St. Frances AD, coach dispute safety concerns, saying 'it's been normal football'

St. Frances athletic director Nick Myles and football co-coach Henry Russell on Monday addressed concerns about safety and other issues expressed by officials of two Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference schools last week when they announced that they would not play St. Frances in football this fall.

Myles and Russell spoke on 105.7 The Fan about statements released by officials from Mount Saint Joseph and Calvert Hall last week. The Panthers have gone undefeated through the MIAA A Conference the past two years and were ranked No. 4 in USA Today’s Super 25 last fall.

Myles and Russell, co-head coach with Biff Poggi, said they didn’t understand the concerns about safety because some of the teams Poggi coached during 19 years at Gilman were more dominant against MIAA foes.

The worst injury Myles said he has seen in any St. Frances football game happened to a Panthers player.

Tyree Henry suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury in a game against Gilman on Oct. 7, 2016 after he took an unintentional helmet-to-helmet hit. He was hospitalized for six weeks and had to learn to walk again. He returned to school after a semester and graduated this weekend.

“Other than that, it’s been normal football,” Myles said. “Football, it’s a violent sport, so you know kids get injured. We get kids that get injured. Other teams get kids that get injured. But it’s no different from any kid that’s playing football anywhere else. It hasn’t been documented that if you play St. Frances you’re going to get more injuries than normal.”

Russell, who coached for seven years at Gilman, said St. Frances’ dominance on the field this year is no different than Gilman’s was before Poggi and most of his coaching staff moved to St. Frances two years ago. The Greyhounds won 13 championships during Poggi’s tenure.

“If nobody forfeited against Gilman for those 19 years, why all the sudden can you forfeit against St. Frances after year two? That’s my question,” Russell said on the radio show.

“Now, if there were other things out there maybe for St. Frances to explore, other leagues or playing an independent schedule that makes sense for our kids … we definitely would look at that. Right now, we’re in the MIAA, we’ve been in the MIAA and we like what the MIAA does for kids across the board. That’s who we are.”

The Panthers have lost games against Mount St. Joseph, Calvert Hall and Loyola Blakefield, which withdrew from the MIAA in football in January citing the competitive disparity not just with St. Frances. The Panthers picked up a game to fill the void left by Loyola but are now struggling to fill the other holes in their schedule and they may lose more opponents.

Officials of the other A Conference teams — McDonogh, Gilman and Archbishop Spalding — have said they will make their decisions after this week’s MIAA athletic directors’ conference, which runs through Wednesday. If they all drop St. Frances, the Panthers will lose seven total games, including two potential playoff games.

Myles said the only thing that has changed since Gilman’s dominance transferred to St. Frances is “the location. The color of the kids basically.

“I never want to talk for other people or say what their position (is), but this is unheard of,” Myles said during the radio show appearance. “It was two years. Gilman was there 19 years. When Coach Russell and Coach Poggi was at Gilman, we played them. I was athletic director. They beat us, 50-0, the last time we played them. We took it like a man and we prepared to get better.”

Dr. Curtis Turner, principal at St. Frances since 2008, told The Baltimore Sun last week that he believes the decision by MIAA rivals to not play the Panthers is racially motivated. “Absolutely, and I’m not going to shy away from it,” Turner said. “No one wants to talk about it directly. We’re the oldest Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the only difference between us and the other Catholic schools is the social economic demographic.”

Brother John Kane, president of Calvert Hall, said in a statement Friday that the decision to not play Saint Frances was “solely made in the interests of the safety of our students. To suggest there is any other motivation is to ignore the fundamental principles of our common Catholic faith and the values for which Calvert Hall has stood for and practiced for over 173 years.”

Russell pointed to other teams in the MIAA that have been dominant in their sports such as Loyola swimming, Mount Saint Joseph and McDonogh wrestling, Gilman tennis and Calvert Hall baseball. No one refused to compete against them.

Myles said MIAA officials will consider possible rule changes this week, including transfer rules, but he said they have to apply to all MIAA sports as they do now.

The large number of transfers into St. Frances’ football program was also pointed to in Mount Saint Joseph’s decision not to play the Panthers. MIAA officials have never cited the Panthers for breaking any transfer rules.

“Another elephant in the room is the reason why the rules are the same (for all MIAA sports) is because the MIAA’s main sport is lacrosse,” Myles said, “so if you change some major rules in football, it’s going to affect lacrosse, so there’s a lot of things that are not really talked about. People don’t think about that.”

Myles said if MIAA officials change the transfer rule, St. Frances will comply.

“We want to participate in the MIAA and we’re going to follow whatever rules that the league, that everybody, is going to have to adhere to for all sports.”

When reached Monday, Poggi said he had nothing to add to a tweet he posted Sunday, where he said St. Frances officials would support whatever decision their rivals schools make.

“So much said over last few days. Some right, some wrong. We care about all the boys in our league- they are all our kids. We have no malice if you choose not to play. We will support that completely. please support who we are Lets stop the attacks- no malice with kindness to all.”

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kdunnsun

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