The football coaches at Prince George's County's 20 public high schools will write a letter to the state's sanctioning body asking to alter significantly its rules concerning who can coach and who can play in the 7-on-7 summer passing leagues.
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association mandates that if an out-of-season team is coached by a person affiliated with the school, only up to 80 percent of the participating players can be returning players from the school's team. For instance, if a high school football coach wanted to coach his team in a summer passing league, only five players who were on the team the previous season can be on the team.
However, there is a way around the 80 percent rule. If a team is coached by someone not affiliated with the school, there are no restrictions on the makeup of summer teams. That is how schools keep their teams together for basketball and baseball summer leagues, which regularly are used by schools to help prepare for the upcoming season. The problem, football coaches argue, is that basketball and baseball require less coaching and are easier to have someone such as a parent or former player coach.
"I can get a parent [or relative] and have our whole [basketball] team out there and not miss a beat," Parkdale football and boys basketball coach Bob Johnson said. "Basketball is a freelance game. They know what offense we are going to run. In football, you have to do certain things."
For the past two summers, Johnson said he would have a volunteer coach the football team and then add that person to his coaching staff at the end of the summer. However, MPSSAA Executive Director Ned Sparks and Prince George's County Supervisor of Athletics Owen Johnson said before the summer that they would be paying more attention to the rule. Not wanting to take any chances, Bob Johnson said he decided to pull his team out of the passing league after 10 summers.
"We would rather be in the weight room--we think we can get more out of it," Johnson said. "What can we get out of five kids? Are we going to change five kids every game? Use five quarterbacks and five [sets of] receivers? We said, 'Okay, fine. We aren't going to be in it.' We think we can get more out of being at Parkdale."
Only seven teams entered the Prince George's Passing League this summer, and all are coached by volunteers so that as many returning players as possible can be on the team. The six-game regular season, with all games played at Tucker Road Park in Oxon Hill, will wrap up in the next few weeks (depending on makeup games yet to be scheduled).
Central football coach Henry Frazier said he would have liked to use the summer to work with his projected starting quarterback, Eric Featherston, a sophomore who played just three junior varsity games last season because of a broken wrist.
"The kids would be a bit more serious if you had one of the coaches there actually involved in it," Forestville football coach Michael Mayo said. "It's hard, because you want to tell them things and you can't. Sometimes they don't listen as much as they would [to a coach]."
Other Washington area jurisdictions have varying rules governing the makeup of summer league teams. In the Virginia AAA Northern Region, which includes the public schools in Fairfax County, high school coaches cannot be involved in summer leagues. In the District, the only rule governing summer teams is that they cannot be affiliated with a school in any way, including the use of school equipment; there are no restrictions on who can coach or who can play.
Johnson, Mayo and other coaches would like to see the MPSSAA move toward a rule similar to the District's.
However, Sparks said he does not foresee any change to the rule that has been in place since the mid-1980s. Sparks said the MPSSAA sent a survey to member schools over the winter asking for feedback on a number of subjects, including the out-of-season participation rules. Sparks said that 42.9 percent of the respondents said they were very satisfied with the rule, 22.5 reported to be satisfied, 25.8 dissatisfied and 8.2 very dissatisfied. Most of the dissatisfied replies included comments that the rules were difficult to enforce and discouraged coaches from helping students.
Although the number of dissatisfied reponses might seem high, Sparks said he did not think so.
"If we're talking about a presidential election," he said, "that's a landslide."
However, given the level of dissatisfaction in Prince George's, Owen Johnson said he believes the rule might be reviewed.
"Are the masses out there saying it should be something different? Maybe," he said. "Maybe we should look at it."
CAPTION: Forestville's Edward Garnes (40) defends Friendly's William Lane Jr. during play in passing league. School coaches hope MPSSAA will ease restrictions.