The Archbishop Spalding football program was seeking new leadership heading into the upcoming season. The year was 1999.
The person selected would become the seventh head coach in the program’s history. A history that was slow to grow and establish its pathway to achievement and success.
I recall my first encounter with Mike Whittles where a casual conversation, about football of course, would turn into one of mutually established interest and respect.
Mike was a successful youth coach for the Green Hornets program in Severna Park. He brought no high school head coaching experience to the table but he did bring his personal charisma and an aura of self-belief and conviction that he could arouse local interest in the Spalding program.
During his formal interview for the head coaching position he said two things that immediately drew my focus to his potential.
“I do not want to be a one or two year coach at Spalding,” he said. “I want to spend the next 20 years building upon the success of the football program.”
I told him that idea appealed to me very much, and that I had high hopes of one day seeing Spalding play football in the competitive A conference. He gave me a big smile and shook my hand and said “that is the goal, to one day not only play in the MIAA A conference but to compete for the championship.”
Friday night at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium that goal will be achieved as Spalding will meet Calvert Hall in the MIAA A Conference championship game.
After a rough first season and over the next few years to follow, the transition and impact of Coach Whittles’ efforts and those whom he chose to work with, began to pay dividends. Players and parents began to believe in his vision. As the participation numbers increased so too did the taste for success.
The varsity team went on to win the MIAA B conference championship in 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010. I remember saying after the 2009 season I thought it was time to make a move to the A conference. He responded, “Let us have one more season in the B conference as we have several key players moving on due to graduation. If we feel the level of confidence needed after next year, we will take the leap of faith and make the jump.”
Spalding did move to the A conference for the 2011 season, a season that unfortunately would become the last under his tenure as head coach.
In February of 2011 Mike learned that he had stage IV pancreatic cancer. Steeped in faith and belief in what was possible his approach to this diagnosis would become a personal battle that would go on to define him as a man, a husband, a father, a coach and a mentor to the young men under his charge. The Spalding community as a whole was shaken by this news but inspired by his dedication to “make every day count.” That became his mantra to his athletes and to all who knew him.
“Make Every Day Count”
While continuing the battle with his own health crisis, his team achieved a 7-4 record during the 2011 season and became playoff eligible. Though not able to make it to the championship game, the goal that was established thirteen years earlier at his official interview, to play and contend for a championship in the A conference became a reality.
Coach Whittles was a fighter on the field and off. A fighter in the sport of football and in life. He was a staunch supporter that MIAA football needed to offer playoffs and championship opportunities to the athletes and coaches at all member schools.
Coach Whittles died on June 7 ,2012 after a courageous effort against pancreatic cancer. His legacy lives on at Archbishop Spalding as the stadium field is named in his honor, as is the rotating trophy which is awarded at the end of the playoffs to the MIAA A conference football champions.
Ten years following the death of Coach Whittles, and with gratitude to the direction of the program provided by current head Coach Kyle Schmitt and his staff, the Spalding Cavaliers find themselves with the opportunity to compete in the A conference championship game against Calvert Hall. It truly is 4th and GOAL.
No matter who the victor of this game becomes, on Friday November 18th at the US Naval Academy Marine Corp Stadium, you just know that Coach Mike Whittles, big smile and all, will be looking down and will be pleased to see he was a man of his word with GOAL achieved. Miss you Coach!