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Tech girls lacrosse loses division title for choosing to not play

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Harford Tech has been stripped of its division championship in girls lacrosse and its head coach has been suspended after the team refused to play in the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference championship game Monday.

In the first public challenge to the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference system of pitting the regular season champion of the division with the strongest seven teams against the regular season champion of the division with the eight weakest teams for the conference championship, the Harford Tech girls lacrosse team decided not to play the more highly rated C. Milton Wright Mustangs. It's the first time since the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference, most commonly referred to as the UCBAC, was founded in 2003 that a team opted not to play in the championship game because of what one parent called "David and Goliath matchups." Harford Tech ceded the UCBAC championship to CMW.

As a result of refusing to play the game, the Tech girls were stripped of their Susquehanna Division title Monday and Head Coach Emma Little was notified Tuesday that she was suspended from her coaching duties, effective May 8. The notification came from Ken Zorbach, Harford County's Supervisor of High School Physical Education & Athletics, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment.

In an email sent Monday afternoon to the C. Milton Wright coach, the head of girls lacrosse officials, The Aegis and the Cecil Whig, Harford Tech coach Emma Little said her team was ceding the UCBAC title to C. Milton Wright because they don't agree with the process of determining an UCBAC conference champion.

In the email, Little wrote: "The Harford Tech Girls Lacrosse team has officially ceded the UCBAC championship to C. Milton Wright High School. Our athletes do not agree that the eighth ranked team in the conference should be playing against the first ranked team in the conference to determine an UCBAC champion. Harford Tech would like to congratulate C. Milton Wright in their Chesapeake Divisional Championship. Coach Emma Little, HTHS."

Little, who is not an employee of Harford County Public Schools, is in her third season as head coach of the Tech girls lacrosse program. In 2011, the Cobras played in the Chesapeake (upper division) posting an 1-11 record. A year ago, the Cobras won the Susquehanna (lower division) title, finishing 8-4.This season, the Cobras are 9-2 and winners of the Susquehanna again. Unlike the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's playoffs, where schools are placed according to enrollment, schools in the UCBAC are placed in the Chesapeake, the upper, Division or the Susquehanna, the lower, Division based on the strength of their program in each sport. Generally, the champion of the lower Susquehanna Division is moved to the upper Chesapeake Division for the sport's next season and the last place team in the upper division is dropped to the lower division.

Tech's stance is the first of its kind in any sport where the champion of the Chesapeake Division, which is for the strongest teams, and the champion of the Susquehanna Division, which is for the weakest teams, are routinely scheduled to play for the overall UCBAC championship. CMW head coach Brent Ritz says he heard talk about it over the weekend, but was told about the situation at 1:50 p.m. Monday by his athletic director.

"We're moving on, we'll play in the playoffs," Ritz said.

A year ago, the same two teams played in the UCBAC title game, with Harford Tech, the champion of the lower Susquehanna Division, losing to CMW, the champion of the upper Chesapeake Division, 15-1.

The decision to strip Harford Tech of its 2013 Susquehanna Division championship was announced by the conclusion of the UCBAC boys lacrosse championship game won by North Harford, 17-5, over Rising Sun Monday evening. North Harford was the upper Chesapeake Division and Rising Sun was the lower Susquehanna Division champion.

"The Board of Control did meet and because Harford Tech chose not to play, we're going to have no Susquehanna Champion this year. In other words, they're going to vacate it," UCBAC commissioner Bob Slagle said. "Any other disciplinary actions against individuals is covered by the privacy act, so there will be no comment on that at this point."

According to the UCBAC By-Laws, the Board of Control is Slagle, the conference commissioner, an athletic supervisor from each county, a school-based administrator from each county, and an athletic director, a principal, a coach, plus the two county supervisors of athletics.

"There will be no one on the plaque. There are no forfeitures involved, it's just simply they chose not to play this game, so the Board of Control has decided to not have a Susquehanna champion put on the plaque."

Tech's senior captains expressed their view in an email Tuesday: "We as a group of seniors believe we do not need a plaque to show us what we accomplished as a team. We worked our hardest as a unit of players and coaches to accomplish what we did. We made the decision we did to make a change in the future for the better. The suspension of our coach is absurd and the decision was made as a team, not pushed by a coach or administration. We are proud of ourselves as a team for changing history and we are still proud of the season we have played. We thank everyone for their support through our decisions." Gabby Spalt, Megan Campbell, Brittany Bowman (HTHS GLAX Seniors)

Slagle commented on the team's refusal to play and on possible disciplinary action, but didn't address the issue of unbalanced competition raised by the Tech girls.

"Obviously we're disappointed on this because it's the first time this has ever occurred. We'll see what actions come as a result of whatever other disciplinary actions are taken, whether or not we sent a message strong enough to indicate that this is not something that we want to happen."

Coach Little also responded to the news of the title loss. "I think it is disappointing that instead of opening a dialogue about how we can make things better, the kids have had a title that they've earned taken away from them," Little said. "However, they are standing strong by their decision to try to make a positive impact on the way high school athletics are conducted in Harford and Cecil counties, and we as coaches couldn't be prouder of them."

"The big picture is really being missed here," Becki Raspe, a parent of a Harford Tech player, wrote in an email. "Pitting smaller 'minor league teams' against larger 'major league' teams results in frustration, sloppiness and more importantly, more injury. Being stripped of our title is very unfortunate, but I am proud of our Tech girls for taking such a strong stand in attempt to make a change that would improve the safety and equality of the UCBAC division."

Her view was shared in an email by the parent of another Harford Tech player.

As a parent of one of the Harford Tech Girls Varsity Lacrosse Players, I am very disappointed to see Mr. Slagle and the Board of Control take away the 2013 Susquehanna Division Title that the Harford Tech girls worked so hard to earn," Rick Arcilesi wrote. "It is obvious that the current structure and playoff format of the UCBAC is broken. The Harford Tech Girls Varsity Lacrosse Team took a stance to possibly fix the UCBAC structure and playoff format; however, Mr. Slagle's response comes across that he and the Control Board have no interest in trying to improve the high school athletic experience for the boys and girls of Cecil and Harford Counties. Instead Mr. Slagle wants to continue these 'David versus Goliath' lacrosse championship games."

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