When rating scholastic football throughout the country, such states as Texas, Florida, Georgia, California, Ohio and Pennsylvania show near the top. Despite producing a number of top collegiate and professional players, Maryland is never mentioned in the same class.
On July 20 at Hershey, Pa., however, the best recent graduates from Maryland will test their skills and strength against Pennsylvania's top scholastic players in the Big 33 game. From a state that's been suffering from an image problem, Maryland coaches and players have everything to gain from such a game in terms of exposure and reputation.
"Nearly everyone who'll be playing in this game will have already accepted a college scholarship, so that's not our prime reason for wanting to play Pennsylvania," said Wootton Coach Bob Hampton, who along with Meade's Jerry Mears, Seneca Valley's Al Thomas, Surrattsville's John Zier and other coaches throughout the state have led the effort to meet the challenge of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association. "This game is going to be played for pride. This is a tremendous opportunity for the state and our players. We're working to make this an annual affair."
The game, which began in 1958, will be sponsored by United Republic Insurance Co. Earlier games featured all-star teams from Ohio and Texas.
Although providing a worthwhile athletic and social experience for the players is their first goal, Hampton and his fellow coaches also think that a game like this could be the springboard that enables Maryland scholastic coaches to form a professional association like those in nearly every other state.
"If a statewide coaches organization were an outgrowth of this game, that would be tremendous. We really need one," Hampton said. "Something like that would immeasurably improve the quality of coaching and athletics in Maryland."
A fledgling group has already been started, but the Big 33 game and the support of Ned Sparks, executive secretary of the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association, will help its image.
The most pressing problem that Hampton and his fellow coaches face is not organizing their peers, but the lack of blue-chip linemen. Players from the MPSSAA, Maryland Scholastic Association (Baltimore) and the state's private schools will be considered, but still the linemen pool remains thin.
Among those considered likely to be chosen to represent Maryland are DeMatha running back Mike Anderson and wide receiver James Brown, Churchill defensive end Jonathan Holloway, Oxon Hill running back Derrick Fenner and defensive back Wendell Battle and Annapolis defensive back Jay Johnson. The selections won't be announced until early March.
The leading candidate for the vacant football coaching position at St. John's High is former Duke all-America John Ricca. Now the athletic director of the Catholic Youth Organization in Washington, Ricca, a 6-foot-6, 290-pounder who played professionally in the Canadian and World Football leagues, is the son of former Washington Redskins Jim Ricca.