Football rivalry tells a bigger story Oakland Mills' loss to Wilde Lake underlies tale of neighborhood troubles.

September 23, 1997

THE FIRST HIGH SCHOOL in Columbia, Wilde Lake, opened in 1971. Two years later there was Oakland Mills High and a storied rivalry, in both academics and athletics, began. That rivalry may be threatened by demographic changes within Columbia that could have had something to do with the 35-0 whipping that Wilde Lake gave Oakland Mills earlier this month.

After the game, Oakland Mills Coach Ken Hovet complained, "We're a [Class] 1A school with 800 kids and they're a 3A school with 1,500 kids. That's ridiculous." (Actually Wilde Lake has 1,425 students and Oakland Mills 913; only Glenelg is smaller, with 871.)

Wilde Lake Coach Doug Duvall certainly took note of his larger talent pool, telling his team that if it didn't beat the Scorpions by at least 35 points, he would consider it a loss. Taking the challenge to heart, the Wildecats went for two points, not one, after a fifth touchdown.

Of course, Wilde Lake alumni well remember when their school was the smallest in Howard County and still beat bigger schools, including Oakland Mills. But the difference in the sizes of the two schools was never as great as now.

Wilde Lake High, rebuilt last year, benefited from redistricting three years ago that increased its population. Meanwhile, Oakland Mills' drop this year from class 2A to 1A reflects weaknesses in the surrounding neighborhood.

Both schools are in the older villages of Columbia, which are not attracting residents as well as newer addresses in River Hill. But the woes of Oakland Mills seem to be particularly acute. The village center lost the Giant grocery that anchored it, and no one knows what will replace the store. McDonald's, which has taken over other former Roy Rogers restaurants in Columbia, decided it didn't want the one in Oakland Mills, leaving it vacant.

Redrawing school district lines could restore some of the parity, but that's an emotional issue that the county school board is reluctant to tackle. Remember all the drama over who would go where when Long Reach and River Hill high schools were being planned?

Redistricting, however, would not improve the viability of either the Oakland Mills or Wilde Lake villages. The community must build upon the strengths of these older neighborhoods to make them more attractive.

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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