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It's not easy to size up issue of school size

December 03, 2006|by MARK KELLER

Does size really matter - school size, that is - when two high school football teams take the field?

There's probably not a correct answer to that question, at least not one that could be agreed on by a majority of people.

I've argued myself in circles over this question the past few years and I've come to the same conclusion: Size does not matter, but sometimes it does.

Yeah, I'm as confused as you are.

Representatives of the Monocacy Valley Athletic League voted two weeks ago to realign their three conferences based solely on projected enrollment numbers for the 2007-08 school year, which were released two weeks before that.

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That means that the Class 1A schools in Washington County - Williamsport, Boonsboro, Smithsburg and Clear Spring - will not have to play North Hagerstown and South Hagerstown in football (or any other sport, for that matter) unless they want to.

And some - perhaps many - high school sports fans outside the North and South High districts rejoiced.

For the record, I think the MVAL realignment is a good thing. I do believe that schools should play the majority of their games against other schools with comparable enrollment figures, particularly when it comes to football.

What I don't like is when the enrollment figures become an out or an excuse for a loss, which some coaches and fans like to fall back on when it becomes convenient.

This argument has come up in several cases over the last five years. It cropped up when North reeled off its 11-1 season in 2003 and has dogged the Hubs ever since.

Few complained about having to play North prior to that. Winning seasons were sporadic at best for the Hubs, and beating a bigger school meant bigger bonus points for the smaller schools.

It cropped up in 2004 when Jefferson found football again with an 8-4 record, then followed it with an 11-1 season.

Few complained about having to play Jefferson prior to that. The Cougars won 27 games - 27 - from 1993 to 2003. Most welcomed the opportunity to play a school as large as Jefferson - the largest in West Virginia - in order to collect those precious bonus points for beating a big school.

It's cropped up since Martinsburg has won six straight games over Fort Hill. The Sentinels - or more likely their rabid fans - just aren't used to having their team dominated by anybody.

In 1999, North was the only 3A school in the old 10-team MVAL. The Hubs went 1-9 that year, their only win coming in the season finale against South.

Catoctin, Brunswick, Williamsport, Smithsburg and Boonsboro - all 1A schools, all presumably much smaller than North - all beat North that season.

What has changed since then? Did North's program make that much improvement from 1999 to 2003? Have some of the 1A programs fallen that far behind?

And the bigger question: Why does it only matter that North, Jefferson and Martinsburg are bigger now that they are winning, and not when they are losing?

I'm not defending North. I think North and South did the right thing in leaving the Tri-State League and the Cumberland Valley Athletic League for the MVAL in the 1980s because they were getting their heads bashed nearly every week in those leagues.

Now, both schools North, in particular have caught up and surpassed the competition in the MVAL Antietam and should step up and play bigger schools. It's another step in the strengthening of their programs.

North and South have no business playing Clear Spring in football. (For that matter, Clear Spring has no business in the MVAL for football anyway but that's an argument for another day.) There is little benefit for either school to play a third-year program which is that small.

To its credit, North has seemed to step it up, adding Musselman to its nonconference schedule for 2007. The Hubs also have had preliminary talks with Martinsburg and Fort Hill about openings, though it's unknown if they will come to fruition in this schedule cycle. If and when it does happen, those would be major upgrades for North.

It also shows that the Hubs are prepared to step out of the MVAL Antietam and move their football program to the next level.

And now that the bigger schools are gone, the onus is on those left behind in the Antietam to step up and deliver.

There are no more convenient excuses.

Mark Keller is sports editor of The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com. Read his blog at www.herald-mail.com/sports/blogs/keller

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