With the St. Frances football program growing into a national powerhouse, local rivals Mount Saint Joseph on Wednesday and Calvert Hall on Thursday became the second and third Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association teams to decide not to play the Panthers this fall. Loyola Blakefield withdrew from the MIAA in football in January.
Mount Saint Joseph school officials cited safety concerns and the perceived difference in the goals of the two programs as the reason for not being willing to play St. Frances next season. Calvert Hall cited similar concerns in a note to team parents regarding the Panthers’ “size and athletic disparity.”
The move prompted criticism from St. Frances co-coach Henry Russell, who tweeted: “We live in a world of cowards, who teach kids to run from their problems rather than face them. Make excuses for failure, use lies, and take their ball and go home. I will never be a coach who conforms to this behavior and thought. What are you teaching your student athletes?”
A letter to the Gaels football family posted by coach Rich Holzer on msjfootball.teamapp.com Tuesday, and signed by Holzer and athletic director Kraig Loovis, cited the large number of transfers St. Frances has had as “incongruent with other member schools.” They said that after consulting with the Mount Saint Joseph board of directors and administration, MIAA officials and St. Frances officials have been notified that the Gaels will not play the Panthers this fall.
“With considerable research and much reflection, we no longer seem to share the same vision of the league in educating young people with a goal to foster a safe and healthy competitive environment [Article Two, Mission Statement — MIAA Constitution]. We feel the spirit of the league Constitution, which discourages transfers for athletic purposes, is what we uphold as incongruent with other member schools,” the letter said.
“After much deliberation, there is significant agreement that St. Frances has moved their program to a level that we are not interested in competing at or with. If their goal is to be a national power competing against like schools we wish them success, but that is not our goal nor our mission in athletics,” the letter continued.
Last fall, St. Frances, located in East Baltimore and playing its home games at Utz Field in Patterson Park, overwhelmed most opponents with its skill, size, athleticism and depth, leading to the safety concerns of Mount Saint Joseph and other schools. The Panthers won the MIAA A Conference for the second straight season and finished 13-0. The Panthers were ranked No. 1 by The Sun and in the Maryland state media poll. They finished No. 4 in USA Today’s Super 25 after defeating Bingham (Utah), 41-3, in the Geico State Champions Bowl Series in Phoenix on Dec. 23.
Mount Saint Joseph finished 6-4 last fall. The Gaels were 3-3 in the conference, but they came closer to St. Frances than any other team, falling, 37-22. No other team scored more than nine points and no other A Conference team scored more than a touchdown against the Panthers.
Holzer and Loovis referred further inquiries to George E. Andrews Jr., president of Mount Saint Joseph High School, who told The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday night that he had informed the MIAA of the decision Friday.
“We communicated the reasoning behind our decision to the MIAA and have also been in communication with the athletic department at St. Frances,” Andrews said. “This has been an ongoing conversation with the MIAA since December of 2017. Our goal is to foster a safe and healthy competitive environment for all our student-athletes and we do not wish to comment any further on the matter.”
He added that Mount Saint Joseph, located in Irvington, will play a full 10-game schedule this fall.
Lee Dove, executive director of the MIAA, confirmed that his office had been informed of the decision.
“The league has been notified of [Mount St. Joseph’s] intent not to play St. Frances and right now, the leadership of the league is taking that under advisement and we don’t really have a comment at this time,” Dove said.
St. Frances co-coaches Biff Poggi and Russell declined to comment further than Russell’s tweet that referred to the situation Wednesday morning.
One Gaels player, Aamir Hall, who will be a junior wide receiver-defensive back in the fall, said of the decision in a tweet Wednesday: “I never been scared of competition especially against the best out of best. Went at them boys last year and I’m definitely coming harder this year if we see y’all when all this bs blow off.”
In January, Loyola Blakefield withdrew from the MIAA in football after going winless in the A Conference for two years. The Dons will play an independent schedule this fall and hope to return to the league at some point. Loyola officials were also concerned about safety.
Anthony Day, president and head of school at Loyola, said in a letter to football parents before the Christmas break that “the landscape of the MIAA ‘A’ Conference has changed over the last decade, and our results have not been consistent with our goal to strive for excellence in all of our co-curricular programs. As the talent pool continues to rapidly expand within the MIAA ‘A’ Conference, we have carefully considered how this affects our student-athletes in a variety of ways — most importantly, their safety.”
The Panthers are left with just three A Conference games less than three months before the season kicks off.