Commentary is absolutely in order on last week's decision by the powers that be in the management of the high school athletics programs in Harford and Cecil counties to do away with the upper vs. lower division so-called title games.
But what to say?
One possibility: It's about time. After all, had the practice been done away with after the first season or two of the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference, maybe the odd custom could have been chalked up to a paperwork mistake in devising the league. After all, who in their right mind would think it's a good idea to have the best varsity team in the two counties play against the eighth best team in the two counties to determine a champion?
The strange and unacceptable practice, however, has dragged on for just about a decade, though, so there really are no excuses, and any further criticism of the bad times in the past would be like beating a dead horse, or having the number 1 team in a league run up the score on the number 8 team.
There is, however, an important bit of unfinished business that the adults in charge of the varsity high school athletic conference need to address now that they have corrected the disgrace of the annual mismatched championship games. The unfinished business is the status of the team whose brave action focused public attention on the foolishness of having the upper division champ play the lower division champ for the conference title.
Nearly a year ago, the Harford Tech girls lacrosse team was on a bus headed home after having won a game to secure the top spot in the UCBAC's Susquehanna Division.
It would be easy for the casual observer to conclude, based on the names of the two divisions, that they are comparable to the AFC and NFC in professional football, which is to say divisions based on something other than strength of program. Actually, the Susquehanna Division is the lower division, a designation based on the relative ability of a particular school community to consistently field strong teams in a given sport.
The strength of program reality may have been lost on the general public, but not on the 2013 Harford Tech girls lacrosse team. Their next game was to be against the Chesapeake Division (upper division) C. Milton Wright team, a game they had little hope of winning.
Lacrosse is a highly regional sport. Wildly popular in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas, especially the suburbs, it is an afterthought in other parts of the state. Cecil County schools didn't even have lacrosse teams prior to the start of the UCBAC, even as the sport was and is highly competitive in Harford County, especially western Harford County.
The 2013 Cobras asked their coach, Emma Little, if they really had to play a game where, in all likelihood, they would end up serving as punching bags, even as they had proven themselves champions among teams of comparable caliber.
Coach Little checked and told Aegis sports reporter Dewey Fox: "After I had gone over the UCBAC bylaws with our principal [Charles Hagan] and [athletic director David Deutsch], and hadn't found anything in the girls lacrosse section that said we were obligated to play in the UCBAC game, I asked the players to vote on it. They said no, hands down. The way we saw it, that game was going to be one of the best teams in the region, C. Milton Wright, against us, the eighth-ranked team in the UCBAC. We didn't see how that was going to help either team, or get us ready for the playoffs."
Disturbingly, the team's request to withdraw from the title game was denied by the adults in charge of the conference.
The team chose not to play anyway.
The athletic conference then stripped the Cobras of their lower division title and suspended Little from coaching for eight months.
Which brings us to the unfinished business: The governing body of the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference, its board of control, owes not only a public apology to Coach Little and the 2013 Susquehanna Champion Cobras girls lacrosse team, but also thanks to them for seeing such a wrongheaded practice perpetuated by adults and having the courage to try to change it.
What the team chose to do – defying the adult management of the athletic program to protest a practice that was so clearly wrongheaded – was an act that took an awful lot of courage. Coach Little, likewise, did well by her team in checking and standing by their decision.
The actions of the coach and players were admirable, and they shouldn't have to wait the 10 years for an apology that it took for the UCBAC to do away with the upper vs. lower title game nonsense.