It's hard to exaggerate just how much of an accomplishment it was for the Harford Tech girls soccer team to beat C. Milton Wright two weeks ago to win the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference championship.
Most definitely both teams were evenly matched insofar as they were both made up of high school girls from Harford County, but numbers of players never tell the whole story when it comes to athletic success. That's why, despite having the same salary caps and same size rosters, some NFL teams are good year in and year out, while others seem to struggle through each season.
Certainly, no one would have said the U.S. and Soviet hockey teams that took to the ice during the 1980 Winter Olympics were evenly matched. In the U.S., the top hockey players were on the rosters of National Hockey League teams and, therefore, ineligible to play. The top Soviet players, groomed for the games and professional in all but name, were assigned to their country's national hockey team.
By the numbers, the Soviet team should have easily skated past the U.S. team to the gold medal podium. That Olympics, however, came to be dominated by the story of the underdog U.S. team of part-time players upending the supposedly invincible Soviets in what came to be known as the Miracle on Ice.
It wasn't a fair matchup, and that made the gold medal performance by the U.S. team all the more sweet.
Strangely, just about every high school athletic season in Harford County concludes with a similar David vs. Goliath showdown, just like the one that pitted Harford Tech against C. Milton Wright in the girls soccer title game.
Those who pay only passing attention to high school athletics could be forgiven for not realizing the inherent unfairness of the system, so a primer is in order. The Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference, which includes all the public school teams in Harford and Cecil counties, is divided into two conferences based on strength of program. Thus, it is possible for a school with a strong baseball program to have a varsity baseball team in the upper division, even as its weaker varsity field hockey team remains in the lower division.
The distinction between the two divisions is, to a degree, masked by the names of the two divisions: the Susquehanna Division is the lower, the Chesapeake Division is the upper.
Oddly, the conference champion in nearly every sport is decided when the top team in the upper division plays against the top team in the lower division. This seems more than a bit strange as, at least in theory, the top team in the lower division would be more evenly matched in a game against the bottom team in the upper division.
C. Milton Wright's girl's soccer team has dominated play in Harford and Cecil counties, winning the dual-county championship seven times since 2004, always entering the title game as champion of the upper division.
Harford Tech, while a respectable and solid team that put together a season record of 10-2-3, ended the regular season as the champion of the lower division.
Thus, the stage was set, as it always is when the champion of the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference is decided, for a Miracle on Ice-type showdown.
These games almost always end the same, with the upper division champion winning a relatively easy victory over the lower division team. So predictable is the result that just last spring the girls lacrosse team from Tech, champion of the lower division, refused to play in the so-called title game against the upper division girls lacrosse champs, coincidentally, the team from C. Milton Wright High.
Just as the Miracle on Ice team's victory didn't prove that the Olympics were fair in their application of the old amateur-only rule to Soviet bloc and free world teams, the Tech victory over C. Milton Wright does not provide a scrap of evidence that the upper vs. lower means of determining a champion is fair.
Actually, on the face of it, the system is unfair in the extreme.
Contrast the Harford-Cecil league's method for deciding a champ in a particular sport with the method used in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association for picking state champions. The MPSSAA, as it is fairly commonly known, categorizes the state's 197 public schools into four divisions based on enrollment.
Division 4A is comprised of the quarter of the state schools with the largest enrollments; Division 1A is comprised of the quarter of schools with the smallest enrollment. Divisions 2A and 3A are the other two quarters, based on enrollment.
At the end of the season in each team sport, there is a champion in each division, in other words, there are four state champs for each sport, based on size of school.
The Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference, with its strength of program division, would seem to be even more justified in having a system that ends the year with a champion in the upper division and one in the lower division, as happens each year in football.
This logic, though spelled out from time to time in public forums, is generally lost on the administrators of the athletic programs in Harford and Cecil counties. While the result is a thrilling upset on relatively rare occasions, more often it is an unfair embarrassment that allows a strong team to beat up on a weak one.
The Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference's upper vs. lower title games should be eliminated.