Friday night’s Seneca Valley football game versus Blake will be the final football game played in the Screaming Eagle Football Stadium, known for years as “Death Valley.”
Many things about Germantown and Montgomery County have changed since the first time a player pulled on a green and gold football jersey, but one that hasn’t is the hallowed Bermuda and Rye Grass field on which Seneca Valley has played its very successful brand of football, but that will change after Friday’s game. Death Valley is one of the largest high school football stadiums in Montgomery County, with upwards of 4,000 seats.
As the planned renovation and reconstruction of Seneca Valley High School draws closer, with work set to begin in the summer of 2017, this week’s game will be the final played on that field. Next year, the Screamin’ Eagles will play a home schedule at another field which will be determined at a later time. While the new field, will be close to the present field, it will be on a different space on the Seneca Valley High School property.
“Everyone is excited about a new school,” said Seneca Valley Athletic Director Jesse Irvin, “but there is a lot of emotion about relocating the field. The school has evolved, and we have a strong core of multiple sports, but no one can deny what the football team and the history of the football program has done for this school. I think it is important to pay the respect and appreciate all that has been done.”
“Losing that field is a big deal,” said Seneca Valley Head Coach Fred Kim. “Thinking about the alums that came before me, and the players that came after me, and the kids that I have coached, it is just mind boggling that this Friday it is over.”
“There isn’t a school in the State of Maryland that has as much history at one field as Seneca Valley has,” said Irvin.
The importance of that field to Montgomery County football cannot be understated. That field has been the home of the winningest high school football program in the State of Maryland. Over the last 41 years, the stadium has been the site of roughly 205 regular season games and 41 playoff games for the Screamin’ Eagles on their way to winning 12 Maryland State Championships. There are many schools in Montgomery County that have never hosted a post-season playoff game. Seneca Valley has won 27 home playoff games at Death Valley.
Irvin said the team and school are planning a special night for the last game at the stadium. “We are going to have the endzones painted to represent all 12 state championships, six in each endzone, and we are hoping to have our original logo painted at mid-field,” said Irvin. All football program alumni have been invited back to the field for the game. ”We are going to have the alumni sign-in and be recognized by the PA announcer during the course of the game.”
Right out of the gate, that field played host to a State Championship team as the very first Seneca Valley full varsity football team went undefeated and won a championship in 1976. The year before, the 1975 team were Montgomery County Champions without a single senior on the team.
“The 1976 team was the first team ever to have seniors, and they won the State 2A Championship,” said legendary Seneca Valley football Head Coach Terry Changuris, who won seven state titles during his time from 1988 to 2003. He was also an assistant to the Seneca’s other legendary head coach, Al Thomas who began the program in 1974 and won five state titles between 1974 and 1987.
Football was important at Seneca from the inception of the school in 1974, according to Changuris. “Right from the very beginning, football and athletics at Seneca Valley were very important because our principal Nate Pearson understood that the high school experience was more than just academics. And in fact, academics were better when students were enthused about extra-curricular activities. He knew that since football was a fall sport, he thought a winning football team would get the school year off on a positive note and sprinkle down through the rest of the school,” said Coach Changuris.
Seneca Valley’s first head coach, Al Thomas remembers the football staff wanting to make the football stadium special. “We built the three-story press box at the top of the bleachers. We wanted to let everyone know that our stadium, our field, and our team was special,” said Coach Thomas.
“It was Al Thomas who built the program,” said the man who took over for him, Coach Changuris. “We went out of our way to make the ambiance of the stadium more than that of the typical high school stadium. We painted the railings yellow. We fixed up the press box. We got flags from every school in Montgomery County and flew them on the back of the bleachers, and every time we won a state championship we got a flag which flew from the press box. We did everything that we could to make the experience of coming to Seneca Valley on a Friday night, or originally it was Saturday afternoon.”
