Duke Beattie isn’t sure what the future holds, and the retiring Montgomery County Director of Athletics is okay with that.
“I don’t have an exit strategy,” said Beattie, during an hour-long interview last month in his Rockville office. “After 39 years in the school system and 19 years in the central administrative office, I don’t want to leap into anything without stopping, looking and seeing what I may want to do next.”
The notion may serve as a sharp contrast to those who have known Beattie as an organized stickler to detail who’s governed with high moral and ethical standards.
“To have principles means that you have a good idea of what is right and what is not right, and that you’ll stand up for what is right even if that’s difficult to do,” said Beattie who will be replaced by former assistant Jeff Sullivan.
“I always tell coaches, ‘Anybody can be good when it’s easy, you’re winning, and the referee’s call goes your way. I want to see your character when it’s not easy, you’ve lost and the calls didn’t go your way.’ The athletes are watching, you’re the teacher, now, let’s see if you have the courage and the discipline to take the high road.”
Beattie expects a “comfortable transition” to Sullivan along with longtime administrative assistant, Robin McCue, and Kathy Green, the latter of whom will leave her position as Sherwood’s athletic director to replace Sullivan.
“When I first took the position, it was male-dominated…and I wanted to change that. There needed to be more diversity,” said Beattie, 61, who developed a system of recruiting and training county athletic directors.
“Kathy (new MCPS athletics specialist Kathy Green) was part of that change in image. Now we have a number of women and minorities in the athletic director rank and file…We’ve changed the face, the culture, of the position of athletics director in Montgomery County....I feel very good that I’m leaving things in the hands of a tremendous team. I wanted to know that a bright future was in tact."
Beattie began his career at his alma mater, Kennedy High School, where he coached wrestling and taught English for ten years. Beattie then accepted a position as athletic director/English teacher at Rockville High School, where he spent ten additional years.
“The mission of athletics is not ultimately to win championships or send kids to college, but to learn from experiences in a competitive interscholastic environment lessons that they would not learn in a classroom,” said Beattie.
“It’s easy to lose sight of that message, so I tried to keep that message front and center. I wanted to create new opportunities for student-athletes and clear goals and initiatives for schools and coaches.”
Among the tenets Beattie is most proud of is his Sportsmanship Awards program, “which I think is the best of its kind in the country,” he said. Referees and administrators assess every varsity contest for its level of sportsmanship.
“It’s a statement about the value we place on learning and sportsmanship, taking the form of a cash award for the winning school,” said Beattie.
“We don’t just talk a good game about athletics being our higher, more noble mission, but we put our money where our mouth is, which makes it the most coveted award that we have.”
A graduate in 1974 from Kennedy High after a sophomore year at Montgomery Blair, Beattie was a fullback and linebacker in football and a county and regional champion wrestler.
In a Facebook post, longtime friend, Kelly Ward, a former two-time state champion at Kennedy and an NCAA champion, called Beattie “My friend since we were 10 and 11 years old.”
“We were on the same football and wrestling team from that point through high school,” wrote Ward, who served as Beattie’s best man when he married his wife, Mary, 35 years ago. “I have total respect and confidence in Duke.…I congratulate him for a job well done.”
Beattie has two sons, Rhett, 27, and Jess, 23. Rhett was a three-time county and two-time region champion as well as a state runner-up at Sherwood under his uncle, Scott Beattie, who, in turn finished third at states at Northwood in 1979. Younger son Jess lettered four years in varsity tennis. Both sons graduated from the University of Maryland.
"It is true that I spent many years in the wrestling arena," said Beattie, "but I don’t favor wrestlers over other student-athletes. All student-athletes are equally worthy of respect.”
Beattie left an indelible mark in 14 years as director of the MPSSAA’s state wrestling tournament, overseeing a move from McDaniel College in Westminster to the larger University of Maryland’s Cole Field House in 2004, the introduction of a full, double-elimination format that awards first-through-sixth place, and inclusion of a Parade of Champions recognizing parents of state finalists.
“I really wanted to have an influence on changing the wrestling culture. This included emphasis on organization, starting and ending tournaments on time, being more presentable as a gentlemanly sport for the student-athlete and being more fan-friendly. Contributing to these goals was conducting the event in a classy venue and in an organized manner. I like to think that I had a positive effect," said Beattie.
“The Parade of Champions before the finals gets the biggest round of applause because all of the bruised egos and bloody noses and the tears that have occurred have culminated in their child going to the finals. You can be a great student, a nice guy, a fierce competitor, and shake hands afterward.”
The event was held at the legendary Cole Field House for the last time in 2015, whereupon the fabled structure was repurposed into an indoor football facility. In his last act as MPSSAA wrestling committee director, Beattie was instrumental in acquiring the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro as the site of the state wrestling tournament. This past year, Montgomery County powerhouse Damascus High School won its third straight Class 4A-3A crown and sixth overall at the new venue.
When asked about other subjects, for instance lacrosse, Beattie observed that lacrosse has made important strides, as Churchill’s boys (19-2) lost their Class 4A-3A state title game, 7-6, on a goal with three seconds remaining after leading, 3-0, early, and, 6-5, in the fourth against repeat champion Severna Park (21-0) of Anne Arundel County.
“Sherwood’s girls made the finals a couple of years ago," said Beattie, of a county sport that has yet to earn a state title. "So I’m certainly proud of our progress and our continued growth. But even in losing, they’ve gained because they have learned valuable lessons."
Switching gears to artificial turf, Beattie believes that synthetic surfaces "create safe, equitable, level playing fields for student-athletes. They offer tremendous opportunities, and address a multitude of issues."
When asked about "helicopter parents," Beattie feels that all parents are trying in their way to provide positive experiences for their children. However, sometimes parents can temporarily lose perspective. In the process, sometimes their efforts can be counter-productive."
“I’ve said to many people, even my sons, that on the larger scale, interscholastic athletics is a prelude to life," said Beattie. "You’re going to have trials and tribulations, wins and losses. But athletics, in essence, is practicing for life - it is like an audition. One learns through one's experiences. Just because you lose a game, life, as you know it, is not over.”