The Big Game doesn't cut a rug any more

January 24, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

In case you haven’t noticed, we just finished the third full weekend of January.

‘Tis the season for awards shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes, with many more still to come.

In Hagerstown, it’s also time for our own version of red carpet moments. It’s called the annual Allegany College of Maryland at Hagerstown Community College men’s basketball game.

But here, fancy gowns give way to warmup suits. The gourmet dinner is a soft pretzel. And forget the statue — bragging rights are on the line.

This game has been the Super Bowl, a Hollywood premiere, a heavyweight championship fight and a Rolling Stones concert stop all wrapped up in one for this part of Western Maryland. At the least, it’s as close to any of those things as a bunch of guys running around in shorts in the dead of winter could create.

The Allegany vs. Hagerstown matchup used to be circled on every serious local fan’s sporting calendar. The game was one of the toughest tickets to get. Fans lined up hours before tipoff just to make sure they didn’t get left out of what had become one of local sports’ most memorable nights.

Even with added seating, HCC’s complex would be packed. There was as much competition in the stands as there was on the court since Allegany’s fans didn’t mind coming down the mountain for the game. It was considered the warm-up to mid-February’s rematch in Cumberland.

The games were “classics.” They got better with age because memories tend to exaggerate. The talents that graced the floor — like Dexter Boney, Steve Francis, Eric Mobley and Ryan Randle — went on to bigger and better things, only stapling vivid recollections to memory banks.

But now, like the ever-changing rosters on these junior college basketball teams, everything is different.

Time, turnover and technology have taken the luster off Allegany’s annual visit. This isn’t one of those “the more things change, the more they stay the same” instances.

When the Trojans and Hawks faced off on Saturday, the game was a shadow of a shadow of its former self. There was more interest than any other run-of-the-mill Maryland JuCo Conference game, but the empty seats resembled a finished Maryland Lottery Keno board.

Why? There isn’t one good reason, but many contributing factors.

Let’s start with the obvious. With so many sporting events televised these days, no one has to leave their living room or barstool to see a game — for free.

Athletic events across this county and country are seeing declining attendance. And in places like HCC, many of its diehard fans are dying off without younger fans waiting to fill those seats.

Back in the day, the Ohio State and Michigan football teams turned the Big Ten into the Big Two and the Little Eight. Here, Allegany and HCC were Kool while the rest of the conference was their Gang. Parity has disbanded those exclusive clubs.

Suddenly, watching the Allegany-HCC game has the anticipation of attending the Pro Bowl, a budget movie, a boxing undercard and a Vanilla Ice concert.

The main reason for this saga’s sagging ratings is probably because its lead actors have been replaced.

Allegany vs. HCC was as much about the two coaches as it was about the players and game.

Allegany’s Bob Kirk and HCC’s Jim Brown each spent more than three decades building successful programs and cultivating the rivalry.

They were competitive showmen. Each recruited and developed endless streams of talent. They knew how to push the right buttons in the media. They hated each other. They liked each other.

And more importantly, they respected each other.

Kirk and Brown had their schtick down and the fans ate it up.

It all disappeared when they retired and the rivalry suffered. It’s not the same. It’s too bad.

I wonder if anyone is in the market for a good, used red carpet.

Bob Parasiliti is a Herald-Mail sports writer. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by e-mail at

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