Archbishop Spalding could be next; Russell denied entrance to MIAA meetings

by Gary Adornato

Monday night, McDonogh School became the third member of the MIAA A Conference to announce it would not play St. Frances Academy in football in 2018, joining Mount St. Joseph and Calvert Hall which made similar announcements last week.

Along with Loyola Blakefield, which had previously received permission from the MIAA to play an independent football schedule in 2018, St. Frances’ 2018 schedule will be minus at least four league opponents which it faced last fall.

VSN has also learned that a decision by Archbishop Spalding to not play the Panthers in 2018 could be imminent. According to a source close to the situation, the Severna Park school wanted to wait until after the MIAA meetings this week to make a final decision. McDonogh had held a similar position, but made the call shortly after the first day of meetings.

In a letter to it’s football families, McDonogh co-athletic directors Mickey Deegan and Matt MacMullan announced the decision, stating, “The safety and well-being of our student-athletes is our highest priority, and after careful consideration, our administrators and coaches believe this is the best decision for our players.”

Last Wednesday, Deegan told VSN the school had not yet made a decision.

The announcement came as MIAA athletic directors are gathered in Easton, MD this week, for their annual workshop. The issue of forfeits was not formally discussed during the first day of meetings, Monday, but the athletic directors did consider some proposed rule changes surrounding junior and senior transfers. However, the AD’s can only propose rule changes. To become official rules, those proposals must be approved by the Association’s Heads of Schools and they will not meet again prior to the fall season. Thus, even if rule changes are made, they will not impact football until the 2019 season, at the earliest.

The announcements last week by Mount St. Joseph and Calvert Hall set off a firestorm in the local media, as the topic became a hot button item on talk radio, television news and with newspaper columnists, who rarely cover high school sports in a comprehensive manner.

St. Frances Principal, Dr. Curtis Turner, in a response to the decision by St. Joe and Calvert Hall, posted on the school’s web site last week, stated that the situation has exposed a rift.

“Reading the recent statement from Mount Saint Joseph High School and Calvert Hall College High School about our athletic league in general and Saint Frances Academy in particular has exposed a rift in the Baltimore community that many of us know exists, but few of us are willing to address,” wrote Turner. “My community was angered and hurt by the insinuation that we don’t share the same values as other members. This is particularly harmful coming from other Catholic schools.”

He further stated, “It should be noted that Saint Frances Academy is the oldest Catholic school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. If anything, historically, we should be credited with setting the standard by which a Catholic school in Baltimore should be measured. Instead, these nefarious elements seek to destroy rather than build. They seek to divide rather than unify. In fact, it is our uniqueness that makes us a great fit for the league and an asset to the City of Baltimore. We are deeply saddened that others do not see that.”

Turner’s statement inspired the following response from Calvert Hall President Brother John Kane, on Friday.

“Ugly characterizations of Calvert Hall have been made in response to our decision to cease playing football against St. Frances Academy,” wrote Kane. “Wrong and unfounded suggestions that this decision is racially motivated have appeared in the media and on social platforms. We will not stand silently in response.

“Let us be clear. Football is a sport under intense national scrutiny due to safety concerns. Head, spine, and other serious injuries occur at every level of the sport. At Calvert Hall, we take reasonable precautions to minimize the risk of such injuries for all players. No one disagrees that special care must be taken to protect young football players from injury.”

Monday started with an in-studio appearance on 105.7 The Fan by St. Frances athletic director Nick Myles and co-head football coach Henry Russell and a little drama in Easton, as Russell was later turned away from the MIAA meetings.

Myles, who stated during the interview that he would be going directly from the radio station to the MIAA meetings, had previously informed the MIAA that he would miss the first day of meetings, due to a prior commitment, and would be represented by St. Frances Associate Athletic Director and Director of Football Operations Messay Hailemariam. Myles did not attend the meetings on Monday, while Hailemarim and Russell arrived during a presentation by a guest speaker.

After the speaker finished, an unscheduled break was taken and Russell was informed that he could not stay for the formal discussions of the athletic directors. According to someone in the room, Russell disputed the decision and said he was also an Associate Athletic Director for St. Frances. However, with no formal notification of this fact having been made to the league, Russell was told he could not stay for the meetings. Hailermariam stayed and participated in the meetings, while Russell returned later and had lunch with the group, sitting with MIAA Executive Director Lee Dove.

No announcements were made about proposed rule changes which may impact this controversy.

At this time it remains unclear whether Gilman School may also eventually elect to not play St. Frances. Co-athletic director Lori Bristow told VSN last week that the school intends to play the league schedule it was issued, “at this time.”

According to a source, there are conflicting points of view within the Gilman administration. Gilman is the school where St. Frances co-head coach Biff Poggi was the head coach for 19 years, prior to leaving after the 2015 season. Russell, Poggi’s top assistant at Gilman, and the majority of Poggi’s Gilman football staff took over at St. Frances in 2016, as Russell replaced Hailemariam as the Panthers’ head coach. Poggi spent 2016 on the football staff at the University of Michigan, but went to St. Frances in 2017 and became co-head coach with Russell.