The predicted unraveling of Baltimore’s prep football scene appears to indeed be underway. Another scheduled opponent bailed on playing the city’s burgeoning national gridiron powerhouse, St. Frances Academy, as accusations of cheating, cowardice and racism were flying all over town. All because St. Frances got too good too fast and with too much money from the head coach.
The Baltimore Sun, in a story in today’s editions headlined “St. Frances football faces struggle to put together schedule after MIAA departures,” reported that administrators at Calvert Hall, a rival in the state’s robust MIAA A Conference, alerted league officials that they no longer intend to show up for their scheduled season opener against St. Frances. That makes three local opponents so far to announce they were no longer playing SFA, which USA Today had as the 4th best high school squad in the country last season. Administrators at Mount Saint Joseph High School bailed earlier this week, citing St. Frances’ dependence on transfers and out-of-town students as a violation of the “spirit” of league rules, and Loyola Blakefield, after last season’s 65-0 whupping by St. Frances, claimed “safety” concerns inspired its withdrawal from the league.
The controversy is centered around St. Frances first-year head coach, Biff Poggi. He’s a hedge fund manager who according to school officials personally pays for “more than 40 football players” to attend St. Frances at around $10,000 apiece per year. The Catholic Review, a newsletter of the Baltimore Archdiocese, also reported that the school’s “out of town” players were being given room and board in rowhouses in the city’s very desirable Canton neighborhood.
St. Frances isn’t taking the defections quietly. Henry Russell, who has the title of co-head coach, yesterday blasted anybody afraid to face his team in a Twitter tirade.
And the St. Frances principal, Deacon Curtis Turner, asserted the rancor was rooted in racism.
In a lengthy rant posted on Facebook, the deacon said the actions by St. Joseph and Calvert Hall were part of an effort to “destroy” his school, which was founded by the Catholic church in the early 19th century as a place where the children of slaves could get an education and has historically catered to minority students. Turner said the demolition plan was launched by “elements of our society” that “have been opposed to our noble mission and opposed to our very existence.”
“With the exception of our social-economic demographic, we resemble any other private school in Baltimore,” Turner railed. “But it is that difference that is driving the current dynamic in the league.”
The deacon made no mention in his tirade about the head coach spending around half a million bucks a year on football, or gave any hint that an earmarked cash windfall so sudden and so massive might impact the competitive balance of the city’s football landscape.
The storm shows no sign of subsiding, either: According to the Sun, the number of schools turning tail and running away from matchups with St. Frances might well increase by the time a planned meeting of MIAA officials is held next week. And the folks being pegged by St. Frances’s brass as cowards and racists aren’t backing down.
“They’re bigger, stronger, faster, better,” the father of a Calvert Hall player told the Sun by way of supporting the refusal to play St. Frances. “They’re playing at the national level trying to win a national championship. We’re trying to make the playoffs in the A Conference.”