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Local High Schools Debate How Good is Too Good for Football

Tom Newby/flickr

Ten years ago, St. Francis Academy, the oldest continuously operating, predominately African-American Catholic school in the United States, launched a football program.

The theory after more than 150 years of no football was that the game would give boys at the East Baltimore school something to do after school that would keep them away from gangs.

At the time, I did a series of stories for WYPR on the growing pains of the program, so I know how special football is for that school.

Today, the Panthers are at the center of a controversy that touches on the question of how much success is too much, as well as on race.

St. Frances, which finished that first season at .500, finished last year unbeaten, clinching a second straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title.

Only one league team scored more than nine points against the Panthers and only one conference team posted more than a touchdown against St. Frances last year.

The Panthers were so good they landed a No.4 national ranking in the final USA Today poll, after they beat a previously undefeated team from Utah in a postseason game.

St. Frances has become so dominant that two schools from the MIAA A Conference, Mount St. Joseph and Calvert Hall, announced that they won’t play the Panthers in the 2018 season.

Officials from the two schools cited a size and athletic disparity between their schools and St. Frances, referring to the numerous transfer players on the Panthers’ roster.

The Baltimore Sun quoted a letter from Mount St. Joe athletic officials that referred to the league constitution.

That document says that the vision of the MIAA is to educate young people "with a goal to foster a safe and healthy competitive environment."

The letter added "After much deliberation, there is significant agreement that St. Frances has moved their program to a level that we are not interested in competing at or with."

In the immediate, St. Frances co-coach Henry Russell tweeted "We live in a world of cowards who teach kids to run from their problems rather than face them."

St. Frances’ principal, Dr. Curtis Turner, told the Sun he believed the objections of Calvert Hall and Mount St. Joe were racially motivated, given the difference in the "socio economic demographic."

Calvert Hall President Brother John Kane pushed back against the allegations of racism, citing the school’s history of diversity.

In a statement, Kane referenced recent safety studies on youth football, adding "No one should dare call caring for our students anything but the most important and responsible action we could take. Instead, call it the right thing to do."

Some of the anger felt from St. Frances is over a perceived double standard, where schools like Calvert Hall and Mount St. Joe’s have accepted star African-American athletes for years, but are only now speaking up when the cleat is on the other foot.

At this point, all sides should dial down the rhetoric and resolve this quietly, if that’s possible.

In the end, however, the Calvert Hall and Mount St. Joe’s programs should either play everybody or nobody. You can’t have it both ways.   

And that’s how I see it for this week.