The St. Frances football team will play a national schedule this fall after most of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference schools have said in the past week that they would no longer play the Panthers.
Archbishop Spalding on Wednesday became the fifth A Conference program to announce, citing “logistical reasons only.” Officials from Mount Saint Joseph, Calvert Hall and McDonogh have also said they would not play St. Frances, saying safety was among their primary concerns. Loyola Blakefield withdrew its football team from the MIAA in January, citing a disparity in the level of competition with the rest of the league. Gilman is the only team yet to announce, and athletic director Lori Bristow said via text Wednesday, “A decision has not been made yet.”
St. Frances principal Dr. Curtis Turner told The Baltimore Sun last week he believed the decisions of Mount Saint Joseph and Calvert Hall were racially motivated.
Located in East Baltimore, St. Frances has a predominantly African-American population that carries over to the football team. The Panthers were ranked No. 4 in USA Today’s Super 25 after going 13-0 last season and winning their second straight A Conference title.
Calvert Hall responded with a statement saying race was not a factor and citing safety as its primary concern. Mount Saint Joseph’s initial statement cited safety and St. Frances’ high number of transfers not being in the spirit of the MIAA. Mount Saint Joseph has not commented since.
Turner and Calvert Hall’s president, Brother John Kane, issued a joint statement Wednesday, saying St. Frances and Calvert Hall have been in communication about not playing football next season and the reasons for it.
“Through this collegial dialogue, St. Frances understands that Calvert Hall’s decision with respect to football was based solely on concerns for the safety of its students,” the statement said. “Equally, Calvert Hall understands that St. Frances is advancing their football program to a national level and wishes them success competing at that level. Both schools affirm the common Catholic Mission they share in the education of young people. Both schools desire to continue to compete in sports other than football and explore other ways in which to collaboratively fulfill their common goal of fostering the spiritual, physical and academic development of their students.”
The topic of race did not come up during WBAL’s radio interview with St. Frances co-coach Biff Poggi on Wednesday.
“The schools that are making those decisions, they know their kids best,” Poggi said. “We have a really good team. We’ve got some really big kids. The kids play hard, play fair and football’s a game where when you bring the safety issue into it. … You can’t fault someone for feeling that their kids might be in a situation where they’re not as prepared to play or they might be injured. … Everyone should know that football is a game that you cannot control those things and if a school really feels that way, then I support them.”
The Panthers’ tentative new schedule includes teams from Florida, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Connecticut as well as four teams from Canada. Most of the games will be home games.
Poggi said Wednesday on WBAL that he initially planned to begin playing an independent schedule in 2019 with the Panthers leaving the MIAA in football at that time. The school’s other sports will remain in the MIAA. But Poggi said the circumstances of the past week forced him to make that move now.
“We’re going to play an independent schedule this year and we’re going to continue to play an independent schedule after that, because that’s what’s best for our kids and we do appreciate the people in the league,” Poggi said. “I don’t fully agree with all of it. I agree with some of it."
The MIAA issued a statement Wednesday evening saying it is reviewing the league policy on forfeits, because Mount Saint Joseph, Calvert Hall and McDonogh are technically forfeiting their games against St. Frances. Until the policy is clarified, teams have been notified not to schedule another team in place of St. Frances. Archbishop Spalding was not mentioned.
“This is the first time that any member school has announced an intent to forfeit a game before the season starts. Any MIAA decision will be guided by the league’s policies and procedures which provide at a minimum that a forfeited contest counts as a loss for the team that elects to forfeit,” the statement said.
Archbishop Spalding president Kathleen Mahar issued a statement Wednesday, stating that she and Turner have been in frequent contact and agree, “that for logistical reasons only, St. Frances and Archbishop Spalding High School will not compete during the fall 2018 football season, allowing St. Frances to pursue a national schedule.”
Mahar could not be reached for further comment, but Turner acknowledged having discussions with Spalding over the past several days, and said she agreed not to play the Panthers.
“We needed as much flexibility as possible to get a national schedule in and Archbishop Spalding agreed, and that’s why they agreed not to play us,” he said.
Full joint statement from St. Frances and Calvert Hall
Over the past several days, St. Frances and Calvert Hall have been in communication about not playing football next season. Through this collegial dialogue, St. Frances understands that Calvert Hall’s decision with respect to football was based solely on concerns for the safety of its students. Equally, Calvert Hall understands that St. Frances is advancing their football program to a national level and wishes them success competing at that level. Both schools affirm the common Catholic Mission they share in the education of young people. Both schools desire to continue to compete in sports other than football and explore other ways in which to collaboratively fulfill their common goal of fostering the spiritual, physical and academic development of their students.
This is consistent with the shared history of these schools. For many years, the Christian Brothers worked alongside the Oblate Sisters of Providence and lay faculty at St. Frances. Our charisms based on Oblate foundress, Mother Mary Lange and Christian Brothers founder, John Baptiste de La Salle have served generations of students here in Baltimore, throughout the United States and around the world. We each remain committed to our current educational missions, especially in service to those in need. We look forward to building upon our shared history by working together to continue this distinguished and necessary work of the Church. ￼
Deacon Curtis Turner, Ed.D. Principal, Saint Frances Academy