Making room on the plate for holiday treats

December 19, 2004|by MARK KELLER

A few things that I need to clear off my plate before the end of the year:

· There was a lot of talk around the state when Hancock made the football playoffs, and very little of what was said was good - at least if you fall on the Panthers' side of the fence.

The biggest knock against the Panthers, who finished 9-1, is that they played a "weak" schedule, while teams like Brunswick (5-5) and Beall (4-4) faced better opposition and therefore were more deserving of the playoff spot.

Would Brunswick or Beall have beaten Hancock if they had played this season? My guess is they would have, but I can't say for sure.


South Hagerstown beat Walkersville this season, yet Walkersville made the playoffs because it finished with a better record. Should South have gotten in by virtue of its head-to-head win over the Lions? Of course not.

Six years ago, when Bill Sterner became the Panthers' football coach, he abandoned the schedule the school had been playing in favor of one that would allow his team to be more competitive.

Sterner was facing a numbers battle. His school has only 80 boys in it, and as long as the team was getting beat up every week, fewer and fewer of those boys were coming out for the team each year. It had nothing to do with trying to sneak the team into the playoffs through the back door, as many think it did.

Even with that schedule, the Panthers haven't had all success. Sterner had just one winning season in five years, and that was in his last year. John Blake, who took over the Panthers in 2004, helped them to their best season ever.

Sterner, who is the athletic director at Hancock and works as a part-time correspondent for The Herald-Mail, makes no apologies for the change and has said he will not go back to the old schedule as long as he is involved with the program.

He shouldn't have to. Nor should the Panthers have to apologize to anybody for getting into the postseason.

· Slowly but surely, it seems as though the MPSSAA is starting to get it right.

The organization did away with the ridiculous "alternating home game" rule for their open playoff brackets.

Home games are now awarded to the higher seed in each contest, a novel concept in comparison to the old alternating system that nearly required a degree in mathematics to figure out.

So, now if you earn the top seed in your region, you get to play at home for as long as you keep winning.

As the great Yakov Smirnoff used to say, "What a country!"

· Which is better: Playing in a small stadium that is nearly filled to capacity - with people - or playing in a huge stadium nearly filled to capacity with empty seats?

That question arose at the West Virginia state football finals two weeks ago at Wheeling Island Stadium, which holds about 12,000 people.

The stands were nearly filled on both sides for the Class AAA game between Martinsburg and Morgantown, with the vocal fans providing a big-game feel in a relatively small stadium.

Meanwhile, the Maryland finals were played at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore. The field was undoubtedly in better condition, but even if the same 12,000 people who attended the Martinsburg game were in Ravens Stadium, they'd have been far outnumbered by the empty purple seats in a venue that holds about 70,000 people.

I suppose there's something to be said for getting the opportunity to play on a professional field, but I would think the chance to play in a full stadium - where the cheers can be heard - is more appealing.

Then again, I've never had such an opportunity, so I'd like to hear from you. Send me an e-mail and let me know which option you think is better.

· Since this will be my final column of 2004, here's hoping you have a great holiday season and an outstanding 2005.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Sunday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at

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