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With closing of Institute of Notre Dame, Baltimore loses a cherished sports rivalry: ‘The Game’

Sitting at 901 Aisquith Street in Baltimore, the Institute of Notre Dame has a rich tradition that has been in place since 1847 as Maryland’s oldest Catholic college preparatory school for girls. On Wednesday, the school announced that it will be closing at the end of June, bringing an end to some of the area’s oldest sporting traditions.

It also ended a legacy of an accomplished and diverse sports program that featured athletes from all over the region.

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“One of the best things about IND, and it still holds true today, is that it’s not conveniently located for anybody,” former Institute of Notre Dame athletic director Amy Conly said. “People choose to come there — whether they’re a legacy family or they’re just so taken by the beautiful building or the impressive academics. But you meet girls from all over that you would never meet if you went to your local high school.

“I’m from Parkville and I went to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in elementary school, but I met girls from Anne Arundel County, I met girls from Catonsville, I met girls that I would’ve never met if I went somewhere else. We had a great mix — it was cool to meet girls like that.”

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The closure will end “The Game,” a sports rivalry between IND and fellow Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland member Mercy. The rivalry dates back to 1961 and annually attracts the largest crowd in the area for a game between two all girls teams.

Conly was a part of the rivalry — as a player, coach and athletic director. From 1989 to 1993, she played lacrosse for IND before trekking to Marist for college. She worked in the private sector before coming back as a teacher and coach in 2000.

“The traditions of the school, particularly the ‘The Game’ — our rivalry with Mercy — is unlike anything anyone has ever experienced,” Conly said. “As you know with most people in Baltimore, it’s about where you went to high school and not where you went to college, and it’s just sad that you won’t hear ‘I went to IND’ after this.”

Michael Reeb, a former Baltimore Sun copy editor, was an English teacher at IND from 2010 to 2018. As a young student at St. Mark’s in Catonsville, he was taught by the same Sisters of Notre Dame that run the school. His mother also was a graduate of IND and her funeral service was held in the chapel. The memories and love for the school run deep, as did his devotion toward teaching the students.

“My teacher and mentor, Sister Marie Charles, ended up teaching at IND for 43 years,” Reeb said. "She was best friends with Sister Hildie, who passed away, and her funeral was held in the Cathedral on Charles Street. You’ll hear her name a lot. When I left the newspaper business in 2007, I went back to my alma mater and taught for two years at Cardinal Gibbons. In 2010, when the Archdiocese closed Cardinal Gibbons, my dream job was to go to IND.

“There was an opening and I was an English teacher, I was interviewed and was welcomed into the community. In many ways, it was the best nine years of my life. I had taught co-ed and I taught all boys, but never all girls. My friends and family told me, ‘Those girls will never relate to you,' but it was the best mix of all boys, co-ed and all girls in my teaching experience because I came to find out that young ladies sensed that if you were sincere and forthright, they’d give you every chance in the world. It was a wonderful, educational experience.”

Hilda Marie Sutherland, who went by Sister Hildie, was a member of the School Sisters of Notre Dame for 66 years. Born in 1932, Sutherland was known as the backbone of the school’s community and the church life. With her death in 2019, Conly believed that it would be hard for the school to recover.

In 2003, Conly became the athletic director and then the Director of Admissions in 2007. After her second child was born in 2013, she left the school before coming back for one year. Conley’s mother was also a graduate of IND and looked forward to her daughter continuing the family legacy.

On top of IND closing its doors, it’s a big loss for the IAAM. The league began in 1999, serving 30 private schools to organize varsity and junior varsity programs for girls in the Baltimore area. It lost schools such as Towson Catholic, a co-educational school, in 2009, and Seton Keough, an all-girls high school, in 2017, after they shuttered their doors. Now, the closing of IND will also deal another blow to the organization.

“There’s a couple of pieces to this. One, they field 10 teams in our league throughout the year and that’s huge,” IAAM executive director Susan Thompson said. “That spans between ‘B’ and ‘C’ conference teams in whatever sport. The other piece is that we’re losing a single-gender school and that’s hard to see as well.

“It’s just a rich tradition — what they’ve been for young girls, the opportunity for competition in athletics — the ‘Big Game’, the rivalry with Mercy. It’s just so much rich history. It’s very sad, very sad to watch. I’m sure that the girls and their families will land on their feet, but it’s a loss for sure.”

On Wednesday, the IAAM will hold a meeting with the heads of each school to discuss plans moving forward.

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“The heads of schools, it’s their decision with how they want to proceed with this," Thompson said. “It’s probably best to just leave it there and see what unfolds. I think more to the point now it’s just being there for the IND community. Like I said, 10 teams in our league is a lot. They have been an excellent member and we’re going to miss them in our league.”

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