17 seniors, everyone's trust take biggest hit at Douglass

High schools

December 11, 2005|By MILTON KENT

No matter how the Douglass football flap turns out, no matter whether the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association restores the school's season, there are 17 young men who deserve an apology.

Those 17 are the Douglass seniors who sweated and toiled for 3 1/2 months, believing that if they worked hard enough and applied themselves in the right way, that good things would come of it.

And, as far as they knew, good things did flow from their labors. The Ducks posted a 9-1 season, won the city's Division II championship and earned the school's first berth in the state football tournament since the city joined the MPSSAA in 1992.

Instead, on the verge of a playoff game - indeed after the final game of the regular season - Douglass' year crashed down like a house of cards, blown in by an allegation that it used an ineligible player all season.

Just like that, the hopes, dreams and achievements of 33 kids were snuffed out. An MPSSAA appeals committee may rule that the player should not have been deemed ineligible, as school officials maintain, and that the Ducks' wins should be returned.

At this point, such a ruling won't mean much to the players, particularly to the 17 seniors who will never wear their schools' colors again on the football field or get another chance to play for a state title.

As Douglass' star quarterback, Antione Smithson, told The Sun last week, the forfeits had a profound effect on the school.

"While the football season was going on, there was a lot of school spirit," Smithson said. "People talked about the good job we were doing, the band would play every Friday. Everyone looked forward to going to the games. Then the forfeits happened, and, just like that, football was taken away from us. And the mood at Douglass went straight down."

How could it not? In case you hadn't noticed, things are different at city schools than at other schools around the area. The disappointments that many city kids encounter at home and at school make it hard for some of them to trust, and once they give their trust, it has to be constantly reaffirmed.

Clearly, people in positions of authority let those Douglass players down. Two of them are in their building, principal Isabelle Grant and athletic director Mary Hughee, who apparently waited the entire weekend to act after being formally notified at 1 p.m. on the Friday of the final game that a forfeit was coming.

Grant and Hughee met with the team and parents on the following Monday at 4 p.m., vowing to do all they could to get the team's season back and to get the players into the state tournament. But their meeting came four hours after the deadline for changes in the tournament lineup could be made, under MPSSAA rules.

"By then, the tournament is set and we're moving on," said Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA's executive director.

Sparks said he didn't hear from Grant until late the next day, Tuesday, and she asked for an emergency hearing for Wednesday.

Even if Sparks could have arranged for the 10 members of the appeals panel to convene from all over the state, there was no way that Douglass was going to get into the field at that point, two days before the first playoff game. By then, arrangements had been made for the opening round and teams had begun to game-plan for their opposition.

Besides, if Douglass' forfeiture had been overturned, as many as eight other schools in three classes would have been affected, from Baltimore City all the way to Garrett County.

The bigger fault, though, lies with whoever turned Douglass in. If the player was ineligible, then clearly the person or persons at fault should be sanctioned. That does not include Douglass coach Joe Holland, who asked Grant and Hughee about the player's status three days before the forfeiture, only to be told that he was eligible.

But there is an adult out there who, for reasons known only to himself or herself, waited until after Douglass had beaten Carver to clinch the division championship, with just one game left in the season, to reveal the information, data that the person likely had been holding onto for perhaps the entire season.

Sparks called that aspect of the case "very troubling."

"Why would you do that?" Sparks said. "Why would you maliciously let somebody continue to do that and then, at the last minute, take them out of it?"

Sparks said he would be willing to take action against someone (and his school) who knowingly waited to "drop a dime" at the last minute on someone else, using the "conduct detrimental to the tournament" clause in MPSSAA rules that is used to discipline bad behavior.

"Generally, it's probably another school," Sparks said. "To me, does that come under `conduct detrimental to the tournament?' Yeah."

The problem with that, as Sparks acknowledges, is that we will never likely know who laid waste to the end of the careers of 17 kids who wanted nothing more than the chance to play.

That person got some perverse satisfaction.

All the Douglass kids got was pain.

Seems like an even exchange, right?


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