MSA needs to live up to stated name

John Steadman

December 14, 1990|By John Steadman

BECAUSE BALTIMORE remains a tight, restricted sports enclave, it is depriving Maryland of bona fide champions in all of high school athletics. The travesty has existed far too long. Why? The city, pompous yet self-protecting, has steadfastly refused to join the rest of the state in participating in a tournament structure. It's a wrong that needs to be righted.

Most states either have a single champion in a sport or divisional winners based on school enrollments. But not in Maryland. The blame for this inequity is the fault of the principals and athletic directors in Baltimore. First off, their governing body, the Maryland Scholastic Association, is a misnomer.

It's not Maryland but begins and ends with metropolitan Baltimore, including public and private schools. Still it calls itself the Maryland Scholastic Association. Not only is this an incorrect label but it's also deceiving. If it renamed itself the Baltimore Scholastic Association, it would then be substantially correct.

Meanwhile, the larger organization, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, conducts graded competition across the state's 23 counties. But Baltimore is not included. Why? Because it doesn't want to be.

One of the country's most respected athletic leaders, Bernie Walter, the athletic director/baseball coach at Arundel High School, which is honored as a national model school in the area of physical education, advocates the Baltimore schools join the larger group. "Speaking for myself," he says, "I would love to see all the city public school teams in the state tournaments. I know there are able and deserving athletes in the city. Most certainly some city teams would earn the state crown.

"If student-athletes and high school sports fans want the Baltimore City Public Schools to participate in any of the Maryland state tournaments, they should encourage their coach, athletic director, principal, physical education supervisor and superintendent to apply for membership in the MPSSAA. Now is the time because 1991-1992 and 1992-1993 tournament arrangements have just begun."

The idea of the MSA setting itself apart from the rest of the state once had a sound concept. That was 50, 60 years ago. It was then the thing to do. Baltimore -- not the counties -- had the dominant teams in the state and, most of the time, would have obliterated the so-called country schools if they had played.

Remember when a powerful football team from Cumberland's Fort Hill High School played City College at Homewood Field in 1941? It was such a one-sided game, 33-0, that City would have gotten a better workout if it had held an intra-squad scrimmage.

But now, if the county schools had the chance to meet the Baltimore representatives, the outcome would be different, as reflected by the fact the population of the state has exploded and is more widely distributed. The coaching and facilities in the counties also equal or surpass the MSA. Yes, times have rendered overwhelming change.

Pat O'Malley, columnist of the Anne Arundel Sun, has his own perception of why an amalgamation hasn't occurred. "The MSA doesn't want it," he said. "I played in the MSA as an athlete and coached there. I also had three brothers who played football at Poly. My personal opinion is if Poly played football in Anne Arundel County it would have no better than a 6-4, 7-3 record. Unfortunately, we won't know since Maryland doesn't have a true state champion."

In 1984 Walter wrote a position paper, wryly but aptly entitled "Baltimore City Should Join Maryland." In it he quoted Ned Sparks, the top executive of the MPSSAA, as saying, "The FTC largest school system in the state doesn't belong to our organization. We're one of the few places in the country that has that situation. Maybe we can bridge the gap."

It should happen. Gov. William Donald Schaefer, when there's a free moment from the press of more important duties, should call in representatives of the MSA and the MPSSAA and explain how he wants it to work, or else he'll ask the state legislature to do it for them.

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