The prospect of having a true high school state champion again has surfaced.
The idea of city public schools joining the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association is not new. But it emerged from limbo last week when Patterson athletic director Roger Wrenn wrote to every city athletic director, requesting that they consult with their principals and decide if they will join Patterson in "exploring the possibility of joining the MPSSAA."
The possibilities are interesting. Imagine Poly meeting a school like Springbrook of Montgomery County for the state Class 4A football championship.
"For years," said Wrenn, who is supported by Patterson principal Frank Thomas, "I was under the impression that an individual school could not join the state association. I always thought the entire city school system would have to join as a group."
That's not the case, said Ned Sparks, executive secretary of the MPSSAA. In a letter to Arundel High athletic director Bernie Walter, Sparks wrote: "While it is certainly more desirable for an entire school system to become members, it is not a necessity."
The deadline for making application to the MPSSAA is May 1. Sparks said no new applications have been received by his office. Wrenn said he had no intentions of trying to rush to meet next Wednesday's deadline. "I am very interested in joining the state association, but I am not saying that Patterson would decide to join as an individual school," said Wrenn.
The MPSSAA is ready, however. "If a school or group of schools applies to join by May 1 of next year, they would be included in our activities by the following September," said Sparks. "It is too hypothetical to say now how we would bring them in, as a separate district or accommodate them within our present regional format, but we would accommodate them."
Oscar T. Jobe, principal of Lake Clifton/Eastern, has served as chairman of the principals' committee studying a possible move to the MPSSAA. The principals met with Sparks last spring to discuss the issue. Jobe indicated that if any move were to be made, it likely would not happen this year.
"I have not seen the letter from Patterson yet," said Jobe. "I suppose it will bring the matter to the front again for consideration."
In past discussions between the principals' committee and the MPSSAA, a bylaw of the MPSSAA constitution dealing with travel restrictions -- limiting teams to 600 miles round trip for one event -- has been a major obstacle for some city schools.
"Travel restriction has been a problem for some schools, but I would think that if a majority of the city schools wanted to join the MPSSAA, Lake Clifton/Eastern probably would go with the majority," said Jobe.
City schools such as Dunbar, Lake Clifton and Southern have participated in basketball tournaments as far away as Las Vegas, Sacramento, Calif., and Hawaii.
"Under our present bylaws, trips of that distance would not be permitted," said Sparks. "But, let me add, there are procedures to change the bylaws."
Some city school athletic directors are concerned about the effect a move to the MPSSAA will have on the MSA.
"I am skeptical, since I was involved in previous meetings on this matter," said Mark Schlenoff, athletic director at Poly and first vice president of the MSA. "I don't want to jeopardize our position in the MSA, but I am curious enough that I will respond affirmatively to Patterson's request, that Poly is willing to explore the possibility of joining the state association."
"This is not really an either-or situation," said Wrenn. "This is not about leaving the MSA to join the MPSSAA. We can still compete with MSA schools. It's great for the boys program and will give the girls program so much more."
Wrenn said his main purpose in sparking movement toward the MPSSAA is the plight of girls athletics in the city.
The federal government has begun an investigation into alleged discrimination against the girls sports program in Baltimore high schools. The probe, conducted by the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, was triggered by a complaint filed by a Baltimore student last fall. A series in The Evening Sun last year described the shortcomings in the girls sports program.
"Joining the state would provide an organized structure for women's athletics and give our girls teams someone other than themselves to compete against," Wrenn said.
Obie Barnes, athletic director at Forest Park, favors joining the MPSSAA.
"It is my understanding that we could join the state and remain in the MSA," said Barnes. "If that's true, I see no threat to the MSA. I don't want to leave the MSA. It's a good organization . . . but I would love the opportunity to have my football team play for a state championship.
"I think the city schools would do very well in football, basketball and baseball. The disadvantage comes in wrestling, swimming and lacrosse. We may not do so well in those sports, but you see those same kinds of results in the MSA, too."
If the city public schools, individually or collectively, seek to apply to join the MPSSAA, they first would need written permission from the city superintendent of schools.