Ron Morris

Morris: Whalen brothers 'bring it home'

Twins Mac, left, and Morgan Whalen are the last of five brothers to play football for Heathwood Hall. The school's athletics director, Jeff Whalen, is the boys' father.
Twins Mac, left, and Morgan Whalen are the last of five brothers to play football for Heathwood Hall. The school's athletics director, Jeff Whalen, is the boys' father.

Eric Kimrey has seen enough of the Whalen family. Kimrey, a former South Carolina quarterback, is in his sixth season as football coach at Hammond School. Every season, his team has had to deal with one or more of Heathwood Hall's Whalen boys.

So when Kimrey ran into Jeff and Karen Whalen at a recent junior-varsity game between the teams, Kimrey sidled up to Karen and popped the big question.

"No more, right?" Kimrey asked, knowing full well that twins Mac and Morgan are the last of the five Whalen boys.

"No," Karen said. "That's it."

No more magical words could have been spoken to Kimrey and SCISA opponents of Heathwood Hall over the past decade. For nine years -- through football, basketball and an assortment of spring sports -- the Whalens have tormented area private schools with their athletic prowess.

J.D., a Presbyterian College graduate who works for an insurance benefits company in Columbia, got the Whalens rolling by leading Heathwood Hall to football state championships in 2001 and 2004.

The first to put trophies on the mantel at home, J.D. has urged each of his younger brothers along the way to "bring it home."

Tyler, a junior at the College of Charleston, and Brett, a sophomore at Presbyterian, were next. Bringing up the rear are Mac and Morgan, the quarterback-receiver combination that has Heathwood Hall unbeaten and top-ranked in the state.

The "Mac & Moe Show" kicked into high gear two weeks ago when Heathwood Hall and Hammond met for their annual showdown. Adding spice to the tasty rivalry, both teams were undefeated.

The game was tied at 7 when Heathwood Hall took possession with one minute remaining at its 37-yard line. This was Whalen Time, as Heathwood Hall followers have come to recognize over the past decade.

Immediately, Mac and Moe connected over the middle for 29 yards. Forty-eight seconds remained. Mac ran a quarterback draw for 4 yards. Thirty-six seconds remained. Mac and Moe hooked up for 18 yards. Twenty seconds remained. Mac took a loss of 3 yards to center the ball in the middle of the field at the Hammond 15.

Then, with Mac holding, Cole Fowble booted a 33-yard field goal with 4.3 seconds left and Heathwood Hall had the 10-7 victory.

Mom, Dad, J.D. and Brett joined the celebration on the field. With fans chanting, "Nine and Oh! Nine and Oh!" Mac was interviewed by a Columbia TV station at midfield.

Then Heathwood Hall coach Rip Blackstone gathered his team.

"Remember this moment as long as you live," Blackstone told the team. "I know I will."

Blackstone has coached at Heathwood Hall since 2000, taking the head-coaching reigns two seasons ago. He said each of the five Whalens played pivotal roles in Heathwood Hall's football success over the years. It helps, he said, that they are sons of a coach.

"They've been around sports all their lives," Blackstone said. "All of them have really good football instincts."

Dad played two seasons of basketball and one season of football at Dean College in Boston. Later he coached girls basketball at Heathwood Hall and has coached the boys team while serving as athletics director the past 11 years.

Mom keeps the scorebook at many games. She played field hockey and lacrosse at Towson (Md.) University before serving as a senior administrator for three years at the University of New Orleans. These days, she mans the gate for Heathwood Hall home games.

For road games, Jeff usually stands in the end zone because he can see plays develop better from that viewpoint. Karen roams the sideline, and there is no doubt about whose whistle can be heard in both the home and visitors' stands. On this night, she is the one in camouflage pants because it was "Camo Day" at school.

You might have detected, Mom is no innocent bystander.

Mac rolled his ankle during a game several weeks ago and limped to the sideline, where he sprawled on the ground. Karen waited and waited to see if her son was going to get to his feet. Finally, she went to check things out.

"Are you OK?" Mom said.

"Yes, I'm good," Mac replied.

"Then get up," she said sternly. "You're the quarterback on this team. You can't be lying down here."

She has been involved since J.D. started as a freshman on the football and basketball teams in 2001. Over the past nine years, Karen and Jeff figured their sons have played in approximately 200 basketball and 100 Heathwood Hall football games.

When J.D. graduated and departed for college, Karen was left behind in tears.

"I was thinking, 'How the heck are we going to win a football game without J.D?' " she said.

Of course, Heathwood Hall has won many football games since, and Mac and Morgan have their eyes on the big prize, a state championship, this season. It would be the perfect ending to an incredible run for the family, one that is sadly coming to an end for all involved.

No more blueberry pancake dinners on Thursday nights. No more Friday lunches at the Fifth Street Deli. No more piles of stinky tennis shoes scattered around the house.

"It'll be different, but that doesn't necessary mean better or worse," Karen said. "Hey, I'm looking at a whole heck of a lot less laundry."

Heathwood Hall opponents will be staring at a heck of a lot fewer headaches without a Whalen playing across from them. One Hammond fan a couple of weeks ago shook her head when asked about watching the Whalens play for the past nine years.

She said the Whalens were like kudzu - they just keep coming. Then she sighed. Thankfully, she said, the kudzu is dying out.