Curley’s Gene Hoffman and Gilman’s Johnnie Foreman to retire after decades of running top track and cross country programs

by Nelson Coffin

As the likelihood of the 2020 high school spring sports season resuming lessens by the day, the retirement of a pair of track coaching icons — Archbishop Curley High’s Gene Hoffman and Gilman School’s Johnnie Foreman — is practically a fait accompli.

Both men had decided to hang up their spiked shoes, as it were, before the ill-fated 2020 season that will be mostly remembered for its shutdown by the coronavirus pandemic. Whether these two now legendary figures have indeed coached their final meets, it’s already been an amazing run for both of them.

Foreman has tutored the Greyhounds’ sprinters, jumpers, vaulters, throwers, runners, hurdlers and shot putters for the last 35 years, with able help from assistants such as Matt Tully, Joe Duncan, Robbie Wright, Alex Deweese, Jeff Gouline, Shane Smith, Cody Miles, Robby Ford and Toby Broadhus.

With Foreman in the forefront, Gilman earned 15 MIAA outdoor championships, five indoor titles and what he said were about “two or three” Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA) crowns before that organization became the MIAA. This does not include the countless individual champions.

Hoffman boasts an even longer tenure at his post than Foreman held at Gilman — by a whopping nine years, considering that he started coaching at his alma mater shortly after his career as a hurdler/high jumper at what was then known as Towson State College (Towson University) concluded.

Their legacies are so entrenched in the MIAA that the league has named a major award after each of them. The association annually bestows the Foreman Cup to it’s indoor track team champions and the Hoffman Cup to the outdoor track & field champs.

“I would coach until I’m 100 if I could,” Hoffman said after 44 years leading the Friars’ program.

His cross country and track squads have racked up 19 championships, including one in the MSA, which also boasted top teams from Baltimore City public schools competing against their private school counterparts.

Foreman still recalls the thrill of claiming Gilman’s first plaque at the prestigious Penn Relays when his 4×400 squad accomplished the feat in 1989.

“That was a highlight because people didn’t think we were ever going to be able to do that at Gilman,” he said.

Foreman said that when he took over the Gilman job in 1988 from Jack Thompson, against whom he had competed while coaching at Northern High, he inherited some pretty good athletes.

“They were winning in the B Conference of the MSA,” Foreman said. “I told the AD in my first year that we wanted to move to the A Conference of the MSA. If we were going to be good, then we needed to compete with the big schools. I wanted to take the program to another level. We taught the kids how to run, how to race and how to compete. Then we were on our way.”

Foreman, the defensive line coach for the Greyhounds’ football team at Gilman for 33 years, learned how to compete from his days at Frederick Douglass High and Morgan State University.

As a team captain, he ran track and played basketball and football for the Ducks before he became a member of a Morgan football team that beat quarterback James Harris and Grambling University in Yankee Stadium his senior year.

“As a coach, Johnnie put the bar high for his athletes and they always worked hard, made it over that bar and had incredible success,” longtime Loyola Blakefield coach Chris Cucazzella said. “As a track administrator, Johnnie was the first MIAA indoor and outdoor track chairperson. He presided over an ever-growing sport with teams being added to the MIAA and IAAM. His leadership put MIAA track on the path towards the excellence it now has.”

Hoffman, now assisted by David Lumsden, Tyler Cuomo and Tim Skarda, guided the Friars to their first cross country banner in 1981 and earned the program’s first track crown in 1989.

More cross county titles would follow in 1982, 1984, 1987, 1990 and 2002 while his most significant achievement might have been a track four-peat from 2005 thru 2008.

“That was a really special time,” said Hoffman, a former Mason-Dixon Champion in the 400 hurdles and 400 relay at Towson, and a three-time All-American masters hurdler. “I think I started to take them for granted. But ask me about my favorite championship and I’ll tell you it’s the next one.”

As the dean of MIAA coaches, Hoffman is deeply respected by his peers.

“I have never met a coach more dedicated to putting in time and effort for his athletes,” Cucazzella said. “I remember once Gene was complaining about how unorganized and long a certain indoor meet was last year, and then I asked him where they were going next weekend, he replied that same meet. It was going to be a long day but Gene saw it as an opportunity for his athletes to compete.”

He learned that way of thinking from his college coach Jack McDonald, whose most sage words of advice to his charges was to “compete, compete and compete.”

Despite possibly missing out on the spring season, Hoffman’s final year has not been all bad. He has had the pleasure of coaching his son, Ian, who won the MIAA indoor track pole vault title and would have been the favorite for the outdoor crown as well. For that alone, Coach Hoffman has extra incentive to see the season through.

There are other reasons as well.

“I tell the kids all the time that ‘this is the best time of your life — take advantage of it.’”

While Hoffman also plans to retire from his teaching duties at Curley, Foreman will remain on the faculty at Gilman and continue to serve in his role as the school’s Director of Community, Inclusion and Equity.

Pictured above: Archbishop Curley’s Gene Hoffman (left) and Gilman’s Johnnie Foreman have spent countless days and evenings together while coaching their respective teams during parallel careers that have spanned a combined 79 years. The pair will also depart together, retiring as coaches at the end of the 2020 school year.