Cardinal Gibbons track program going out on top

Crusaders have won 27 straight dual meets

May 14, 2010|By Justin Cherot, The Baltimore Sun

A leaning pile of empty pizza boxes sat on one desk. Uneaten cake remained on another. Most of the Cardinal Gibbons track and field team had left the party last week celebrating their wins in both the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference dual meet and team championships, but those who remained laughed and shared the latest prom gossip while also planning ahead for the MIAA Conference Championship meet, which concludes Saturday at Calvert Hall.

Crusaders coach Zach Zentz, 24, began to clean up the remains of the party. A successful but emotionally trying season was coming to a close, and as Zentz watched members of his team enjoy the party, it seemed as if he was still trying to make sense of it all.

"They keep me laughing," Zentz, who graduated from Gibbons in 2004 and has been the track coach since 2007, said with a smile. "Even if they irritate me, they'll do something and they'll make me laugh. They're always joking around."

He paused, momentarily glancing out the open window of the sweltering Gibbons classroom. "It's like one big family that I'm going to be losing when it's done …"

After the team concludes its season Saturday, it will be done. As good as this team has been — the Crusaders have won seven B Conference titles this decade and 27 consecutive dual meets — there will be no opportunity to defend their recent championships next year.

That's because, on March 3, after 38 years of existence, the Archdiocese of Baltimore decided to close the school — and 12 others throughout the city — for good, citing low enrollment numbers and a need for consolidation.

Many parents and alumni have criticized the decision. They've done everything from holding rallies to littering the Archdiocese of Baltimore's Facebook page with occasionally inflammatory comments. Derek Mitchell, a 2009 graduate and volunteer assistant coach with the track team, said he was heartbroken when he first found out.

"It's like, I invested a lot of time [at Gibbons]," Mitchell said, "and now that they're closing it's like all my hard work has gone down the drain."

While the decision to close the school is final, the futures of some underclassmen are in limbo. Crusaders junior hurdler Travis Jones, who lives in Towson, is considering Archbishop Curley and Boys' Latin for his senior year, but is put off by an application process that he feels is giving him the run-around. The supposed deadline for schools to make their decision was April 13, but Jones remains without a school for next year.

At one point, certain schools were asking for an application fee with no guarantee that the student would get in (the Archdiocese has since asked schools to waive that fee). To Jones, the process is all too familiar: he transferred from Towson Catholic, which closed its doors last year.

"I'm sick of it," Jones said. "It's so messed up. I just let my mom handle it."

Zentz shares his disdain for the application process.

"As rising seniors," Zentz said, "these kids should be worried about college applications. Not high school applications."

The team, however, does have the final day of the MIAA Conference Championships to look forward to. With the conference's subdivisions merging, a talented Gibbons squad has had the chance to run against the best of the best during the meet, which started Wednesday. Still, the school's closing leaves a bittersweet taste in Zentz's mouth.

"I went here. I ran here," he said as he cleaned up the remains of the party. "When I came to coach here, it wasn't necessarily to coach track. I just wanted to coach at Gibbons. Can I give the next school my heart and soul like I've given to this program? It's hard to say."

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