Jeff Comer is one of the best all-around athletes to ever come out of Thomas Johnson High School. From 1970 to 1972, Jeff was the team captain, leading his youth sports teams to several different championships, including Maryland State Little League championship, Frederick Midget Football League championship, and the Maryland State Babe Ruth championship. This carried into high school, where Jeff was part of the Maryland State Track and Field 440-yard relay state championship-winning team in the spring of 1974, was selected as an all-state athlete by the Maryland State Football League in the fall of that year and was a starting forward on the Thomas Johnson High School Basketball team that won the 1975 Maryland State Championship. That same year Jeff was a regional selection for the Maryland State Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Jeff continued his athletic career in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Duke University, where he was the starting split end and three-year letterman from 1976 to 1978. Jeff is still very involved today with Duke University’s prestigious Iron Dukes Athletic Booster Club.
Rick Conner is described by his colleagues as the best high school football coach ever in Frederick County. In 1998 Rick was inducted into the Western Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame and in 2014 was inducted into the Maryland High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame. Throughout Rick’s career, he has touched many lives by being a great leader, mentor, and coach, not only on the football field but also by coaching basketball, swimming, track, and as a physical education teacher. Since 2001, as Linganore High School’s head football coach, Rick has racked up three state football championships, four state runners-up, seven regional championships and 10 Conference championships. As a defensive coordinator at Urbana High School, he helped guide them to four consecutive state championships, which is a state record, and 50 consecutive wins. At Thomas Johnson High School, he was the defensive coordinator and helped guide those teams to two state playoffs, a regional championship, and three conference championships.
Gail Gaeng is a graduate of Thomas Johnson High School. From 2005 to 2011, Gail was part of the Bennett Blazers sports program in Baltimore where she garnered national attention as the 2007 National Wheelchair Basketball Prep Champions and MVP. In 2011, the Blazers finished second at the National Wheelchair Basketball Varsity Championships, and again Gail was named MVP. Gail played wheelchair basketball at the University of Illinois where she was the team captain, two-time First Team Division I All-American, and helped the program place second in the 2015 and 2016 national championships. Gail was a member of the Team USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team, team captain, and Gold Medalist in the 2016 Paralympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, and was a gold medalist on the 2015 Para Pan-Am Games in Toronto. She is currently playing for the Chicago Lady Hawks, a semi-professional team in the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball League, wherein 2018 she was named MVP at the National Wheelchair Basketball Women’s Tournament.
Philip Hammond graduated from Frederick High School where he was an avid and award-winning tennis player. In 1974, he was ranked first in Maryland in the 18-and-under boys doubles division. He went to Furman University in Greenville, S.C., where he was a team captain his senior year, leading the squad to the Southern Conference Championships in 1976 and 1977. In 1980, he won the Middle Atlantic Husband-Wife Mixed Doubles Championship with his wife, Jody. In 2006, Phil won the Maryland State Hardcourt and the Middle Atlantic Clay Court 50-and-over doubles championship. He is a six-time champion of the Rice Radcliffe Singles Tournament and 17-time champion of the J. Richard Remsburg Doubles Tournament at the Frederick Tennis Club. Phil helped build the Mount Saint Mary’s tennis program to a reputable and competitive program in the Northeast Conference from 2004 to 2015 as the program’s coach. He led the Mount’s tennis program to winning seasons seven out of his first 10 years.
This year, the Hall of Fame committee established the Alvin G. Quinn Sports Hall of Fame Rising Star Award to honor an individual or team, whose age/s are no older than 19, that has demonstrated exceptional accomplishments and contributions in their athletic field, and has brought honor to self and Frederick County during the past year. The Hall of Fame Rising Star committee unanimously voted to recognize Saylor Poffenbarger, a 16-year-old girls’ basketball standout from Middletown High School.
Saylor is currently a junior at Middletown High School. She was one of only 33 players who received an invitation to try out for the 2019 USA Women’s U16 National Team and in May 2019 was named to the 12-member roster. In June of 2019, Saylor helped led Team USA to a gold medal in the FIBA U16 Women’s Americas Championship, beating Canada 87-37 in the Gold Medal game. Team USA went 6-0 in Puerto Aysan, Chile, beating teams from Brazil, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Chile, Mexico, and Canada. Saylor contributed significantly to the team’s success. She averages 18.4 minutes per game, 7.2 points per game and scored 10 points in the gold medal game against Canada.
Saylor has been recognized as a 2018 and 2019 All-State first-team selection, 2019 All-Area, and 2018-2019 Central Maryland Conference Player of the Year. She has compiled 1,109 points, 597 rebounds, 207 assists, 137 steals, and 149 blocked shot through her sophomore year at Middletown High School. Saylor verbally committed to play college basketball at the University of Connecticut, the most successful women’s college basketball program in the nation with 11 Division I national championships and 19 Final Four appearances since 1995.
Yuri Suguiyama graduated from Urbana High School where he was the Frederick News-Post Swimmer of the Year in 1997 and four-time Frederick County swim champion. He swam for the Curl-Burke Swim Club for five years, winning a national title in the 800 free relay at the 2000 Spring Nationals. Yuri continued his swimming career at the University of North Carolina, where he was a four-year swimmer and holds UNC’s record for the 1000 and 1650 freestyle events. He was an NCAA All-American selection his senior year and three-time All ACC selection. Yuri qualified for the 2000 and 2004 Olympic trials and competed in the 2000 Olympic trials. He was the assistant coach for the University of California men’s swim team that won the 2014 NCAA national title. He currently is the head coach for the University of Wisconsin men’s and women’s swim teams. Yuri has coached for Team USA and was the individual coach for Kate Ledecky during the 2012 Olympics in London, where the 15-year-old won the gold medal in 800 freestyle.
