A personal connection to Perryville's championship drought

I'm well aware that The Aegis is a Harford County newspaper, and that as a reporter with this publication one of my goals, one of my responsibilities, rather, is covering the teams whose home fields are within the borders of this county. I've written some columns about the Ravens and Orioles when the mood struck and I was hurting for topics, but generally the rule is to keep things local, and I fully agree with that guideline.

That said, as I type this, there is but one Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference team left alive, Cecil County's Perryville football squad, and it is heading to the 1A state title game on Saturday, where it will attempt to snap a championship drought longer than any of the other 14 UCBAC teams have experienced (excluding Patterson Mill, which has not been around long enough to qualify as having a championship drought, though the Huskies have already had a few shots at state titles in their brief history). The story of Perryville going so long without bringing home a state title banner is too juicy, and has too many personal connections, for me to pass up writing about.

In March 1954, the Perryville boys basketball team beat Easton, 65-63, at Ritchie Coliseum in College Park to capture the MPSSAA's Class C state crown. As a student at Perryville High School, I used to pass under a blown-up photograph of the championship team that hung in the building's lobby, right next to an equally large picture of the 1979 baseball team that made it to the Class C final, only to lose 3-2 to Mt. Savage. Even then, 15 years ago, the 1954 squad's photo seemed ancient, and it struck me as strange that no Panther team had won a title since then. Fifteen years down the road, 1954 has drifted further into time's wake, and it's not any less strange that Perryville still has just one state championship to its credit.

It's been 57 years since 1954, and in that time, teams from the 15 schools that make up what is now the UCBAC have captured nearly 150 Maryland titles. The only championship I can count before 1954 was Aberdeen's 1951 win in the Class B boys basketball final, but since then, here is the number of team state titles each conference school has captured (I am not counting individual champions from wrestling, swimming and track): Fallston, 24; C. Milton Wright, 16; Rising Sun, 16; Aberdeen, 15; North East, 13; Bel Air, 12; Joppatowne, 11; Havre de Grace, 10 (including three track titles won by Havre de Grace Consolidated in the days of segregation); North Harford, eight; Bo Manor, six; Elkton, five; Edgewood, three; and Harford Tech, one. As stated before, Patterson Mill has only been open for four years, and Harford Tech, though it has just one title, has been around for a much shorter period than Perryville.

Though it still seems like a terribly long stretch, 57 years, and it may extend beyond Saturday if the Panthers can't beat Dunbar in the final, that I have connections, personal ones, to the 1954 basketball championship and the current football squad, pulls the two together, and makes the two seem not so distant. A dear friend of my family, Andrew Thompson, a 1955 Perryville High School graduate and lifelong Cecil County resident who left the earthly realm five years ago, and whom I miss very much, attended the Class C title game in College Park. I'm going to paraphrase something he told me during a conversation that took place about 12 years ago: "If you ever watched the movie 'Hoosiers,' it was a lot like that. Just about the whole school took buses down to College Park for the game. Everyone had banners, it was really exciting. Perryville was really, really small and rural then. I probably had 30 people in my class, and some of them had never been past Baltimore. For tiny little Perryville to get all the way down there, and play in the coliseum, it was something else."

Fast forward to 2011, with the Perryville football team hours away from a shot at erasing their school's 57-year drought. Among the Panthers is a young man I've known his entire life, Cameron Cunningham, son of my dear friend, Stephanie (whose father, as legend has it, turned off the gym lights at a Perryville versus Elkton basketball game, which started a huge brawl). Cam, as I know him, was born when I was a sophomore in high school, which doesn't seem so long ago, but I blinked my eyes a few times, and now he's a sophomore, two inches taller than me, and gearing up with his teammates to snap a streak that's older than both of us combined.

I sure hope they can.

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