Archbishop Curley's stock on the local cross country scene is already high, but coach Gene Hoffman's gang can improve its reputation at the Roy Rogers Classic at Georgetown Prep in Rockville Saturday.
The boys' seeded race (2 p.m.) has Oakland Mills, the only team above the Friars in The Evening Sun rankings. The list of individuals to watch includes Centennial's Pat Rodrigues, a two-time state champion who is doing his best to wrest Runner of the Year honors away from Curley's Matt Ciarpella.
It's a grand opportunity for the Friars, but on the whole, they would much rather be in California.
Curley is a very late addition to the Roy Rogers field. Last week, Hoffman was told his team could not race in the Mount SAC (San Antonio College) Invitational in Walnut, Calif. Hoffman read last fall that it was the nation's biggest cross country gathering and wanted in, but a Southern California official nixed Curley's participation.
"The meet director and nearly everyone I dealt with wanted us," Hoffman said, "but a local official said that since we weren't a member of our state federation, he would not issue the meet a sanction if we ran. He started talking about insurance problems, and that's when he lost me."
Curley, a Catholic archdiocesan school with 462 students, is a member of the Maryland Scholastic Association. The MPSSAA, which governs county athletics, is a member of the national federation.
"It's the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, so we couldn't be a member anyway, but the California official I argued with didn't want to hear it," Hoffman said. "I told him, 'There's no Berlin Wall, there's a McDonald's in Moscow, and I can't run a meet in my own country?' Everything hit me pretty late, and I've been scrambling."
Former Curley runners, parents and Hoffman himself had donated money to pay the $387 airfare per man and expenses, all of which has been refunded. The coach and his seven-boy varsity were supposed to leave BWI last night, race Saturday and return Sunday. In between, they were going to visit the San Diego Zoo and Sea World.
"The kids weren't as disappointed as I thought," Hoffman said. "One kid is more upset than the others, but I had a feeling he didn't want to come back with us anyway."
Hoffman has been proud of his team this fall. Ciarpella, the 1989 Runner of the Year, is favored to win his second straight MSA title. Juniors Gary Mryncza and Doug Dorney, and seniors Steve Daft and Don Oakjones should help bring Curley its fifth MSA team title in the last 10 years, albeit the first since 1987.
"Sometimes you get the feeling that you want to win more than the kids do," Hoffman said. "That's not the case with this group. I usually do a lot of work with our guys over the summer, but they did it all on their own this year."
Last June 11, the first day of summer vacation for Hoffman, his mother was involved in an auto accident on Rossville Boulevard in Essex. She suffered numerous injuries, and never regained consciousness before her death Aug. 5. Esther Hoffman shared a home with her son Gene.
"My mom was 62, and in better health than I was," said Hoffman, a regular in Masters track and field. "Needless to say, I didn't have a very good summer. There's a ton of litigation problems involving who is going to pay two months worth of hospital bills. My lawyer has been a great help, and this team takes my mind off of it."
His Friars will enjoy the underdog's role in the Roy Rogers Classic. Besides Oakland Mills, which was fifth in the race a year ago, the field features Virginia powers Denbigh, Robinson and Woodbridge. Among others, Ciarpella and Rodrigues get to chase Georgetown Prep's Bogi Yohannes and Jama Bile.
Fallston's Jenny Howard had a fine showing last Saturday at the Manhattan College Invitational, the East Coast's largest with more than 300 schools and 8,100 competitors. In the Eastern States championship race, Howard was second in 15 minutes, 29 seconds, eight seconds behind Jen Rhines of Liverpool, N.Y. Howard's time stood up as the second-fastest of the day.