CUMBERLAND — Every Fort Hill boys soccer coach has seemingly built further upon the success of the previous coach. New head coach Zach Steckman hopes to do that and, more importantly than wins and losses, develop good community members.

After Jim Hott announced his retirement as head coach on Thursday after a 20-plus year stint with the program, Steckman — who played for four years under Hott — was appointed as his successor.

“The current guys that were on the roster last year, we’ve kind of hit the ground rolling,” Steckman said. “They were happy to see one of their guys become the head coach. They’re excited because they know my expectations … but I also like to think that I have a little bit of an advantage because being at the youth level, the kids coming into the program, they’ll know what to expect coming into high school.

“But so far, these guys, with being in the program getting to know them, and them getting to know me, we’ve hit the ground rolling. So far the summer conditionings have gone well.”

Steckman, a first grade teacher at Cash Valley Elementary, was a four-year player at Fort Hill before graduating in 2012. He was a freshman member of the varsity squad when Hott took over as head coach in 2008. Steckman also played baseball for four years at Fort Hill and two years at the JUCO level at Allegany College of Maryland.

Steckman — who joined the Sentinels coaching staff last summer — hopes that the familiarity that comes with an in-house hire will lead to a lesser transition phase for his team, noting that he picked up a lot from Hott.

“Jim is a guy who loves the game, studies the game, and it showed 10 years later when I got to coach beside him,” said Steckman. “It was just different — in a good way. And I think the players buy more into it now than our guys did when he first started. These guys seem a little more committed to the way that Jim coached.

“Being at the youth level and getting a lot from Jim, his knowledge expands over many ages. He helps me a lot with the youth. Watching him last year and being able to be involved, it was incredible to see the difference from playing under him. He loves the game, he’s always studying it, and it showed.”

Steckman got in to coaching six years ago at the youth level in the JCP League.

“2015 was my first year,” Steckman added. “I’ve been with a group of players since they were in third grade, so they’re going into eighth grade this year. It’s been kind of a slow process, a patient process to get me to this point.”

It’s no secret that numbers have been a problem in recent history at Fort Hill, where it hasn’t fielded a junior varsity team in years. Steckman hopes he can help build those numbers back up on both the boys and girls sides.

“One of my goals from the start, I’ve told families and players that we have to get our numbers back up at the girls’ and boys’ programs at Fort Hill,” Steckman said. “One day a goal is to have a JV program because I don’t think it benefits those kids to play at the varsity level. For some kids it’s different. Some kids are good enough to compete at the varsity level. But some kids need that time at the JV level to build those skills.

“So I do hope down the road, and I am going to work diligently, to get numbers back up for not only the boys program but the girls too. … It’s no secret that Washington has struggled to get numbers for a few years. So if we get those numbers back up, it can benefit those kids and build their skills at their level.”

Steckman takes over the reins of a team that finished 10-3-3 in its last full season in 2019. The Sentinels went 2-1-1 during the abbreviated season this spring due to the COVID pandemic.

“Right now is just to continue getting better,” Steckman said of his vision of the program. “I’ve been on the guys to challenge themselves, hold themselves accountable. It’s summertime, they’re on vacation, they’re hanging out, but my goal right now is to get better. I have high expectations for myself as a coach. I have high goals. I want to win. Nobody coaches to lose.

“But ultimately, you’ve got to build relationships. I’m looking to help build men, husbands, dads. You’ve got to help guide these young men and ultimately the wins will come, the success will come. My goal is to be successful. And if we win a state championship one day, if we’re lucky enough, that’d be awesome. Wins are cool, success is cool, but helping these guys becoming successful in their daily lives, helping them move on to become good community members, that’s my goal of this program. I guess it’s a cliché … we’ve got to build soccer players, but we’ve also got to build good community members moving into the future.”

Kyle Bennett is a sports reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @KyleBennettCTN.

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