Douglass deserves more than seat on side

On High Schools

November 15, 2005|By MILTON KENT

A group of Douglass football players staged an impromptu session of catch yesterday on the gym floor, hoping, probably against hope, that it's not the last football they get to play this year.

The Ducks have had a spectacular regular season, 9-1 to be precise, and, until last Friday, thought they would be opening up the state playoffs this weekend at home.

That is, until they discovered over the weekend that they had been forced to forfeit all of their games, allegedly for using an academically ineligible player, thus wiping out the city's Division II championship and the school's first playoff berth since Baltimore City schools joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association in 1993.

This would be a remarkably sad story if it ended there, but school officials say that it doesn't, that the student in question is not ineligible and that the team should be permitted to play.

At least that's what we think school officials would say, if they would talk for the record. Douglass principal Isabelle Grant ordered reporters out of a meeting with the team and parents yesterday afternoon, and directed coach Joe Holland and athletic director Mary Hughee not to speak to the media.

Fair enough, but before reporters were asked to leave the late-afternoon meeting, Holland said that no one at the school had been told what the infraction was.

Hughee was even more defiant, saying she would demand "an immediate meeting," presumably with MPSSAA officials, holding out the possibility of legal involvement or an intercession from Congress.

"The fight is on," Hughee said. "Something is going to be done."

Before the cone of silence dropped over the school, Holland told Sun reporter Lem Satterfield over the weekend that he was told by both Grant and Hughee hours before the Ducks drubbed Southwestern in the regular-season finale that the student in question was eligible. That came three days after he had first heard of a possible problem.

If Grant and Hughee gave Holland the correct information, then who told city school officials something different? Did they sit on that information until the last possible minute to hurt Douglass?

And perhaps most significant, unless someone could produce incontrovertible proof to the contrary, shouldn't the word of a principal and an athletic director have been enough to get Douglass in?

There are a number of sad truths in this; the first is that, fiery bluster and straw grasping aside, it will be next to impossible to get the Ducks into the tournament at this point. The window for reseeding the football tournament came and went at noon yesterday, meaning that the Ducks, assuming that they could get in through some extraordinary force, would have two days, three at the most, to push aside all the tumult and practice for a game on Friday or Saturday.

And this isn't just about Douglass now. To bring the Ducks into the Class 2A North tournament would not only affect Eastern Tech, the school that was brought in when Douglass forfeited, but also knock Overlea, now the second seed in the region, down to a third seed, and push third-seeded Loch Raven to a fourth seed and a game against Milford Mill, forcing all three schools to prepare for new opponents three days before the game.

The larger, sadder truth is that a group of 33 kids, kids who more than most needed the system to give them something positive, have instead been dropped on their heads for no specific reason.

Undoubtedly, many of the Douglass players have taken pride in their school, and for that matter, are even in school because the football program has given them a level of ownership over some aspect of their lives.

The Ducks played by the rules, succeeded for the first time in years, and now, because either someone mistakenly hurt them, or even worse, maliciously hurt them, they've lost reasons to trust and believe, the most important thing kids learn in school.

In a letter to The Sun, Holland wrote, "This whole situation stands to undo the incredible transformation of 33 young men and the multitudes that bear witness. Someone should be held accountable."

Anyone want to raise their hands for that duty?

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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