Tougher tests early will help area football teams stay late

On High Schools

Commentary

December 06, 2005|By MILTON KENT

Take a look at the lineup for the four state football championship games for this weekend and you'll see a variety of styles, from quickness to raw power, and locales, from the mountains to the seashore.

What you won't see is the name of any school within 25 miles of the Ravens' stadium, where the games will take place.

To be sure, Westminster (in the 3A final against Gwynn Park) and South Carroll (which faces Potomac in the 2A title game) will represent Carroll County well. The second-ranked Owls are making their first championship game appearance in 29 years, and South Carroll comes to the finals for the first time in school history and off a 3-7 season last year.

But for the counties that envelop the Beltway (Anne Arundel and Baltimore) and are at either end of the I-95 corridor (Howard and Harford), not to mention city schools, Friday night and Saturday will be quiet days for reflection and study.

One by one, area schools fell by the wayside as the tournament progressed and the competition got better. In some cases, those losses came against each other, as with City falling to Westminster in last weekend's state semifinals, but, in most cases, those setbacks came against teams from around the state.

And some of those losses came in spectacular fashion. No. 12 Old Mill was trounced, 48-13, by Washington-area powerhouse Damascus in one 4A semifinal. Sherwood, The Washington Post 's No. 7 team, smoked Parkville, 45-0, in one 4A playoff, then came to Perry Hall, the No. 13 team in Baltimore, and edged them, 42-0.

In case you're counting, that's Sherwood 87, Parkville and Perry Hall 0. Thanks for playing, Baltimore County, and please pick up your parting gift on the way out.

Though it's certainly true that area schools have had their successes at the state level, those victories have come at the 1A and 2A levels, where Hereford, Joppatowne, Aberdeen and Dunbar have four of the eight trophies awarded in those classes over the past four years.

In the 3A and 4A divisions, which hold the state's biggest public schools, Baltimore-area teams have been off the victory stands. Wilde Lake's 7-0 win in 1997 is the last time an area team won a 3A crown.

The 4A title has been as elusive for Baltimore teams as a Terrell Owens infomercial on tact and diplomacy. It's been 11 years, going all the way back to coach Chuck Markiewicz's North County team, since a Baltimore-area school won a state title in the 4A division.

In fairness, the West and South divisions at the 4A level are dominated by Montgomery and Prince George's County schools, reflecting their status as the two most populous jurisdictions in the state. While Anne Arundel schools make up all but two of the 10 teams in the 4A East region, there are only two city schools, Patterson and Southwestern, in 4A. C. Milton Wright is the lone Harford 4A school, and there are five Baltimore County schools in 4A, but other than Perry Hall and Parkville, which went a combined 19-1, the other three schools - Woodlawn, Kenwood and Dulaney - were a combined 11-19.

Teams from Prince George's and Montgomery have tended, in recent years, to be bigger and faster than the big schools in this area, and their advantages of strength and speed tend to manifest themselves in the state tournament.

And population shifts and redistricting have changed the dynamics in areas that once were powerful. For instance, Randallstown, which won the 4A title in 1990, and its predecessor, the Class AA championship in 1984, is now a 2A school, as new schools, namely New Town, have opened and drained it of some potential talent.

Of course, there is the million-pound elephant sitting in the room that everyone knows about, but no one talks about, specifically private schools. Three of the top four ranked teams in the most recent poll - No. 1 Gilman, No. 3 McDonogh and No. 4 Loyola - are all private schools. Think the talent on those rosters would be big additions to their public schools, if those players were going there? Probably.

Sports are cyclical, so things may change, say, in the next reclassification after next year. In the meantime, though, area schools could help themselves appreciably by scheduling tougher nonleague games, especially against Washington-area schools, so as to get a better handle of what they'll face in playoff competition down the road.

There's solid precedence for that kind of thinking. After the 1988 Olympic men's basketball tournament, when a team of United States collegiate players won the bronze medal, FIBA, the international basketball governing body, began to push for NBA players to play in the Olympics.

The immediate rationale was to raise the profile of the competition, and the 1992 "Dream Team" certainly did that. But FIBA officials also knew the rest of the world would gradually improve and would have an idea where their games would have to get to beat American professionals.

The result: A team of NBA players could only win a bronze medal at the 2004 Games. Local football teams may have to take a few September lumps to eventually hold trophies aloft in December.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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