Maryland Crab Bowl is short on stars, some boycott all-star football game

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, December 21, 2009

The Maryland Crab Bowl will take place on Monday night with many of the state's top senior football players on the field at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium. But seven players and two assistant coaches who were originally set to take part in the game won't, due to a conflict with the organizers of the statewide all-star game.

Six players who were initially selected were removed from the rosters last week because they participated in another all-star game, in violation of an agreement with the Crab Bowl. A seventh player and two assistant coaches are boycotting the Crab Bowl in support of those kicked out of the game. The messy situation has game organizers and angry high school coaches blaming each other for shifting the focus away from the field.

"This could be the end of the game," said Crab Bowl co-founder Sean O'Connor, who also is the baseball coach at DeMatha and president of a streaming media company. "If you don't have the coaches' support, you don't have an all-star game. I would hope people wouldn't be happy about that."

According to O'Connor, the problem started last year in the Crab Bowl's debut, when seven players missed the game because of injuries, including three who were hurt the previous week in other all-star games.

With this in mind, O'Connor and partner Chuck Harmon -- who say they lost money on last year's game -- put a clause in their agreements with players, stipulating that "the Maryland Crab is the only Maryland all star football game I will participate in."

Following a heated discussion at a Maryland Football Coaches Association meeting earlier this month, association president Joe Russo said: "I just don't see where they get the right to tell kids this."

The clause pertained to four other all-star games in Maryland in early December. It did not interfere with players selected to national-style events held in January, such as the U.S. Army All-American Bowl or the Under Armour All-American Game, as it is unlikely any player would pass on an invite to those games to play in the Crab Bowl. The NCAA limits high school seniors to two postseason all-star games without affecting their eligibility.

"We let people know this in July and November and at other meetings," said O'Connor, who acknowledged an unintentional loophole for players who live in Maryland but play at out-of-state private schools. St. John's All-Met lineman Andre Monroe and Carroll lineman Nate Clarke, for instance, participated in the District's All-City Bowl. "We let people know this is what's going on."

However, there was confusion among several players and parents, especially in Prince George's County, which plays an annual game -- the Chick-fil-A Challenge -- against top players from the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference.

Suitland defensive back Jeremiah Johnson said he knew in advance that playing in the Chick-fil-A Challenge would jeopardize his eligibility for the Crab Bowl, but he hoped that he could play both. However, Gwynn Park linebacker Brian Blue and lineman Jerome June and Wise senior Charles Owens were under the impression that the situation had been resolved so they could play in both games. The four players were removed from the Crab Bowl rosters, along with McDonough wideout Devante Stamps and Milford Mill wideout Tyrek Cheeseboro.

In protest, Wise defensive end Rahsaan Moore quit the team this week, and Gwynn Park Coach Danny Hayes and Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney resigned their positions as assistant coaches in the game.

"To be told the kids are not allowed to play in that game really brushed Prince George's County wrong, as well as the rest of the state," Hayes said. "There's some things they are going to have to change if Prince George's County is going to be in the Crab Bowl or else we may elect just not to be in it."

Changes may occur for next year, according to O'Connor , but he said that no one voiced concerns about a potential problem until last week. By that point, he said, it would be unfair to change any rules after other players had made their all-star game choices based on the Crab Bowl's rules.

"We're going to look into getting rid of it for obvious reasons," O'Connor said. "I'm going to try to find an equitable solution."

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