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The year in sports: For Maryland high schools, history, rivalry games and cherished traditions put on hold amid pandemic

On March 12, a handful of the area’s top high school basketball teams were set to make the joyous trek to state semifinal games. The boys headed to Xfinity Center in College Park, while girls went to Towson’s SECU Arena.

Abruptly — some teams were minutes away from getting on their buses — their respective quests for state titles were postponed and eventually canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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For the remainder of 2020, the pandemic shut down all athletics for public schools. Some private schools attempted to play in the spring and fall, only for several games to be canceled.

Here’s a chronological look at some of the pandemic’s impact on the area’s high school sports scene:

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Polytechnic's Justin Lewis, center, and Brandon Murray, left, celebrate victory over Lake Clifton by score of 61 to 44 to win boys basketball championship game at Morgan State on Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by: Kenneth K. Lam
Polytechnic's Justin Lewis, center, and Brandon Murray, left, celebrate victory over Lake Clifton by score of 61 to 44 to win boys basketball championship game at Morgan State on Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by: Kenneth K. Lam (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

State basketball tournament halted

In all, 13 area teams — seven boys and six girls — didn’t get the opportunity to compete for state titles with the Maryland Public Secondary Athletic Association later declaring all 16 remaining teams as state semifinalists.

For the boys, Poly missed out on a chance for a fourth straight Class 3A crown, while fellow 3A semifinalist Northeast was slated to make its first appearance since 1983. Lake Clifton, competing in 2A, was aiming for a third straight state title.

For the girls, Howard took a 25-0 mark into the 4A state semifinals as the fourth Howard County team to enjoy an undefeated season. After claiming a second straight 4A North region, Pikesville didn’t get the chance to defend last year’s state championship. Poly, a 3A finalist in 2019, was set to make its 10th tournament appearance in hopes of finally capturing the program’s elusive first title.

All the teams’ coaches had to pass on similar disappointing messages to their players.

“I told the girls that we were 25-0, that we had a tremendous season and that’s how we’ll be remembered,” Howard coach Scott Robinson said on March 12. “In our eyes, we were state champs and we had a perfect season. Unfortunately, there are circumstances beyond our control with the virus that things have been canceled. The girls are devastated. We all were excited to play, as I’m sure the other teams were, too.”

Edmondson #4 Dedrick Harrell defends Poly #11 Rahim Ali in the first half. Edmondson High School at Poly boys basketball action at Poly. January 21, 2020
Edmondson #4 Dedrick Harrell defends Poly #11 Rahim Ali in the first half. Edmondson High School at Poly boys basketball action at Poly. January 21, 2020 (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Poly point guard Rahim Ali misses out on bid to make history

The Engineers’ floor general was poised to become the first four-year starting point guard to lead a Maryland public school to four straight state championships.

Poly, ranked No. 2 in the area with a 25-2 mark, dominated in Baltimore City, winning all 14 of its league games with a margin of victory of 48 points. The Engineers rolled through the North region and were heavy favorites to bring home another state crown.

Ali, a two-time All-Metro selection who played selflessly throughout his career, averaged nine points, eight assists and four rebounds in his senior year.

A few days after March 12, when the tournament was still yet to be officially canceled, Ali was still working hard on his own with the hope of getting to wear the Poly uniform for two more games.

At the time, he shared his thoughts on his individual chance at making history: “I mean, it’s just something that I really look forward to and it’s something I know people in Baltimore and Maryland would never forget.”

Mercy Magic guard Molly Tobias (12) and IND Penguins forward Shana Williams (25) scramble for a loose ball during the 48th Annual The Game at Towson University.
Mercy Magic guard Molly Tobias (12) and IND Penguins forward Shana Williams (25) scramble for a loose ball during the 48th Annual The Game at Towson University. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

IND closure ends a cherished high school sports tradition: ‘The Game’

On May 6, the Institute of Notre Dame announced it was closing its doors in June after 173 years, partially due to the impact of coronavirus.

For many, the immediate thought was the end to one of the area’s most storied high school sports rivalries — the annual IND-Mercy girls basketball matchup simply titled “The Game.”

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A vital influence to girls sports throughout the area and a beloved presence at the two all-girls Catholic schools, “The Game” was played for 54 years and often drew between 3,000 and 5,000 fans at its various locations, including the former Civic Center and more recently Towson’s SECU Arena.

On Jan. 31, IND claimed a 36-29 win in front of a crowd of roughly 3,400 for its seventh straight victory, but Mercy owned the all-time series advantage by a 30-24 count.

Left to right, Truitt Sunderland, Calvert Hall, shoots over defender Jack Witherspoon, Gilman, to score this side's 11th goal on their boys lacrosse match at Gilman. Calvert Hall won 17-7 April 26, 2019.
Left to right, Truitt Sunderland, Calvert Hall, shoots over defender Jack Witherspoon, Gilman, to score this side's 11th goal on their boys lacrosse match at Gilman. Calvert Hall won 17-7 April 26, 2019. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Calvert Hall lacrosse’s bid for fourth straight MIAA crown nixed

Ranked No. 1 in the country and a clear favorite to win a fourth straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference crown, the Cardinals went 3-0 in their nonleague schedule before the pandemic forced the spring season to shut down.

Standouts Cole Herbert (North Carolina), Daniel Kelly (Maryland) and Jackson Marshall (Maryland) had the chance to become the first four-year varsity players for an MIAA team to ever win four championships.

