Senior tackle TJ Lewis, honestly, never really felt too hopeful he’d play in a McDonogh uniform this fall.
As rivals around the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference gradually incorporated helmets and pads into their workouts, the Eagles maintained socially distant practices with no contact, throwing, two days a week, 90 minutes apiece.
“Wasn’t looking hot,” Lewis said.
Still, when he learned the MIAA and the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland approved an “open season,” giving schools leeway to schedule their own fall sports, Lewis felt a twinkle of hope. Hope, ultimately, was dashed a few days later, as McDonogh postponed its fall sports to the spring.
In an email sent to parents to Monday, McDonogh head of school David Farace expressed understanding for a “mix of emotions” parents would feel at the news, but emphasized a return to full-contact athletics would “introduce unnecessary risk and undermine current efforts to protect the larger community." The school has been operating in a hybrid attendance format, with some in-person learning and virtual.
“League competition entails close physical contact with students from other schools that may or may not have the same protocols and expectations in place, as well as interactions without masks, increased time spent together for travel, and the sharing of common equipment,” Farace wrote in the email. “These interactions increase the opportunity for athletes to carry potential infection back to campus and put our students, teachers, staff, and families at risk. This is a risk we cannot take.”
It was on Monday that Lewis realized his senior season really was in jeopardy.
“Disappointed is the best word. I watched a lot of football in colleges figure it out, see the NFL figure it out. Seeing high schools in Texas, other states figure it out,” said Lewis, who noted his cousin has played every Friday in South Carolina this fall. “We couldn’t figure it out.”
Alayna Lynchard, a senior center back for the McDonogh girls soccer team, had been eyeing a fourth-straight IAAM A title along with her fellow captains. It had been their dream. Lynchard, a Middle Tennessee State commit, broke her ankle and would have missed this season regardless. She wanted to sit on the sidelines and cheer her teammates.
Now, she looks around and sees her rivals gearing up.
“It’s definitely hard to see the people we would have been playing getting ready to go play and do what we want to do," Lynchard said. "Especially on social media, we see them posting that they’re back.”
On Friday morning, Lynchard and her teammates sent a letter to the administration signed by 39 members of McDonogh’s fall teams.
“We just wanted to express our sadness," Lynchard said.
The likelihood of actually playing football in the spring seems so dim to Lewis. The Eagles' A Conference opponents, including Calvert Hall, Mount St. Joseph, already expressed intent to play this season, depleting McDonogh’s ability to schedule games next spring. As much as he can’t imagine throwing away his senior season if given the chance to play, Lewis isn’t sure he’ll do it.
“I think with McDonogh being a lacrosse school, a lot of football kids will play lacrosse," he said. "That will really decimate our numbers. I know some of us are thinking about college and the next step and don’t want to get injured before we go off to college. Football-wise, I don’t think it looks pretty good for us.”
His only consolation is that he knows where he’ll be playing college ball, Monmouth. Not everyone has that security.
Jaquila Slay had just purchased school colors when she learned her son, Antonio Tripp, would have not be playing football this fall. She’d been optimistic that McDonogh would have followed the MIAA and IAAM with the green light to play, if at the very least to get her son and his teammates back to a sense of normalcy. She wasn’t, truthfully, on board with Tripp playing a handful of unofficial games and risk injury and lose what he already has.
With just one varsity season under his belt, Tripp collected 13 offers to date from Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland, Penn State, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Pitt, Buffalo, Arizona State, Boston College, West Virginia and Liberty.
“I understand the parents who are mad. You have seniors, juniors, who had potential to get several offers," Slay said. "Now, with this last season gone, they can’t get looked at. ”
Slay would like to see parents more involved in decision-making when it comes to her and others' sons playing or not. If she could, she would be a willing participant.
She would not, however, consider abandoning McDonogh by transferring her son elsewhere should the school stick to its plan not to play. She’ll be patient this year.
“I love his coach. I love what the school itself is doing. It’s kind of sad and disappointing that people are looking away from McDonogh because of this one season,” Slay said. “When it comes down, we won’t be the only school not participating.”
If things are still in flux in fall 2021, Slay would consider otherwise.
Samita Talwar balances that same understanding with her disappointment. She’d felt wishful for two games, maybe three. She knew her son, sophomore center and longsnapper Sanjay, would be happy with that.
But as much as her heart rooted for a fall season, her mind said otherwise. Talwar is a physician, after all. Like many in the medical field, including the several Johns Hopkins physicians on McDonogh’s board, she knows that coronavirus' longtime impacts are still unpredictable.
“That’s what we don’t want to see,” Talwar said, “our kids playing this year, get the infection and then what? Because we don’t know.”
Latest High School sports
“Yes, I’m very upset. I was sad. My son was also very sad about it. But then, it’s 50/50. What if one of our kids gets it? What if other players, or one of the coaches gets it? We have to look into that, too.”