Steppin' out for big dance takes Howard team for spin

On High Schools

The Kickoff

May 16, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Say whatever you want for the problems that Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo may face during the course of the season, at least he doesn't have to worry about any of his players missing a game with the Red Sox to go to the big dance.

However, if the situation ever comes up, Perlozzo can put in a quick call to Howard softball coach Dave Vezzi and get a primer on how to handle the situation.

Four Lions starters missed Friday's playoff game with Glenelg to prepare for the school's prom, and Howard was forced to play the last three innings with just eight players.

"It was just pretty amazing. The whole situation was pretty wild," Vezzi said.

One of Vezzi's seniors showed in the second inning, played two innings and left in the fifth.

"She ended up being the last batter in the fourth inning, and she said, `I gotta go,' " the coach said.

Vezzi was forced to start the game with a junior varsity player who hadn't played on the varsity and got a hit that drove in two runs.

After the senior left, Howard was forced to play the rest of the game a player short, with only two outfielders. One of the outfielders was a freshman, the backup pitcher, who hadn't played another position all year.

Things got even wilder when Howard won, 7-6, to advance to yesterday's quarterfinals.

Friday's outcome, a bit of an upset, left Vezzi with aquandary: to allow the players who skipped that game to play in the next contest without punishment or to sit them out.

Though the official first day of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association softball tournament was to be Friday, schools were permitted to play on Thursday if there was the potential for a conflict, say, for instance, a prom.

The Lions, seeded eighth in the Class 2A South region, were originally scheduled to play ninth-seeded Glenelg at home Friday, but the game was moved up to Thursday because of Howard's prom.

However, the fickle fingers of Bob Turk, Tom Tasselmyer and Norm Lewis stepped in and the contest was postponed because of rain.

Here's where things get sticky: The make-up date for rainouts was scheduled for Saturday morning, but when Glenelg officials complained that playing the rainout Saturday would affect a number of players who have jobs, it was decided that the game would be played at noon Friday.

With Howard County schools closed Friday for a teacher in-service day, the change might have seemed reasonable, except Vezzi said he had been assured beforehand that the rainout date would be Saturday.

"It [the Friday prom] just creates this situation," Vezzi said. "You're either going to have a game on that day because in Howard County, you play Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or in this situation, there was a playoff game on that day. Having the prom on a Friday just creates this situation."

The serious sports types would say that this is a no-brainer on two counts. First, they'd say a noon game - even if it went to extra innings - should end in plenty of time for someone to get ready for an evening event.

Secondly, an athlete who makes a commitment to a sport has to keep that commitment no matter what. After all, male players have been known to play in games just after their wives have given birth. This is just a prom, right?

Well, anyone who would say probably has no sense of what it's like to be a teenager. Simply put, the prom is the single most important social activity on a school calendar each year. The facilities where proms are held are booked in some cases as much as a year in advance. Tuxes and limos are rented, dresses and flowers are purchased, hair appointments and dinner reservations, not to mention lasting memories, are made on and for one special night.

In the end, Vezzi decided to let things slide and let the four girls who missed Friday play in yesterday's scheduled game against Calvert, the region's top seed, whose ace pitcher, senior Megan Elliott, is a three-time Washington Post All-Metro selection. Elliott, who had allowed only five runs heading into yesterday's game, is Maryland's all-time leader in wins (80) and shutouts (70).

The cynical might say that Vezzi's decision is an easy one, given the level of the competition, but then the cynical didn't have to hear from a girl who ruined two makeup jobs from crying so much.

"A lot of people are saying to me, `You're not going to start them in the next game, are you?' I said, `Yeah, I am,' " Vezzi said. "The bottom line in this is we were going into this thinking that we weren't playing Friday regardless of anything. I can't fault the kids for not changing plans. That's why I'm not holding it against them, basically."

Of course, this is the kind of issue that could drive a wedge between the kids who played and those who didn't, except it won't because everyone knows how big the prom is, Vezzi said.

"These kids are really pretty tight. I don't think, on this team, there would be any animosity whatsoever," Vezzi said. "These kids were so excited to have won the game. I know, on some teams, you might have dissension and back-stabbing, but these kids get along very well. They want to win, so the bottom line is they would rather me have the kids out there who give us the best chance of winning than putting them first."

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