UPPER MARLBORO – The Riverdale Baptist School baseball team, regarded as one of the best teams in the country for several years, will not be fielding a varsity program this season, school officials confirmed on March 28.
Athletic Director Terry Terrill, who had coached the team for 38 years and won over 1,000 games, confirmed the decision was made prior to the start of the preseason. The number of players in this year’s baseball program and their skill level forced the athletic department to call off a varsity season and to only field a junior varsity team for this spring.
Former Head Coach Ryan Terrill’s decision to leave Riverdale Baptist to be an assistant coach on the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s baseball team after his fourth season played a role in the decision, according to Terry Terrill, who is Ryan’s father.
Reports began to surface that the four-year head coach was planning to move on following the 2018 season, with former Dean of Students Tarik Harris telling USA Today that it was a “personal choice” if Ryan Terrill decided to return. Gwynn Park graduate Aaron Graves officially took over the program as the new head coach in late July.
“He’s always wanted to coach in the collegiate level and he had an opportunity come up at UMBC,” the athletic director said. “… When Ryan left, they (the remaining players on the team) saw the writing on the wall and they had a lot of talent in the well and they were looking for a place to go to improve and complete their goals in the collegiate level.”
Under Ryan Terrell’s leadership, the Crusaders were atop multiple national rankings and churned out several college-ready players every year. In 2017, right-handed pitcher Harold Cortijo was selected by the New York Yankees in the 14th Round of the MLB Draft and currently plays in the minor leagues for the Staten Island Yankees.
In their previous three seasons, Riverdale Baptist recorded a 97-5 record, ending last year on a 26-game winning streak. In recent seasons, the Crusaders captured four straight National Association of Christian Athletes Baseball Championships from 2014-2017. The roster was filled with upperclassmen with nine seniors and six juniors.
Once it was confirmed that Ryan Terrill was not returning to the Upper Marlboro campus, the remaining upperclassmen left to other programs, leaving only junior David Contee on the roster.
“The make-up of the team decided that (decision to drop to junior varsity status) with only middle schoolers, ninth and 10th graders,” Terrell said. “That kind of makes it an easy decision.”
Graves becomes the first African American head coach in Riverdale Baptist’s 42-year history. He was previously the junior varsity coach at Bishop McNamara and was made aware of the player shortage during the interview process. However, Graves said he was encouraged to be a part of the rebuilding process.
“If I did not want to take this challenge, I would not have accepted this position,” Graves said. “Anytime you lose that many players from your program, it becomes a rebuild and you have to start from somewhere.”
The late turnout was not enough time to recruit so Graves has taken the time to invite prospects to the school to check out his program. Riverdale Baptist is fielding 10 players with Contee, two sophomores, a freshman and the rest of the team in middle school levels.
However, the new head coach said he is training the players as if they are playing a varsity schedule and not a typical junior varsity program. Graves uses his bout with brain cancer and almost dying during the surgery at an early age as motivation to his young team that they can excel during adverse times, in life and in baseball.
With that mindset established with both on and off-the-field matters, Graves said some players have already started showing improvements in their skills and the team’s progression, as a whole, is “ahead of schedule.”
One of those players excelling so far is sophomore Jake Clark, who also played on the Crusaders’ junior varsity football team this past season. Off-the-field, Clark already possess a 3.75 GPA while in honors classes. On the baseball diamond, the sophomore has shown constant improvement in multiple positions.
“Most of the players have bought into the system and I have gotten a lot of support from the parents, faculty and the staff of the school including the student body,” Graves said. “It is a good thing going on here right now.”
As of March 31st, the Crusaders are 1-3-1 in a 25-game junior varsity schedule. While it is a rebuilding year, both Graves and Terry Terrell acknowledged the team’s history and the ultimate goal is to return Riverdale Baptist back to national prominence again.
“Players want to be a part of a good program and when you establish that, it is a little bit easier,” Terrell said. “We develop them, coach them up and Coach Ryan had a tremendous team culture that became a No. 1 team in the country… So, by next year or the year after, we will be back on that level.”