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Vote expected on earlier start for fall sports

The Baltimore Sun

Notebook With classes starting before Labor Day at most Maryland public schools, a proposal to be voted on Friday by the state's 24 local superintendents would allow games to be played as early as Labor Day weekend.

The proposed amendment would change the start of fall practice from Aug. 15 to a sliding date - the sixth Saturday after the first Sunday in July.

Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said 185 of the state's 188 public schools started school in August this fall.

"The rule we had, Aug. 15, was from a time when school didn't start until after Labor Day," Sparks said. "Now the academic calendar has moved forward and we're trying to move the athletic calendar forward and keep within the three weeks of mandatory practice [before playing a game]."

If the new proposal is adopted, practice next fall would begin Aug. 16. With three weeks of mandatory practice, the first play day would still be after Labor Day, which is Sept. 1. But in 2009 when Labor Day falls on Sept. 7, games would begin that weekend.

Sparks said the point of the new proposal is to cut down on the overlap between the fall and winter seasons.

This season, a boy who plays on a football team that reaches the state finals and also plays a winter sport, would have a 24-day overlap between the two.

This year's state high school football championships are Dec. 6-8, the same weekend most basketball and wrestling teams are beginning their seasons. Public school winter sports teams begin practice Nov. 15 and can start playing games Dec. 5.

In 2009, the state football championships are projected to finish Dec. 12, but with the new proposal, moving the start of the season to Labor Day weekend, the finals would wrap up Dec. 5.

All other sports finish well ahead of football already. State finals for soccer and volleyball conclude Nov. 17 this fall.

The proposal was rejected by the superintendents last year, but Sparks said 85 percent of the state's athletic staff support the change. He said a straw vote was taken recently that indicated the superintendents would support the amendment this time.

ACL tear sidelines Cox

Becky Cox impressed McDonogh girls soccer coach Maurice Boylan Jr. so much last month that he called her the best player in tryouts.

Better known as an All-Metro point guard for the Eagles' basketball team, the senior was counting on a strong season as the soccer team's defensive central midfielder.

Until Aug. 17.

On a training trip to Kentucky, Cox tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. She was scheduled to have surgery yesterday and will miss the soccer season, but she could return for part of the basketball season.

"I plan on making it back in four months," said Cox, who played during the summer with the Maryland Hurricanes Amateur Athletic Union team and has committed orally to play basketball at George Mason.

"I know a girl who made it back in four months, but some people take six or seven. I'm doing rehab twice a day with a trainer," she said last week. "They say if [the knee] is strong before surgery, it'll be stronger after."

When the ACL tore, she was pursuing an opponent with the ball in a scrimmage.

"I planted my foot to turn to the outside and it just snapped," Cox said. "I heard this crunching and I knew that wasn't good."

For Boylan, whose team is ranked No. 2 in preseason, Cox was a key player in the Eagles' attempt to dethrone Archbishop Spalding in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference.

"We lose an incredible defensive presence without Becky," Boylan said. "She was our best man-to-man marker, our most intense defensive player, an incredible ball winner. The energy she played with was contagious. She has inner drive and a competitive spirit that was just unmatched."

That will probably get her back on the basketball court in January.

Shooting it out

Sparrows Point boys soccer coach George Bischoff would have preferred a shootout to settle last year's state Class 1A soccer championship rather than settling for a 1-1 tie with Worcester County's Pocomoke.

"It takes away from the whole thing when you play 90 minutes and two overtimes and then you walk off the field thinking to yourself, 'Oh, well.' You'd rather [go to a shootout], especially if you think you should have won," Bischoff said.

This fall, if the Pointers can make it back to the final, they would not have to settle for a tie. They would shoot it out to determine a winner.

For the first time since 1983, state girls and boys soccer championships that remain tied after two overtime periods will be decided by penalty kicks.

In the past, some have said that puts too much pressure on the goalie, but Bischoff disagrees.

"The shooter has just as much pressure on him," he said. katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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