Three years removed from winning the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference football championship, Paul VI Catholic has decided to pull its football team out of the league for at least the next two seasons, and will instead play an independent schedule, Athletic Director Pete Menke said yesterday.

Paul VI's remaining sports teams will continue to play a full WCAC schedule. The school decided to take a break in football to give the program a chance to "regroup," Menke said.

Paul VI shocked DeMatha, 23-10, in 1999 to claim the conference championship. But this season, under the direction of first-year head coach Mark Collier, the Panthers are 1-8, losing to DeMatha, Good Counsel and Gonzaga -- the conference's top programs -- by a combined score of 129-0. They went 2-8 last season. Menke also said the physical pounding many of the Paul VI players have received in those games contributed to the school's decision.

"We want to take a step back and regroup and reorganize ourselves," Menke said. "It's hard enough for the young men to take a loss, but it's even worse when you are taking a physical beating and get injuries, too. Our biggest player is an average size on some other teams. . . . Our goal is to return in two years and be more competitive."

Paul VI's departure is not unprecedented. In recent years, Pallotti left the league altogether and Bishop Ireton dropped out in football. Gonzaga left for two years in the late 1970s before rejoining, as did DeMatha in the mid-1950s.

With Paul VI out of the league, the WCAC is left with seven schools that field football teams. The league schedule, which already had been set for the coming two seasons, will have to be adjusted to ensure the remaining teams can play a 10-game regular season, WCAC Commissioner Bob Hardage said. The timing of Paul VI's decision, however, has left schools with adequate time to find another opponent.

Next season, Paul VI will play Fork Union, Bullis, Ireton and Stone Bridge and has expressed interest in playing Woodberry Forest, Sidwell Friends and O'Connell, Menke said, with the Panthers' goal being to qualify for the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament.

Snyder Resigns

O'Connell Athletic Director Darrell Snyder has resigned as football coach at the Arlington-based private school after a 17-year career in two stints, the Journal Newspapers first reported in its Tuesday editions.

Snyder's first stint as a football coach began in 1974. In 1982, he gave up the position when he was promoted to athletic director -- a position he will continue to hold.

Snyder, 68, returned to coach the Knights in 1994, when the team won the WCAC Division 2 Title. The league soon dropped the division format, but Snyder directed the Knights to the 2000 WCAC championship game, which it lost to DeMatha.

"I've been coaching for a very long time," Snyder said. "I decided it was to give it up and let a younger person take over."

A successor is expected to be named next week, Snyder said.

Snyder's team finished 4-5 this season after defeating Carroll, 21-6, last night in a WCAC championship consolation game. The Knights suffered a first-round loss to Good Counsel on Nov. 8.

-- Tarik El-Bashir

and Judith Evans