Maryland's public schools will be barred from competition against most Baltimore-area private schools beyond this winter if their governing bodies do not sign off on the state association's standards of competition.
Ned Sparks, executive secretary of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said he no longer will sanction contests against non-public schools unless they adhere to the standards, which were approved July 19 by the Maryland State Board of Education.
The standards include a 13-to-19 age limit and a four-year eligibility clause among its 17 guidelines. "If they don't sign, we can't play them," said Sparks, who will honor games scheduled before July 19 but not into the spring.
"They'll have to make some changes in [their eligibility] rules, but we're not holding them to the same standards as public schools - no Sunday competition or limiting the starting dates of their practices."
However, Rick Diggs, executive director of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association governing boys sports in Baltimore, said "some eligibility points would require changes in league bylaws."
"By policy, those changes can't happen until May after a discussion and vote by the league principals in their business meeting," said Diggs, who left a Wednesday night meeting of league athletic directors "feeling there's a 50-50 chance we won't be playing public schools" in the spring.
Diggs said the decision whether to accept the standards will be "up to the league's principals" in a Sept. 14 "emergency meeting" at McDonogh involving those from the MIAA and the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, which regulates girls sports for Baltimore's private schools.
"It's probably not the wish of either organization to discontinue their long-standing associations," Diggs said. "That could be the way it is in this state."
The standards were a proposal submitted June 24 to the U.S. District Court of Baltimore in an effort to settle a $7.7 million lawsuit by Progressive Christian Academy wrestling coach and attorney Carlos Sandoval. Sandoval's March 22 suit alleged the MPSSAA discriminated against his program during a January tournament by prohibiting public school teams from competing against his non-high school or home-schooled athletes.
"Before this, we would play the private schools and not the home-schooled teams, but the judge made it clear that we had to treat everyone equally," Sparks said. "The standards offer a minimal threshold of educational athletics that apply to everybody."
In a May meeting with Sparks, draft copies of the standards were shown to representatives of the four major private school athletic organizations, including Diggs, then-IAAM executive director Maureen Sanborn, Bob Hardage of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and Georgetown Prep athletic director Dan Paro, acting on behalf of the Interstate Athletic Conference.
Paro, whose IAC is made up of six private schools in Maryland, Washington and Virginia, said, "I can't speak for the league, but part of me says maybe we should get all of the private schools in Maryland together and form our own state association. You don't just jump into something like this immediately, because you can wake up one day and you're like, `We didn't think about that one.'"
Hardage said the WCAC, composed of 12 schools from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, is likely to sign off on the standards at a Sept. 21 meeting of its principals and athletic directors, saying, "From what I've seen, we meet all of the criteria."