It wasn’t until the 1983 season that the stadium got lights. The field at Seneca Valley was one of the first in Montgomery County to have lights. “We put up lights on our own in 1983,” said Changuris. “We raised the money and a parent of a football player, who happened to be an electrician, proposed putting the lights up, and he did the work. The County had nothing to do with it.”
“The field means a tremendous amount to me,” said Coach Kim. “As a former player who played there as a junior varsity and moving to the varsity team, and playing there en route to a State Championship. I remember playing Bowie there my senior year in a state semi-final, on a snow covered icy field.” Seneca won that game 27-0.
Screamin’ Eagle Stadium is the site of what many believe to be the greatest game in Maryland high school football history. The Triple Overtime Playoff Game between Seneca Valley and Urbana, which resulted in Urbana winning 29-23 in 2001.
“And there have been some unfortunate losses,” said Kim. “The triple-overtime loss to Urbana. That game, despite the loss, was amazing. But we got them back in 2006, in another triple-overtime win. That was Shawn Perry’s junior year. There have been some incredible games played on this field.”
Kim recalls his first time coming back to Death Valley as the visiting team. “I was the head coach at Quince Orchard in 2002, and coming back here to play against Coach Changuris and Seneca Valley. Coming in to this stadium as the visitor — the enemy —was eye opening. Standing on the other side of the field and being in the girls’ locker room, and not having to go through all the Seneca Valley pre-game rituals. That was really tough. And at the end of the game, all the Seneca kids coming up to me and hugging me up. That was a crazy experience, and it was a hard pill for me to swallow.” Two years later Kim would be named head coach at Seneca Valley.
“There have been so many great games and memories that have taken place on that field,” said Kim. “The relationships you build with the players and coaches. It has been awesome for me. I am who I am today, because of what I learned on that field from Coach Thomas and Coach Changuris. I would not be who I am now without those two guys.”
Indeed, Kim isn’t the only one who has been changed because of his experiences on the Death Valley field. “Former players come back and talk to me about their playing days,” said Irvin. “These guys don’t come back and talk about that 60-yard touchdown or that win or this win, they come back and talk about how they became men on that field under the coaching of Coach Thomas or Coach Changuris, and Coach Kim.”
“The Screamin’ Eagle football family is quite a fraternity,” said Changuris, “because the state championships came with such regularity. That maybe you didn’t win one as a senior, but you won one as a junior, or maybe you didn’t win the championship as a junior but in your senior season or sophomore season. There is almost nobody that went through that school in the last 41 years and played football that didn’t win or play in a State final or semi-final game or win a county championship.”
According to Kim, “For many, it is hard for people to understand how important football is and don’t understand all things that football players go through, under very tough and demanding coaches. For me, those hard and difficult lessons have helped me become who I am today. It was so important. Being responsible. Being disciplined. Learning to succeed or fail in the eyes of adversity.”
Coach Kim said that he has talked to this year’s team about what the final home game at Death Valley means, and while the team has tried to understand the importance and history that has taken place on the field, he’s not sure if they fully grasp the importance.
“I don’t think the coaching staff has fully grasped that this is it,” said Kim. “I know there will be other sports that will be played on this field, but after Friday—that is it for football. While there is a slim possibility for a playoff game, I think we will be traveling this postseason.”
Top: Seneca Valley High School’s Screamin’ Eagles Stadium aka, Death Valley. Photo by Germantown Pulse.
Next: The bleachers at Seneca Valley.
Video: Highlights of the 2001 Urbana v Seneca Valley triple overtime game at Seneca Valley.
Next: Seneca Valley’s Ryan Miyamoto (11) in 1993.
Next: Seneca Valley playing Damascus in the 1999 Semi-Final Rematch game at Death Valley. Screaming Eagles won 42-7, on the way to the school’s 11th State Championship.
Next: Seneca Valley vs. Gaithersburg game in Germantown in 1999.
Next: Death Valley in 2014 during a game against Rockville.
Photo courtesy of Coach Terry Changuris. Video courtesy FootballVideoNetwork on YouTube.