Allow me to preface this writing by making clear that this should not be taken as a “Hard News” article. It is more so of an editorial. One could even call it an open letter of sorts. It is not a “Hard News” article because, by admission, I am too close to the subject matter; I have a personal affinity, respect and admiration for parents, coaches and student athletes on each side of the debate. The McDonogh/Pallotti debacle left a bad taste in the mouths of many. Myself included. As a football fan, I was disappointed. As a Man, I was torn, thus as a Journalist, I must write.
The Lead Up
McDonogh and Pallotti are two of the premiere programs in the region. McDonogh has held that designation for years now. Head Coach Dom Damico has been at the helm of the Eagles since 1994 and has helped solidify them into a perennial powerhouse and this season has promise to meet, if not exceed those annual expectations. With All-World Quarterback DeJuan Ellis, talented Running Back Jabriel Johnson and a host of highly recruited student athletes, McDonogh is set to challenge St. Frances for the MIAA-A
The football program, in accordance with the expectations of the entire school, is one of polish and prestigious. They are universally respected and held in high regard by other coaches. As a whole, Mcdonogh is considered by many to be the benchmark; a measuring stick, if you will. A mirror for aspiring programs to look into and judge themselves accordingly. The proverbial, “City upon a Hill”, McDonogh football are the blue bloods of the MIAA.
The young men of St. Vincent Pallotti come from slightly more humble beginnings. Head Coach Ian Thomas leads a program with roots deeper in passion than prestige. A close knit group, the Panthers thrive on their family atmosphere and openly embrace an “US vs. The World” philosophy.
They don’t have the same level of facilities as much of their competition. They don’t have a long standing tradition of winning, nor is their name yet recognized on the national scene. They are upstarts. “The new kids on the block”. The “baby brother” who hit a growth spurt and decided he no longer wants to be treated like a baby brother.
In running off 10 straight victories to close the season, Pallotti captured the MIAA-B crown last season and have every reason to believe they will do the same this year. Big time ballers, Blake Corum, Coziah Izzard and Jelani Foster lead a band of young and hungry Panthers.
It was under this backdrop that McDonogh and Pallotti were set to do battle on Saturday evening. A classic match-up of “Establishment vs. Outsider”. Could the champion of the MIAA-B compete with and/or potentially defeat the mighty member of class A? The game was always going to be about much more than a win or loss; it was about prominence. It was about respect.
The Facts (as have been relayed to me)
That said, with so much on the line, one must ask, how was the game not played? Here is the information provided to me by sources in administration from each side:
The Pallotti Panthers had multiple key student athletes who did not complete the MIAA’s heat acclimation policy. I was told by a Pallotti official that the young men were required to meet the standard of 14 practice days in order to play. The source stated multiple key players missed one or more days and that the Panther’s trainer was not going to clear them for game action.
As a result, Athletic Directors from each school conferenced and came to the collective decision to downgrade the match-up to a scrimmage rather than forcing a forfeit on behalf of SVP. The decision was made as of 4:30pm on Friday.
Although the game would not count as an official win or lose for either team, passions and tensions were still running rampant on both sides. As is the case in any sibling rivalry, the stakes are just as high regardless of the stage.
There was trash talk and “jaw jacking” on each side. The anticipation of the match-up was high and intensity rose to a fever pitch. During warm-ups, those emotions reached their boiling point. As the two squads partook in their individual football chants/call-and-response, the Pallotti squad began to walk towards McDonogh where the two squads met around the Eagles 40 yard line. According to a source, this was problematic because federation rules state that a team is not allowed to cross the 50 yard line during warm-ups for any reason.
The McDonogh staff were first to interject, but coaches from each team quickly separated the players. To the credit of the young men, there did not appear to be any punches thrown nor physical contact made of any sort. The retreat was without further incident. That said, under the conditions, the decision was made to call off the scrimmage.
My Thoughts and Conjecture:
In speaking with parents of young men from each team, I have been told that the trash talk amongst the teams was indeed intense. It has been reported that players from McDonogh called out an individual from Pallotti and that there may have been an adult individual associated with SVP who made a disparaging remark to one or more of the Eagles.
Personally, I am a former collegiate athlete and thus am more than familiar with the passions of the game. In defense of each program, these are QUALITY and UPSTANDING young men who have excellent leaders and mentors around them. For those reasons, I do not believe that things would have escalated further had the scrimmage gone on. I believe both teams would have played hard. Hit each other in the mouth (figurative football term—not meant to be taken literally), and and the end of the game, hugged and thanked each other and wished the other well on the rest of their season.
That said, since it was no longer an official regular season game—merely a scrimmage. I can understand the thought process and ultimate decision to call it off. As is the case in any sibling rivalry, when you’re the “Big Brother”, there was much at risk and very little to gain in an unsteady atmosphere.
In the aftermath, I do make a plea to the student athletes to let go and move on from this on your social media sites. I don’t believe either side was “scared” or “afraid” of the other. Adults made an adult decision. Nothing more, nothing less. As student athletes, you don’t want the words you type in this moment to come back and hurt you later on. Remember, college coaches are always watching.
At the end of it all, there were no loses, albeit literally or figuratively, but many lessons learned. Each of these schools and football programs will move onwards and upwards. By Monday morning, all focus will be on the next opponent. This epic match-up will have to wait for another day.
The Ricardo Report