It was the same every time you saw him.
His face would light up under a Carolina blue baseball cap with the black H.
He would wave, give a hearty handshake and then, only then, the questions would begin.
“Hey Bud, let me ask you something,” he would always say. “Is anyone going to beat Northern softball?”
Or he’d ask about Patuxent softball’s pitching, or Northern baseball’s defense or who was the team to beat in boys basketball or if Calvert girls basketball could repeat as state champions.
“Bill was always asking for inside information,” Huntingtown head baseball coach Guy Smith said. “His favorite line was, ‘Smitty, Smitty ... Let me ask you something ... how is so and so.’ He always wanted to talk current players, ex-players in college as well as college and pro sports. He had the same passion for the Huntingtown teams as he did for the Terrapins and Redskins.”
Arguably one of Huntingtown High School’s most avid fans, William “Bill” Phelan passed away Nov. 4 at Washington Hospital Center.
“It’s a tremendous loss to Huntingtown High School because Mr. Phelan was always one of the first people you’d see at each event, always giving great advice, always talking to you,” Huntingtown athletic director VaShawne Gross said. “He had the spirit of a Hurricane in him.”
Phelan was a fixture at the Hurricanes’ baseball and softball diamonds.
“The entire Huntingtown High School community has lost one heck of a supporter but also the Huntingtown area and Calvert County has lost a guy who really had more pride in Calvert County and in the public athletic system than anybody I’ve seen in many, many years,” said Mike Johnson, the school’s head varsity softball coach. “He was someone who was not affiliated with the team, [but he] would show up at every game, cheer, no matter what the circumstances were, and encourage the players all the time. I think he was just a really good role model for young athletes. I think that’s what he gave more than anything.”
Phelan was also a fixture at school basketball games, where he would sit a few rows up just inside the gymnasium doors, often with longtime friend and assistant softball coach Ronnie Seger.
“The county has lost a true fan of sports,” Seger said. The two would travel together to away games and Phelan often accompanied Seger to softball tournaments. “For the record and you can print this, I will truly miss this man. I’ve missed him at the football games this year and I’ve started to miss him at the basketball games and when softball season comes around, I don’t know what I’m going to do without seeing him sitting behind that backstop. He was basically ... I consider him a father figure to me. I love that man.”
A hit with athletes as well
Phelan wasn’t only loved by adults.
“He was the type of person who was always laughing and upbeat,” said Kaitlynn Seger, who played softball at Huntingtown and is now a freshman playing at Stevenson University. “Oh my gosh, [I miss him] so much; I always think about Mr. Phelan. It was so weird not seeing Mr. Phelan sitting beside my dad [at a recent basketball game]. Mine and my dad’s hearts are broken.”
Smith added, “Bill was a humble man that loved being around people,” said. “He loved and cared for everyone. There is no other way to explain him.”
Smith said he knew Phelan — nicknamed “The Hoss” — through his dad, Guy Smith, Sr., and first met him at R&J Liquors.
“‘The Hoss’ used to hang there just to be around people,” Smith Jr. said. “Not as a drinker, but to sample the half smoke [sausages]. Bill started attending soccer games to see his grandson play [and] was hooked on [the school] and the staff.”
Smith said he will miss spending time with Phelan and would cherish what would turn out to be the final time he’d speak with him.
“We had a Sunday practice for my daughter at Huntingtown,” Smith said. “My wife said, ‘What did you do for the last two hours?,’ and I said I was talking to ‘The Hoss’ and she said, ‘For two hours?’ I said, ‘You do know ‘the Hoss.’’” She just smiled and understood we both enjoyed the conversation.”
The St. Leonard resident was born in Washington, D.C., and later attended Northwestern High School in Prince George’s County where he was a multi-sport athlete.
He was a professional firefighter for Prince George’s County for 43 years as well as a volunteer firefighter for the College Park and Hyattsville departments. He served as a member of the Firefighters’ Union, Local 1619, and the Greater Washington Umpires Association.
But sports was undoubtedly his true passion. He was an all-star athlete, received many awards and even went on to pitch in the minor leagues for a farm team of the Cincinnati Reds.
A pillar of the community
He was a 30-year volunteer for the Prince George’s County Fire Department’s charity softball tournaments that benefitted the Muscular Dystrophy Association. He was an avid fan of the Washington Redskins and a faithful supporter of local sports, especially the Hurricanes.
Phelan was not one to talk about himself.
“The best characteristic about ‘The Hoss’ was he never bragged about himself,” Smith said. “Never a word about the Reds, the volunteer work he did with Project grad, the work with the firefighters and all of the other things he was involved in.”
He also had a playful side and was perhaps best known for gleaning nuggets of information.
“Whenever he would see me he’d say, ‘Bud, word on the street is that you have a boyfriend,” Kaitlynn Seger said. “He was always trying to get something out of me. He always had a smile on his face and he always had jokes. There was never a dull moment with Mr. Phelan.”
Even a stop at Wendy’s during a trip back from a softball game at McDonough a few years back was anything but dull.
“He says he has to use the bathroom and he walks right into the women’s bathroom,” Seger said. “I don’t say anything and later he comes back to the table and he said, ‘Ready to go?’ I say I am and then say, ‘Mr. Phelan, do you realize what you just did? He said, No,’ and I told him and he said, ‘You know what? I was wondering why it was so clean in there.’”
Everyone agreed that the loss of the school’s No. 1 fan would be hard to get used to.
“I’ll tell you, it’s going to leave a hole down along the fence in the small parking place he was always trying to get down there,” Johnson said. “It’s a hole in our hearts and also a visual hole when you don’t see him along the fence or after the game congratulating you on a job well done.”
“It’s tough for me and my coaches and to walk in that gym and look over and not see him sitting in that seat,” said Gross, who is also the varsity boys basketball coach. “You can never replace Mr. Phelan. It’s not the same without him out on the track or out in his truck at softball. It’s going to take time for all of us to get over him.”
Memorial contributions may be made to Huntingtown High School Athletic Department, 4125 Solomons Island Road, Huntingtown, MD 20639.