On a chilly Friday afternoon last month, Chatfield High’s football team started walking laps along its half-field, practicing the basics of a traditional football meeting.
They gathered in a circle and their coach, Bret McGatlin, called the first play, or the series of plays based on that play. Then he handed the whistle to each player and let them start.
The drills were simple and the smiles were big.
“I like teaching our guys the fundamentals and good fundamentals are a lot of fun,” McGatlin said. “Because I know how hard it can be to get basic skills right.
“It’s not like tennis where guys get it done really quick. Here it takes 30 or 40 reps to get where you want.”
This offseason has been the best for McGatlin’s team.
He watched his father, John, run last year’s team out of the mouth of a dragon.
McGatlin, of North Bethesda, is a renowned referee, an ex-middle linebacker for Northwestern University and then a professional referee in high school. He had officiated more than 1,000 games at the college level, has run the National Federation of State High School Associations and now referees mixed martial arts matches. He’s one of the nation’s premiere sideline officials.
He’s also six months removed from the most difficult of seasons on the sideline.
During 2015’s regular season, John McGatlin took over Chatfield’s football program after Curt Cobb got suspended for throwing several abusive and homophobic slurs at the sideline of assistant coach Chad Heald in the final minutes of a 26-0 loss to Hyattsville in the state playoffs.
John was reinstated the following week, but was forced to temporarily step down during the playoffs, after throwing his third abuse foul at the sideline, which angered Heald, and the situation escalated into a very ugly scuffle on the sideline. John was sent home from the post-game locker room to attend counseling and new behavioral guidelines on his desk, where a teacher could answer questions when he’d return to the field.
He and Hisbeck didn’t speak, but they continued to argue on the sideline.
Earlier this year, John McGatlin read about the Chatfield coaches’ success at the Challenger League and also responded to a basketball team sent from Fairfax to play the Cheers.
McGatlin, whose father served as a Wyoming delegate for Sen. Mike Enzi, has two sons, Brett, who turned 19, and Mark, 14.
“I had my dad to look up to as a football coach, but with my dad being successful as an adult I kind of had to put him aside for awhile and say, ‘Dad, my job is other things,’” Bret McGatlin said. “That’s when I saw Coach John excel. I came from a football background, but I always loved to set an example for the kids, just do it my way, too.”