Neutral Pages? Not for us | Local Sports
For the first time in years, a Western Maryland Athletic Conference team played at a “neutral venue” on Tuesday.
To be sure, western teams played a dozen games during what the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has termed neutral-venue competitions.
Games are meant to be played in venues that don’t give any team a competitive advantage, but on Tuesday, for the first time, one of our teams didn’t travel much farther than their opponent.
Miraculously, Northern and Colonel Richardson were equidistant from McCurdy Field in Tuesday’s Class 1A semifinal baseball game, with both programs traveling 124 miles, or two hours by car.
Not only was this an unusual occurrence, it never happened and the data backs it up.
In wrestling, boys’ and girls’ soccer, and boys’ and girls’ basketball, such bouts are fought at neutral locations in secondary schools. The volleyball semifinals were previously held at Harford Community College, but were moved to high schools this academic year.
The baseball semifinals will be held at Shirley Povich Field (Rockville), Joe Cannon Stadium (Hanover), Regency Furniture Stadium (Waldorf) and McCurdy Field (Frederick).
Softball semifinals are held at the Bachman Sports Complex in Glen Burnie.
Since the start of the fall 2021 season, there have been 224 semifinalists at neutral locations across the state, not counting lacrosse, which has yet to make it to western Maryland.
At that point, 12 such teams from WestMAC were competing, averaging 141 miles – an amazing but unsurprising 89 miles more than the national average.
Only within Class 1A, of the 56 teams competing in the semifinals at neutral locations, WestMAC participants have 12 of the 13 longest commutes.
Northern holds the record for the state’s longest trip in the past two years, and in the past two years has completed a 197-mile trek to North Point High School for the wrestling semifinals/finals.
The “shortest” trip of any of our five public schools was made by Allegany in the 2022 Class 1A baseball semifinals, a mere 93.4 mile hike to McCurdy Field.
His opponent, Clear Spring, only traveled 39 miles for this game.
Even expanding to all four of Maryland’s classes, all 12 participants in the WestMAC semifinals were among the 25 furthest trips. Remember that since 2021 a total of more than 200 schools have made it this far.
The state may call them “neutral sites,” but they’re not for us.
Just because a game isn’t played on a team’s home field doesn’t mean there isn’t a competitive advantage.
To add salt to the wound, six teams have hosted semi-finals: Winston Churchill and Arundel (volleyball), Montgomery Blair and Crofton (girls’ soccer), Montgomery Blair (boys’ soccer) and North Point (wrestling).
Those across the Potomac River in the Frankfort Territory know all too well the shenanigans involved in such “neutral site” designations.
In West Virginia’s Class AA, Region II, Section 1, the section finals are played with whichever of the three teams in the section fails to make the championship game. In part of Frankfort, Moorefield and Petersburg, the Falcons are usually in play.
That means the section finals are almost always played at the Moorefield or Petersburg high schools — much closer to the one played in Frankfort, and crowds often reflect that.
Older fans have a much harder time commuting more than an hour. So imagine the awkwardness of the 120 miles and more than two-hour drives that Maryland schools regularly undertake in the semifinals — only to play against a school that deserves a half-hour drive.
Nonetheless, West Maryland teams have seen consistent fan attendance at these games.
At the start of the girls basketball semifinals at Richard Montgomery’s last year, I was well over 100 Mountain Ridge fans and I was among 18 Forest Park fans.
Maybe that’s part of the problem. The state sees no need to accommodate Maryland’s outlying areas, as fans out west always show up in droves.
I realize there aren’t many possible locations west of Frederick, but maybe throw us a bone and give us Hagerstown sometime?
The MPSSAA firmly believes that Frederick, like much of the state, belongs to western Maryland. Montgomery County, on the other hand, is considered “western” when considering the locations of the basketball-neutral locations.
But I assure you that Hagerstown, “only” 60 miles from Cumberland, is not too far west.
The distance from Stephen Decatur High School, which is eight miles west of Ocean City, and Hagerstown is 203 miles.
How Far Did Dave Taylor’s Southern Wrestling Team Travel To North Point When They Won Tackling Titles In 2018, 2019 And 2020? Only 192 miles.
There is also priority for holding state events west of Frederick County.
Mike Calhoun’s Fort Hill Sentinels took on Dunbar at South Hagerstown High in 1994 and claimed the Class 2A title, a 30-15 victory by Dunbar in front of an estimated 10,000 red-clad fans.
Or, here’s an idea: why not just do what football does in the semi-final round?
If you’re not playing the semifinals in stadiums and arenas like in West Virginia, and you’re playing them in secondary schools anyway, just play them at the higher-team venue.
And before anyone says baseball has semifinals in stadiums, I beg you, don’t compare McCurdy Field to the sites that offer classes other than 1A — a minor league park and two college facilities.
I’m sure it was pretty back in 1936, but compared to the beautiful park that hosts all of West Virginia’s semifinals and championship games at Charleston’s GoMart Ballpark, McCurdy Field hardly compares.
I still have the splinters of McCurdy’s wooden bleachers in my butt to prove it.
Anyway, back on topic: Given the not-so-neutral locations, there’s no benefit in giving up regional sport as the number 1 spot in any sport other than football.
If travel is the problem, why isn’t football a problem when teams are sent here to fodder Fort Hill and Mountain Ridge on cold November nights?
Fort Hill secured first place in boys’ basketball that year and was rewarded with a 117-mile trip to play Edmondson at Richard Montgomery’s, 80 miles further than his opponent.
Edmondson High School is 67 miles from Hagerstown. food for thought.
The reality is that the MPSSAA has no anti-Western Maryland bias. That’s not the case.
To have a bias, you have to give at least a fraction of your attention to something.
The MPSSAA has a penchant for laziness, and it has a penchant for anything that fetches the cheapest dollar.
I hate going back to what happened in West Virginia, but this state is constantly making decisions that produce the best state tournament products imaginable.
Of course, their regional competitions are as tenuous as ours, but their national tournaments are held in honor of their young athletes.
Marylands are designed to be finished as soon as possible.
Enjoy the clash of Northern and Colonel Richardson’s neutral sites, because that’s all it was. An accident.