic Boosters, 520 Fox Run Blvd., Prince Frederick, MD. 20678.
“It’s a tragedy any time anyone dies, but to see two young men like that still involved in the community with young children makes it especially tragic. People you expect to be leaders in the county and in athletics for years to come and then to lose them like that is a real shock.”
Rick Weber, Huntingtown High School principal, on the recent passing of girls basketball coaches Rod Stewart of Northern and Chris Turlington of Patuxent