Here's a trivia question to start off your New Year: When is a forfeit not a forfeit?
Answer: When there are 8 inches of snow on the ground.
Last Thursday, North Harford's girls basketball team thought it had forfeited to Southern in the Holly Division championship of the Holly-N-Hoops Tournament. Instead, tournament officials had a change ofheart after some unusual circumstances surrounded the final night ofcompetition at the fifth annual tournament at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus, near Catonsville.
The actual snowfall was just the final link in a chain of events that left everybody involved with the tournament confused and some coaches, players and parents very upset.
After I spent three hours skating around the Beltway in my car Thursday night, I was pretty confused and a little upset myself about the forfeit. But after trying to find someone to rakeover the coals, I discovered that nobody is really to blame.
LastThursday's troubles all started with a forecast for snow that prompted Harford County school administrators to decide, early in the day, not to take any chances and cancel the Hawks' bus ride to UMBC. Because there wasn't any snow falling when North Harford coach Lin James called to explain her predicament, tournament officials said they had no choice but to call it a forfeit.
"We had (North Harford) telling us at 11 a.m. they couldn't play a 7 p.m. game," said Brenda Gelston, commissioner for the Baltimore Board of Officials for Women's Sports which sponsors the tournament.
"We can't change the game at that point because it's not snowing. It has to be a forfeit, because theother team (Southern, of Anne Arundel County) can still get here."
John Bator, executive director of secondary education for Harford County Schools, said the decision to cancel the bus that early was based on a changing forecast for heavier snow.
"We didn't feel it was worth the risk of one life or one broken back," said Bator. "We thought it would be irresponsible to allow people to go given that the forecast had changed from 3 to 5 inches, to 5 to 7.
"If the game is not being played until 7, they wouldn't even leave down there until9 and then they have to get back to school and then home."
When the snow arrived, dropping up to 8 inches near UMBC, it also upset the championship in the Hoops Division between Seton Keough and SevernaPark. Severna Park never made it to UMBC, and tournament officials decided they would have to forfeit too.
But that decision was also changed. Neither North Harford nor Severna Park ended up with forfeits on their records.
After deciding that the snow would not have allowed either of those two teams to reach UMBC, Gelston said there would be no champions. The games were simply canceled.
Because the board had only reserved the UMBC field house for two days, Gelston could not reschedule the games separately.
"We've never had a snow contingency plan before and we've never gotten caught," said Gelston. "We talked about setting something up, but we would have had to ask people to commit themselves to three holiday dates."
Lots of blame has been cast on the Baltimore Board of Officials and the county school officials. Gelston said an angry North Harford parent even called her to complain.
But it's hard to point a finger at either group.
Tournament officials donate their time -- some work up to 12 hours a day during the two-day event. Nobody -- not even the officials on the floor --gets paid. Admission dollars and hot dog, soda and programsales pay the four-figure rental fee for the UMBC fieldhouse. With athird day's rental fee to cover the possibility of bad weather, theymight lose more money than they did this year with the snow.
As for county school officials, who can blame them for not wanting busloads of teen-agers skidding around on icy streets? Calling off the buses looked ridiculous at 11 a.m., but, by 7 p.m., even James conceded that Bator made the right decision.
One of James' biggest concerns was that the Hawks would not be invited back to the Holly-N-Hoops Tournament, but Gelston said they would. Let's just hope it doesn't snownext year. But if it does, let's keep in mind that the players aren't the only ones with something to lose.