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Conflict makes for happy football fan

The dilemma hits me immediately when I turn to the local sports section of Friday's paper. Listed under the schedule for the day's high school football games are Poly at Dunbar, 2: 30 p.m., and Gilman at City, slated for a 3: 45 p.m. start.

What is a high school football fan to do? I dismiss thoughts of a plot by the coaches of these schools to deliberately drive me crazy with such a scheduling conflict and get down to business. Which game do I attend?

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Dunbar is a defending state champion and ranked No. 1 in the Baltimore area. The Engineers of Polywreckit Institute are undefeated and have a 25-year history of football excellence.

Also undefeated is City, my alma mater, which in 1965 produced what may have been Baltimore's best football team with some runt kid named Kurt Schmoke at quarterback. Gilman has lost only once -- to those plodders from Polywreckit committed to the three yards and a cloud of dust offense -- and has a rich football tradition of its own.

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It is a dilemma I haven't had in years, a delightful one that allows me to revel in the memories of the now defunct Maryland Scholastic Association. I decide on City vs. Gilman. When in doubt, always go with your alma mater. Besides, the City-Gilman game features a public school against private school matchup that made the MSA unique among high school athletic leagues nationwide.

Thoughts of the City-Gilman game take me back to the days when I -- fancying myself another Raymond Berry -- tried out for split end for City's team on this very field. That was in 1966. Greg Wright, a sophomore running back and backup quarterback (to that Schmoke guy) fired me two passes. I caught one, missed one and was dismissed after the first day of tryouts.

I'm thinking of other MSA memories now. Of that City-Calvert Hall game of 1966, in which two superb teams entered the game undefeated. That game ended in a 20-20 tie, but sparked a City-Calvert Hall rivalry that beget other public vs. private school rivalries that lasted until that gloomy day in 1993 when the MSA voted to disband itself: Poly-Calvert Hall, Poly-Gilman, Poly-Loyola. Do Baltimore's public schools really know what they lost when they voted to join the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Association in 1992?

City public schools turned their backs on some 75 years of tradition, for one, that included fabled teams like the aforementioned City football team of 1965. Edmondson's 1965 team, which won its 27th straight game that year and featured future NFLer Charlie Pittman at running back, can be added to the list.

The move of city public schools to the MPSSAA -- pushed by superintendent Dr. Walter G. Amprey -- has diminished old rivalries while generating no new ones. The City-Poly game, traditionally the finale for both teams on Thanksgiving Day, has now been reduced to an early November fray that might determine which team goes to the state playoffs. It could have become an anticlimactic affair if both schools let it, but 1993's game -- with Poly running back Greg Kyler making a one-handed catch for a touchdown in the final seconds to give the Engineers a come-from-behind win -- is the stuff of legend.

But what of the other rivalries, even those among public schools? In 1995, Dunbar and Lake Clifton had the best basketball teams both schools had had for years. Under the old MSA two, maybe three, sometimes as many as four Dunbar-Lake Clifton games would have been played. Under puddin'-headed MPSSAA scheduling, the teams played not once.

So city schools also lost that fierce competition that was a trademark of the old MSA (that exquisite City-Poly game of 1993 notwithstanding). In 1995 both George Petrides and Augie Waibel, football coaches at City and Poly, respectively, complained that the MPSSAA schedule was not as challenging as the ones they had in the MSA.

They may have been understating the matter. I'll give you an example -- using the sport of basketball -- of how tough a typical MSA schedule could be. In 1981, Calvert Hall defeated Dunbar in a triple-overtime game that some say is the best played in Baltimore. That game wasn't even the second-best played. Take it from a guy who saw some humdingers that basketball season.

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The best game that year -- and the best high school basketball game I've ever seen for my money -- was Lake Clifton's double-overtime win over Dunbar in the MSA A conference final. The Dunbar-Walbrook, Lake Clifton-Walbrook and an earlier Dunbar-Lake Clifton game in the public schools tournament were also superior to the Calvert Hall-Dunbar thriller.

City and Gilman are playing today because wiser heads have prevailed, and coaches for the former MSA schools are now trying to schedule games against each other when they can. And producing oh-so-welcome dilemmas about which game to attend.

Pub Date: 10/06/96


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