The Severna Park boys (four straight Class 4A titles) and Westminster girls (two straight titles in Class 3A) had their runs interrupted with the cancellation of the public spring season.

Howard County baseball celebrates its seniors, and other sports follow

Safely following pandemic guidelines in mid-July, senior baseball players in Howard County were celebrated at Columbia’s Blandair Regional Park with a three-day event.

Hosted by Howard County Recreation and Parks, the seniors enjoyed a practice, two games and a recognition ceremony. Following the games, tips of the caps substituted the traditional handshake line.

“The whole thing, from the practice to the senior ceremony to the games themselves, it was just truly special,” Reservoir coach Adam Leader said. “The idea was we wanted the guys to have one last time on the field together and, for us coaches, selfishly I think we all wanted a chance to be around them one last time as well. It was great to get some closure after everything stopped so abruptly during the spring and it ended up being everything we hoped it would be.”

With the event’s success, similar senior showcases took place in Howard for lacrosse and softball players.

All-America lacrosse summer showcase switches to regional format

The traditional Under Armour Senior All-America Games were canceled due to the pandemic, replaced by a round-robin regional format for underclassmen. The South tournament, featuring Baltimore-area boys and girls teams, was at Meadowood Regional Park in Lutherville over four days in early August.

The locals competed against teams from Washington, D.C., and a South team composed of players from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

With no college coaches permitted to attend the event, the 56 games were taped and tournament sponsor Corrigan Sports passed along the footage to any interested college programs free of charge.

All-America selections for the 2020 class were still made by Corrigan Sports, in conjunction with Inside Lacrosse.

Mount St. Joseph Gaels' Alec Carey celebrates his goal against the Calvert Hall Cardinals with Van Danielson (4), who scored the game's first goal during the first half of boys' varsity soccer at Mount Saint Joseph High School Wed., Nov. 18, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Mount St. Joseph Gaels' Alec Carey celebrates his goal against the Calvert Hall Cardinals with Van Danielson (4), who scored the game's first goal during the first half of boys' varsity soccer at Mount Saint Joseph High School Wed., Nov. 18, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Short but sweet run for Mount Saint Joseph soccer

When news came down in mid-October that the senior laden Gaels would indeed have the chance to play together one final time, they were ecstatic and grateful.

There was no MIAA championship to battle for with only six league schools participating in what was named the Catholic League for the unique season.

And while the planned 10-game schedule and an ensuing playoff wasn’t completed due to a pandemic spike, the Gaels made the most of their time with eight wins in as many games.

Going up against rivals like Archbishop Curley, Loyola Blakefield and Calvert Hall, Mount Saint Joseph poured in 34 goals while surrendering just seven in the eight victories with three shutouts.

The icing on the cake came earlier this month when Top Drawer Soccer ranked the Gaels as the No. 2 team in the country in its final Fab 50 poll for the fall season.

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“I think we all learned you just have to take whatever opportunities are given to you. Not everything is going to come out the way you want it to, but you have to stay positive, stay confident and be ready to take what is given to you,” said senior tri-captain Van Danielson, who finished with a team-high 21 points on eight goals and five assists.

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NBA Draft night makes Baltimore proud

The 2020 NBA Draft was delayed until Nov. 12, but it proved worth the wait for area basketball fans as not one, but two former area high school stars were taken in the first round.

Mount Saint Joseph graduate Jalen Smith (Maryland) was the 10th player selected by the Phoenix Suns, while John Carroll grad Immanuel Quickley (Kentucky) was the 25th pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder before being traded to the New York Knicks.

The two were rivals for four years in the Baltimore Catholic League and Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association — both graduating high school in 2018. Quickley was the All-Metro Player of the Year in his sophomore season (2015-16) and then Smith was a two-time recipient afterward.

Both played two years of college ball — each earning All-America honors in their sophomore seasons — before declaring for the draft.

Turkey Bowl, City-Poly football games canceled

Having survived the Great Depression and two world wars, the Turkey Bowl — the annual Thanksgiving Day game pitting Catholic school rivals Calvert Hall and Loyola Blakefield — met its match this year when the recent pandemic spike forced the series’ 101st game to be canceled.

The annual City-Poly football game, slated earlier in November and set to be the 132nd game in the storied rivalry, also was canceled.

The cancellation of the City-Poly game was expected with the state’s public schools shutting down athletics from the start in the fall, but the announcement that the Turkey Bowl would not be played — coming on the Saturday before Thanksgiving — shocked many.

Calvert Hall and Loyola Blakefield had both played games leading up to the showdown, playing an independent schedule.

But the virus surge leading up to the game made Baltimore County revise its COVID guidelines, limiting social gatherings to 25 people for outdoor activities.

Calvert Hall 1964 graduate Tom Bateman, who played in two Turkey Bowls and attended every game since after graduating, found himself at home on Thanksgiving morning with a strange feeling.

“I did back track. At 10 o’clock, I said to my wife ‘Well, normally I’d be sitting in the stadium right now at Towson and we’d be kicking off and then, ‘Well, it’s 20 to 1 and the game is just about over.’ There was definite emptiness,” he said.

City leads the all-time series 63-62-6, while Loyola Blakfield holds the Turkey Bowl advantage at 49-43-8.

Brent Kennedy, Jacob Calvin Meyer and Kyle J. Andrews contributed to this story.

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