State of Howard basketball is moving in right direction

Before the sound of the squeak of sneakers on the gym floor completely vanishes for another year ...

In the wake of the Long Reach boys and River Hill girls winning titles last weekend, it may be a little early to suggest that the balance of basketball power, at least in the public schools ranks, has shifted to the comfortable suburbs of Howard County.


However, it certainly is worth noting that Howard County, heretofore thought to be the land of soccer, lacrosse and volleyball players, was the only jurisdiction in the state to hit the daily double of state champions in boys and girls basketball.

Granted, it's the first time in 15 years that Howard schools have won titles in the same year, but the fact that Long Reach and River Hill captured the flag in the highly competitive Class 3A says something about the dedication of coaches and players in the county to improve their lot in basketball, especially given the complaint from some coaches that some of their best players play other sports as well and don't dedicate their focus to basketball.


One question commonly posed by fans and media from out of the city was: Why weren't more fans from Baltimore schools present at the state semifinals and finals?

Crowds for games involving the Mervo and Dunbar boys in College Park and the Western and Southside girls at UMBC were drastically smaller than those from other schools around the area and state, and continued a trend that has been going on since city schools joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association in 1993.

It's a good question with a couple of likely answers. First, the Comcast Center and RAC Arena aren't easy places to reach via public transportation, a necessary staple for many city school kids and their families.

Probably more important is the notion that for many Baltimore basketball players, navigating through their own city competitions, against people they know and see all the time, is more significant than beating teams from far-flung climes like Allegany, Somerset and Charles counties.

In 13 of the 14 years since the city joined the MPSSAA, a Baltimore school has won a boys title, and in seven of those, two schools won titles in separate classes. That kind of dominance is bound to make state competition seem, well, ho-hum.

Of course, another valid reason for why Baltimoreans and other fans from around the state aren't coming to the state finals may be the days they're played on.

For years, the semifinals for all four classes have been played on Thursday and Friday, with the finals on Saturday. The semifinal games have tipped off at 3 p.m., presumably so as not to interrupt the school day, with two classes playing on one day and the other two on the next, with the last semifinals starting at 9 p.m.

MPSSAA executive director Ned Sparks said the later starts, especially on Thursday, are "an unfortunate trade-off," and generally only affect the larger schools in Class 4A, which are generally located in Central Maryland, within relatively close proximity to UMBC and College Park.


However, the girls team at Urbana, a Class 3A school in Frederick County, played in the 9 p.m. Thursday game. With the 50-minute drive back to Ijamsville, many of those kids likely didn't get home before midnight, and with more people settling in Frederick and Harford counties and the predictable effect on area schools, this problem may spread.

There is an easy solution: The MPSSAA should consider waiving its "never on Sunday" play rule, just for the tournament finals, and play the semifinals on Friday and Saturday, with the championship games on Sunday. Sure, the kids need to have a day off, but the guess here is that their parents wouldn't mind one Sunday of activity if a state championship is on the line.

The officiating at the semifinals and finals was universally uneven, even with a third referee added for each game, but the most poorly officiated game was the Class 1A girls final between Southside and Catoctin.

To be certain, Southside, which trailed throughout and shot a mere 24 percent from the field, was clearly outclassed by Catoctin, which won, 61-45.

But the officiating trio not only whistled Southside coach Dafne Lee-Blakney for a questionable second-quarter technical, but then, after calling seven team fouls on Catoctin in the first 6:45 of the third quarter, didn't call another Catoctin foul until there were only 36 seconds left in the fourth, a stretch of over eight minutes.

Again, take nothing away from the impressive effort of Catoctin, but ask yourself when a high school basketball team, boys or girls, went an entire quarter without committing a foul.