Fall in basketball attendance puzzling Tonight at Meade is last chance to reverse trend

SIDELINES

March 05, 1993|By PAT O'MALLEY

Nobody seems to know the answer, so I'm still searching and hoping one of you folks might give me a call on the 24-Hour SPORTSLINE (410) 647-2499 and help me out.

I've been asking coaches, players, fans, parents, custodians -- everybody -- but nobody seems to know why attendance has been down this season at local high school basketball games.

Could it be that tonight's Annapolis (17-6) at Meade (19-4) 7 p.m. showdown for the Class 4A, Region IV championship is the game everyone has been waiting for?

Or could it be with Annapolis having a down year (17-6 is great year for most, but mediocre for the Panthers, who have never been worse than 17-7 under John Brady for the past 16 years) that the fans are turned off by not having the Panthers to knock off the pedestal?

Are the fans disinterested because the Panthers, who have won the region title 11 of the past 15 years, had been all but left for dead back in January after losing three in a row for the first time since January 1982?

It can't be for lack of excitement and competition, especially in Class 4A, Region IV, where the best county basketball is played. Arundel (15-8) just finished its first winning season since 1979 and Glen Burnie (16-7) was a force all season in putting up its best effort since 1983.

Both of those teams defeated perennial champion Annapolis for the first time in quite awhile, and with Old Mill having been the surprise Region IV champion last year, one had to figure they would pack them in come playoff time.

As I covered intriguing matchups around the county this season, I was surprised by the lack of capacity crowds. I kept thinking that the fans would turn out for the playoffs, but even that hasn't happened.

"This is the first year I never had to sell tickets in advance to a game," said Annapolis' Brady.

Over the last few years, sellouts for Annapolis-Broadneck and Annapolis-Meade matchups were virtually guaranteed. Athletic directors from the schools would call and ask the media to announce that "no tickets will be sold at the door and should be purchased at the respective schools during school hours."

There has been no need for that this season. Fans have been able to walk up any time and buy a ticket.

"I don't know, what it is," said Annapolis athletic director Fred Stauffer.

Brady pointed out that he had to return advance tickets to arch-rival Broadneck for their January meeting. Neither game between the Panthers and Bruins was a sellout this season, nor were the two Annapolis-Meade games.

When Annapolis visited Meade on Feb. 5, it on the verge of losing its fourth straight game for the first time ever under Brady. The Panthers were going against a Mustangs team that was 13-1 at the time. A packed house seemed a lock.

For sure, many would be out to see the county's Most Wanted Team go down. There had been state-championship-like celebrations at South River and at Annapolis when Class 2A Southern knocked off the Panthers for the first time since December 1983.

When I arrived at Meade that night, I expected a zoo, but instead got a rare site: empty seats with Annapolis in town at the Fort.

Those bleachers under the baskets were not pulled down until halftime to accommodate late-comers, but even then there was still room. I can't remember ever watching an Annapolis at Meade game without a standing-room-only crowd.

Make it ditto for Annapolis at Broadneck or the Bruins at Annapolis. It is a toss-up which is the bigger rivalry for Annapolis, Broadneck or Meade, but you wouldn't know it by the crowds this season.

Always the analyst, I started trying to figure this thing out, and in order to be politically correct, decided it was the economy and that the basketball fans were saving their three bucks to help pay off the deficit.

I was convinced that, come playoff time, the true, hard-core fans would be out.

Well, Monday night I traveled to Gambrills to see Arundel host Broadneck in the first game of the playoffs and expected to see a good crowd. After all, here were the Wildcats with their first legitimate shot at winning the region since 1971.

Jilted again. John Madden could have brought his Madden Cruiser and found space in that gym Monday night.

Here was the best Arundel team in more than 20 years, and just as has been the case most of the season, nobody was there. What does coach Gerald Moore have to do to draw Wildcats fans?

There was, however, a great crowd at Glen Burnie, where Old Mill came calling the same night. The sixth-seeded Patriots upset the No. 3 Gophers, 60-55, so things were looking up for Old Mill at Annapolis on Wednesday.

Old Mill was defending region champion and had knocked off then-top-seeded Annapolis in the same semifinal situation a year ago. Rematch, revenge, guaranteed sellout, right?

Wrong. Letdown again, sit anywhere you want.

But tonight, this is the one because it's the traditional final the real fans have become accustomed to -- Annapolis and Meade. Annapolis has won both regular-season games between the two by 67-62 and 84-83 in overtime and the question is, can the Panthers beat such an excellent team a third time?

Got to be a sellout.

Come on fans, you've got to restore my confidence in county boys basketball. Show up big time tonight, so I won't even consider thinking that maybe you've lost interest and have found something else to do.

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