Boys' Latin-Calvert Hall shows football is more than sky boxes

Bill Tanton

October 26, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Why the preoccupation with football?

Surely there's more to the game than one might gather from the avalanche of publicity accompanying this city's efforts to get back in the National Football League.

The involved parties and media horde that have descended on Chicago for the NFL's expansion decision constitute the most publicized invasion staged by Marylanders since the 29th Division hit Normandy. And yet, we hear and read only of financial packages, guarantees, markets, logos, licensing. In short: money.

Is there a game in there somewhere? You bet there is.

Sometimes you have to search to find the essence of the game, which is what attracted us to it in the first place.

That essence -- the thing that sets football apart and gives it, more than other games, the power to stir numbers of people -- was evident in a high school game played here last weekend between Calvert Hall and Boys' Latin.

Going in, it figured to be an eminently forgettable athletic contest.

Calvert Hall is one of the perennial strong boys of Baltimore high school football, a regular contender for Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference championships.

Boys' Latin is a tiny private school that won its only gridiron championships in six-man football under coach Claxton "Okey" O'Connor decades ago. The school switched to 11-man football in 1961 and has competed in the C Conference.

Boys' Latin and Calvert Hall had never before met in football. They may never play again, either.

This game was added to the schedule only after the dissolving of the MSA this year led public schools to drop private schools. City and Poly dropped Calvert Hall; Douglass and Southwestern dropped Boys' Latin.

So there was Calvert Hall, enrollment 1,073, the No. 8 team in The Baltimore Sun's poll with a 4-1 record, going against 2-4 BL, a football nobody with 176 boys in the high school.

Boys' Latin won the game, of course. It won by a score of 3-0 on a 39-yard field goal by Scott Hochstadt in the third quarter.

Hundreds of high school games are played every week, but this one was different. This one serves as an inspiration to every underdog, as well as exalting 150-year-old Boys' Latin School.

"This was huge to us," the school's headmaster, former Johns Hopkins and St. Paul's star athlete Ham Bishop, was saying in his office yesterday. "Our school is small, but we have a lot of spirit. A win like this brings the whole school together like nothing else.

"Still, we had people around here who thought our athletic director [Hugh Gelston] was crazy for scheduling Gilman and Calvert Hall in football. We made a good showing against Gilman [13-0 loss], and we shocked everybody by upsetting Calvert Hall."

Gelston said: "This was probably the biggest upset we've ever pulled. When we beat Mount St. Joe in wrestling in 1985, we thought that was the biggest. But both schools were in the A Conference. This was more of a surprise."

To appreciate the enormity of the upset, you probably had to see the Calvert Hall and BL squads on the field. Calvert Hall suited up 40 players. Boys' Latin dressed 21 but relied on 15. Boys' Latin sometimes has as few as 15 players at practice.

BL's No. 1 quarterback, Brian Shure, broke his leg in the second game of the year. To replace him, Michael Huddles had to learn the position overnight.

The school's star running back, Michael Cangemi, weighs 147 pounds. One of the guards blocking for him, Lev Galitzin, weighs 145 -- and was cut-blocking a 270-pound Calvert Hall tackle.

The motivator who inspired the upset was Drew Haugh (pronounced Haw), a middle school science teacher who graduated from Boys' Latin in 1977. Haugh has been teaching and coaching at his alma mater for nine years.

"It was easy to get up for this game, we were such an underdog," said Haugh. "We had everything to gain and nothing to lose. The pressure was on Calvert Hall.

"I was honest with our kids. I told them that if we played Calvert Hall 100 times, they'd probably beat us 99 times. But why should our one win have to come the 100th time -- or the 50th? Why couldn't it come the first time? And that's what happened.

"We had a lot of breaks, I have to admit that. But as the game wore on, our emotions rose. Our kids were putting licks on them. It was kind of amazing."

No championships were settled or even affected by Boys' Latin's win. The schools aren't even in the same conference. Calvert Hall is still in the running for the A Conference title. Boys' Latin remains in second place in the B Conference with a 2-1 league record.

It goes beyond all that.

It goes to the psyches of the boys who played the game, Calvert Hall's as well as Boys' Latin's.

"As a coach," said Haugh, "you tell kids they can overcome great odds if they give it their best. But the kids don't really believe it until it happens. Now they believe."

That's the kind of thing football is good for. That -- learning to believe -- is the kind of thing that stays with a young person for a lifetime.

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