Bethany Adams is among the most successful female swimmers to hail from Frederick County. The 2009 Thomas Johnson High School graduate was a six-time NCAA All-American and four-time Big 12 champion at the University of Texas. She competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter breaststroke events. Bethany is one of only two female swimmers from Frederick County to qualify and participate in the U.S. Olympic Trials. She set records for the 50 freestyle during her college career and her name still is in the Longhorns school record books. Bethany was also a superb student-athlete, being recognized as a Scholastic All-American (2006-2009) in high school and continued at the University of Texas, where she was All-Big 12 Academic first team from 2011-2013.
Clarence “Petie” Cooper
Clarence “Petie” Cooper, a three-sport standout at Frederick High School, was a dominant southpaw who struck out 19 batters in seven innings to lead Frederick to 1-0, one-hit shutout against Glenelg in 1969. Cooper’s 19 strikeouts on the day allowed him to break his own school record of 18, which he set during the 1968 season. These were the headlines often seen about one of the best athletes to come out of Frederick High School. In 1969, Petie was drafted in the fifth round (110th overall pick) of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft by the Cincinnati Reds. He played six years in the Minor Leagues with the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins organizations, reaching the AAA level. Petie’s name is all over the Cadets record books in football, basketball, and baseball. Besides his 19 strikeouts in a game, his 226 career strikeouts is best in the 111 years of Cadets baseball. He holds the FHS school record for wins in a season (13) and career (26). His 1969 season ERA of 0.56 is also etched in as the lowest ever allowed by a Cadet pitcher. The 1969 Cadets would go on the win the Frederick County, Tri-State League, and District pennants. He also set football records, which included throwing 28 touchdown passes during the Cadets’ 10-0 season in 1968.
Described by many as the best field hockey player ever to come out of Frederick County, Joann Engestrom would eventually make the 2003 U.S. National Field Hockey Team and U23 National Team. Joann, a three-sport athlete at Middletown High School, was named the Frederick News-Post Field Hockey Player of the Year her senior season. She went on to play Towson University for three seasons, leading the team in scoring her junior year. Joann transferred to Temple for her senior season where she earned All-Atlantic 10 Conference first-team honors. Joann has coached and mentored youth teams, high school players, club and college hockey teams while sharing her passion, skill and knowledge for the game of field hockey. She continues to pass on her skill, experience and drive for the game of field hockey to many future players. Joann was a talented field hockey player who controlled the field with her skill and passion and competitive drive while inspiring and motivating other players to improve their performance.
Natalie Cleckley Jackson
Natalie Cleckley Jackson played four seasons on the Linganore High School girls varsity basketball team, which she captain her junior and senior years. She was the Frederick County Girls Basketball Player of the Year her senior year. Natalie went on to play power forward for Furman University. She was the recipient of the 1987-88 Southern Conference Freshman of the Year award. She later was the 1990-91 Southern Conference Player of the Year after earning first-team All-Southern Conference first-team honors in 1990-91 and second-team honors in 1988-89. During her junior year in 1989-90, Natalie helped lead Furman to its first Southern Conference basketball championship and first 20-win season (20-9). She led Furman in scoring and rebounding as a freshman and, as a senior, she paced the Paladins in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage. She averaged 14.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per games over the course of her career. She was named to the Southern Conference Academic Honor Roll and Furman’s Most Valuable Player in 1990-91. As a senior, she set Furman single-season records for points scored (575) and rebounds (356). She was inducted into Furman’s Hall of Fame in 1996.
Tracey Kelley Kibler
Tracey Kelley Kibler is one of the finest athletes to come out of Middletown High School for her play in girls basketball and field hockey. Tracey was named All-MVAL and Frederick News-Post All-Area in basketball (1991-1993) and field hockey (1991-1992). She was named the Frederick News-Post and Hagerstown Herald-Mail Girls Basketball Player of the Year in 1993. As captain of the basketball team, she helped lead the Knights to a 26-0 record and Class 2A state title in 1993. Tracey also helped the field hockey team to a state championship in 1991. Tracey continued her basketball career at East Carolina University. She was a three-year team captain who earned CAA All-Rookie honors as a freshman and CAA All-Tournament honors as a senior. In between, she led East Carolina in rebounding for three seasons, and won Defensive Player of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Leadership Award honors. Tracey, while at Catoctin High School, was named Frederick News-Post Girls Basketball Coach of the Year in 2004 and she added AWCC Women’s Basketball Coach of the Year in 2006 while at Hood College. Tracey also served as the Five-Star Women’s Basketball Camp Director and has coached many successful Mid-Maryland and MVAA girls basketball teams.
Stephen Linger’s legacy in the world of women’s fast-pitch softball in Frederick County is still felt today. He was the founder of the Lewistown Tigers in the 1980s, the first girls’ fast-pitch softball travel team in Frederick County. The Tigers won 42 tournaments and produced 21 players that received scholarships to play in college. Stephen coached softball at Thomas Johnson High School where his teams went 40-17. He ran the Tigers fast-pitch softball clinic at Frederick Community College for years. He later coached at Messiah College where he guided the team to its first 20-win season in 1991 and added three MAC Championships (1991, 1993, and 1994), eventually winning the MAC in 1994. Stephen not only cared about all the players he coached but also cared about the community, and he was named Outstanding Young Marylander in 1980. An example of his dedication to softball in the county, he started the Frederick Community College softball team with no budget and donated his coaching salary back to the program to make it successful.