School board needs a voice for academics and athletics

PLAYING AROUND

Howard At Play

October 21, 2001|By LOWELL E. SUNDERLAND

SCHOOL BOARD member Laura Waters' surprise resignation last week gives County Executive James N. Robey a golden chance to improve dialogue between school officials and the many thousands who operate and participate in athletics here.

Let's be precise: You'll hear no argument from this corner that academics shouldn't be the priority. Readin', writin' and 'rithmetic take precedence over runnin', catchin' and kickin'.

But, Mr. Robey, this county sorely needs a visible policy-maker (1) who also comprehends that every youth sports group has no option but to rely on school system fields and gyms, (2) who grasps that present practices kiss off that reliance and those facilities, and (3) who can address issues involving physical education - in and post-school - in ways that complement academics.

You did well in recently adding such a voice to the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, Mr. Robey. The school board and community will benefit, probably better, if you can find one more appointee who understands that the very best public education includes bodies, as well as minds.

Football for big guys

Football comes with one weighty reality: big guys usually rule. In youth football, however, really big boys commonly have trouble learning nuances of that rule. In fact, many can't even compete before high school.

But what if an eighth-grader's hormones kick in early so that he's 6-feet 4-inches tall, weighs more than 300 pounds, and wants to play football? Or something less extreme than that, say, 160 or 170 pounds?

Too bad in many places, including Howard County before this fall. That's because standards of the national Pop Warner organization, named for the legendary football coach of the early 1900s, exclude players who exceed combined age and weight limitations. Pop Warner mandates cover, the organization claims, 350,000 players in 42 states and several countries.

You can't fault the logic - safety first. After all, no one benefits when 110-pound 12-year-olds are bashed around by tacklers or blockers the same age but weighing twice as much and standing a head taller.

But big guys are more a fact of life than ever. And for the first time locally this fall, they had an option if they wanted to try football before high school: Join the Howard County Bruins.

The club is new, formed through the quest of a Baltimore Ravens coach seeking a team for his big-guy son and directed by Ellicott City resident Randy Hall, an aerospace project manager who has gained insight into what is called "unlimited" youth football in a coaching career that dates to 1971. Before this fall, he had coached a Glen Burnie team in the 6-year-old Mid-Atlantic Unlimited Youth Football Association.

The Bruins are a 28-player team. But Hall - noting a late start and little publicity for the team - is certain he can find enough players to warrant at least two squads next fall from Howard County. His players are 14 and under, but 140 pounds and up.

"They're out there," said Hall. "We just need to find them."

Hall, who is helped by son Adam Hall, a former Centennial High player, and several parents, added that he's hoping for some help from local high school coaches in finding players.

"We played a team a couple weeks ago from Northern Virginia that had an eighth-grader who was 6-4 and weighed 319 pounds," Hall said, though less in awe than you might suspect. After all, he said, most of the league's eight teams have a couple of "growing boys" already in the vicinity of 300 pounds.

This year's Bruins, who play at Long Reach High School, are 2-4 with games scheduled until Thanksgiving. Most opposing players, he said, have played together longer than the Bruins have.

The Bruins' link with the Super Bowl champion Ravens is running backs coach Matt Simon, an Ellicott City resident who started the team while seeking a local squad for his 12-year-old son. He helped with uniforms and had several Ravens to visit league teams.

He said he found his way to forming the team - and to Hall as coach - through Bill Casagrande, a Baltimore countian who started the Mid-Atlantic league.

Many big kids have trouble adjusting to their bodies, said Simon, "so it's really important for them to be able to play. It gives them a chance to gain confidence. If they don't start, they can sit on the couch and never develop skills."

If you want to know more, check out this Web site: www.muyfoot ball.org.

Tournament soccer

Today's the wrap-up for the Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County's next-to-last tournament of 2001, the 13th annual Recreational Tournament. About 80 rec-level teams from Carroll, Howard and Queen Anne's counties, as well as a couple of squads from elsewhere, are competing.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525 or address e-mail to lowell.sunder land@baltsun.com.

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