The fifth-ranked Friendship Collegiate football team will be inactive for a third straight week after receiving notice from Valley Forge Military Academy (Pa.) that it was forfeiting Friday’s contest out of concern for the safety of its players.
The Knights have played just one game so far this season. Their Sept. 1 contest against Baltimore’s Mount St. Joseph was called off due to lightning. The following week, Friendship cancelled its game against Eastern Christian Academy because the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has not sanctioned Eastern Christian.
“I just feel for the seniors and then the [non-committed] kids that need film, that could use these opportunities” to play games, Friendship Coach Aazaar Abdul-Rahim said. “That’s more important than anything.”
As an independent public charter school, Friendship cannot rely on conference opponents for guaranteed games and the Knights have struggled in recent years to attract high-profile D.C.-area opponents as their own prominence has soared.
In previous seasons, Friendship was able to fill its schedule with a few local prominent public and private school teams, such as H.D. Woodson, Dunbar and Gonzaga. The Knights faced DeMatha for four straight years from 2007-10, but have since been unable to get the Stags on their schedule.
“I’m taking the high road; I’m not calling anyone out,” said Abdul-Rahim, whose team’s next scheduled game is Sept. 22 against Leo Catholic (Ill.). “But it would be nice if we could play more local teams. There was a time when the best teams in the DMV would play against each other, and it doesn’t seem like that happens anymore.”
Friendship was scheduled to play Valley Forge on Friday night, but Valley Forge Athletic Director Mick Lorusso sent Abdul-Rahim an email Monday shortly before 10 p.m. that stated his school’s intention to forfeit the game.
“Coach Rahim: I am obliged to inform you that due to several injuries to a significant number of our players this past weekend, and a genuine concern for the safety of many of our first year players, I regretfully need to cancel our scheduled football game,” Lorusso wrote in the email, a copy of which Abdul-Rahim provided to The Post.
Valley Forge lost, 34-15, at Loyola-Blakefield on Saturday in its season opener. When reached by phone Wednesday, Valley Forge Coach Josh Sands referred all questions to Lorusso, who did not return a message left seeking comment.
On Wednesday, Eastern Christian Coach Dwayne Thomas reached out to Abdul-Rahim to gage the Knights’ interest in having Eastern Christian fill the schedule gap this weekend.
Abdul-Rahim said he told Thomas that if Clark Ray, the athletic director for the D.C. Statewide Athletics Association, stated that Friendship could compete against Eastern Christian without risk of being deemed ineligible for the inaugural DCSAA playoffs, then Friendship would agree to play Eastern Christian.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Abdul-Rahim said he had heard nothing from Ray, and Thomas said he had been unable to reach Ray by telephone.
Ray previously had said Friendship would run the risk of being ruled ineligible for the DCSAA playoffs if it played a non-sanctioned opponent such as Eastern Christian. In an email Wednesday, Ray said the DCSAA’s stance on this matter remains unchanged.
Abdul-Rahim said if a game between Friendship and Eastern Christian for this weekend cannot be arranged, the Knights would have yet another bye weekend.
While Friendship might not play Eastern Christian this season, the Knights are taking advantage of Eastern Christian’s struggles to maintain a schedule. Eastern Christian originally was scheduled to play Paramus Catholic (N.J.) on Oct. 26 at Rutgers University, but Paramus Catholic backed out of that arrangement due to concerns that Eastern Christian will not gain state sanctioning by that time, according to Thomas.
Abdul-Rahim said Paramus Catholic recently reached out to Friendship about filling that scheduling gap, and now it is Friendship that will play Paramus Catholic at Rutgers on Oct. 26. Abdul-Rahim said he also is hoping to find an opponent for the second weekend of November since the DCSAA playoffs do not begin until Nov. 17.