There was good news and very bad news for the football teams at Patterson and Northern high schools yesterday.
The good news was that the Maryland Scholastic Association executive committee met yesterday and agreed to accept Northern's Oct. 28 appeal to rescind the automatic losses given to Northern and Patterson by the B Conference football committee for the game they could not play this season.
The bad news was apparently unexpected: The rescindment means that neither team will be eligible for the MSA B Conference football title. The MSA constitution says a team must play its entire schedule to be eligible for a championship.
The schools had been under the impression that even if they accepted the forfeit, it would count as a game played, thus keeping them eligible for the title. But yesterday, MSA secretary Hy Zolet, a member of the executive committee, said that assumption had been wrong because a forfeit does not, in fact, )) count as a game.
The city's office of interscholastic athletics decided last year that Patterson and Northern would not be allowed to play this season because a brawl broke out during the ceremonial handshake after last year's game. Game officials had ended the contest with 1 minute, 50 seconds to play because of an increasing number of personal fouls.
Heading into this weekend's games and counting the automatic loss, Northern and Patterson would have remained in the title race. Northern (5-1 league) was second, trailing only Edmondson (6-1). Patterson (5-2) was third.
"Obviously that [being ineligible for the title] is not what we wanted," said Northern coach Ike Hemphill. "We were hoping they could work out something other than a forfeit to remedy this situation. We wanted to know why it couldn't be a tie. We felt like we were being punished beyond the sanctions."
Hemphill said his players were stunned when they were told of yesterday's decision at practice.
"Today was a real blow," he said. "At the present time, I'm trying to deal with their perspective, let's go ahead and finish the season unbeaten [in the league] and deal with the politics later. Normally I can read those kids pretty well, but today when we left practice I didn't know where their heads were. This was truly a blow."
Although Patterson had just an outside chance at winning the title, the Clippers were also taken aback by the news.
"Sure, they are disappointed," said Patterson coach Roger Wrenn. "They had been looking at that outside chance. I just hope this big dark cloud that has followed us for a year will have a silver lining. Maybe our players realize the importance of sportsmanship."
Going into the season, Patterson's and Northern's championship eligibility was unclear because both teams would play one game fewer than each of their seven league competitors.
Athletic directors from the MSA B Conference schools met Oct. 16 and reached the compromise to give each team a forfeit loss and make them eligible for the title, rather than invoke the MSA rule that prohibits a team from being eligible for a championship without playing its entire schedule.
Zolet said, however, that that same MSA rule, correctly interpreted, makes both teams ineligible with or without the forfeit.
He said the athletics directors reached the compromise immediately after an MSA meeting at which no members of the executive committee were present.
"At the [executive] meeting [yesterday], it was brought up that it could have been brought up after one team won the championship that they were ineligible because they didn't complete the schedule even with the forfeit," Zolet said. "We didn't want to set a precedent. The football committee's decision was overturned."
Wrenn said he had been satisfied with the MSA's original decision but would also accept the latest decision.
"We did not appeal because we thought the first decision we came to to give both teams a loss was the best solution available," he said. "Edmondson has a tougher schedule because they had to play Patterson and Northern, but Patterson and Northern had it a little easier because they did not have to play each other."
Meanwhile, Edmondson and Northwestern (4-2 league) benefit from yesterday's decision.
If Northwestern loses to Patterson tomorrow, Edmondson would win the title outright. If Northwestern beats Patterson and beats Northern next week and Edmondson loses its last game to Southern next week, Northwestern would get a share of the title. Edmondson is idle this week.