The other side of rivalries: Whitman teachers coach at other schools

Special Education teacher Steve Sutherland coaches varsity baseball at Walter Johnson in the springtime. Sutherland is one of a handful of Whitman teachers who coach sports at other schools.

Photo courtesy of Steve Sutherland.

Special Education teacher Steve Sutherland coaches varsity baseball at Walter Johnson in the springtime. Sutherland is one of a handful of Whitman teachers who coach sports at other schools.

By Bennett Solomon

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Social studies teacher Andrew Sonnabend teaches seven periods a day at Whitman and is a beloved member of the school community. But, the moment the final bell rings, he sheds his Viking attire and heads over to cross-town rival school B-CC to coach boys JV basketball.

Sonnabend, who also coaches varsity softball at Churchill High School, is one of five teachers at Whitman who coach sports teams at other schools. The other four are special education teachers Steve Sutherland, Ryan Mullen and Chris Grindley—who coach varsity baseball at Walter Johnson High School, JV boys basketball at Northwest High School and assistant track at Springbrook High School, respectively—and engineering teacher Kevin Pope, who coaches girls lacrosse at Bishop O’Connell High School, a private school in Virginia.

When it comes time to play against Whitman, Sutherland feels like it’s a friendly game.

“When we play against Whitman, I always have a good time with the guys on the team,” he said. “Especially having some of the players as teacher assistants in class, you can socialize a little more with them about a game during a class.”

Sonnabend enjoys coaching at a rival school and getting a chance to play Whitman two times a year. He said it’s always exciting to coach against a fellow friend and rival.

“Nobody has been mad at me for coaching there, and it’s cool because I get to see the rivalry and the players from both sides,” he said.

Junior Justin Niles plays on the varsity basketball team and enjoys talking to Sonnabend during class about recent games around the county. But when it comes to local basketball, Sonnabend never gives any information away about the B-CC varsity team.

“It’s cool that you can talk basketball with a teacher,” Niles said. “There isn’t much information I can get out of him, but at times I do ask how certain players are doing.”

Pope was the varsity boys lacrosse coach at Whitman for 13 years before he took the job at Bishop O’Connell. He mostly took the job because the school was in need of a coach, but he also accepted the job for his daughter, who’s on the team.

Pope said there isn’t much difference between coaching at Whitman and at O’Connell.

“We have the same rules and regulations,” Pope said. “Some differences are that you get to make your own schedule, whereas in public schools the athletic directors make the schedules.

Sonnabend and Sutherland said they don’t have problems getting to B-CC and WJ for practice or an early home game since the schools are close to Whitman, but Grindley has to travel out to Silver Spring each day to coach. It’s a 30-45 minute commute depending on traffic, and Grindley said he’d prefer to coach at Whitman or teach at Springbrook to avoid the long travel everyday.

“When coaching, there’s a lot of aspects outside of running,” Grindley said. “In terms of study halls and keeping up with kids’ grades and behavior in school, it’s a lot easier if I’m in the same building. If a coaching spot opened up here or a position at Springbrook, it would be something that I would consider.”

This story was corrected at 10:11 a.m. Feb. 26 to accurately reflect where Sonnabend coaches and how many Whitman teachers coach at other schools.

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