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Friendship Collegiate cancels football game against unsanctioned Eastern Christian

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The Friendship Collegiate football team has canceled its Sept. 7 game against Eastern Christian Academy due to concerns over the Elkton, Md.-based team’s eligibility. The fifth-ranked Knights (1-0) would have run the risk of being disqualified from the inaugural District-wide playoffs had they competed against Eastern Christian, which is not sanctioned by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

“It’s not in our best interest to even play a game where a team isn’t sanctioned,” Friendship Collegiate Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim said. “Beyond that, we won’t be eligible for playoffs.”

The game was set to be played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as part of the Patriot Football Classic, a high school football showcase event organized to honor the military. Abdul-Rahim said Wednesday afternoon that the Knights have reached out to potential in-state and out-of-state opponents in hopes of finding a replacement foe for Sept. 7.

Friendship Collegiate, a public charter school, is the second team in as many days to cancel a scheduled game against the Honey Badgers (2-0), who were profiled last week in Sports Illustrated as “high school football’s first virtual powerhouse.” On Tuesday, West Catholic (Pa.) canceled its Sept. 1 game against Eastern Christian out of concern for what the repercussions might be for playing an unsanctioned opponent.

The Eastern Christian team, which is in its first year of existence, is not part of a traditional high school; it is affiliated with National Connections Academy, an online private school attended by Eastern Christian’s players. National Connections applied to the MPSSAA for sanctioned membership earlier this month, but was denied because Eastern Christian does not play any Maryland public schools.

Officials from National Connections and the MPSSAA met Wednesday to continue discussions about the school’s status, but the parties reached no conclusion, according to Bill Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education.

Neither Steven Guttentag, president of Connections Learning, the parent company of National Connections, nor Dwayne Thomas, Eastern Christian’s football coach, nor David Sills IV, Eastern Christian’s founder, returned messages Wednesday seeking comment.

In separate interviews, Abdul-Rahim and Tony Kennedy, the director of the Patriot Football Classic, said they were not aware Eastern Christian was not a sanctioned program until earlier this week. Kennedy said he booked games for the event based on matchups and did not check to see if any of the participating schools were sanctioned by their respective state athletic associations before finalizing the event’s schedule in May.

The matchup between Friendship Collegiate and Eastern Christian had been highly anticipated. The Knights went 9-1 last season and played a game on ESPN. Eastern Christian features quarterback David Sills V, who was offered a scholarship offer by Southern California Coach Lane Kiffin when Sills was 13.

D.C. statewide athletic director Clark Ray said Friendship Collegiate, which his association has sanctioned, would have run the risk of being deemed ineligible for the D.C. playoffs had it played an unsanctioned opponent.

“There’s never been a governing body that has checked the charter schools’ athletic schedules, the teams they’re playing, to that point,” Ray said Wednesday before Friendship Collegiate canceled the Eastern Christian game. “So for me to sit here and tell you right now if Friendship were to play Maryland Eastern Christian and Maryland Eastern Christian was not a sanctioned school by the state or by any state association, that we would throw Friendship out of a D.C. state athletic association playoff?

“I can’t tell you that because I think this first year, with establishing the state association, flexibility is key. Going forward, as we get this thing established, that would be a non-issue. A DCSAA school cannot play another team who is not sanctioned by their state association.”

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