The year 2020 will be one that won’t be forgotten due to the problems caused in so many places. Sports took a huge beating, especially at the high school level. For example, Maryland public high schools never finished their state playoffs in basketball in March due to the pandemic that began sweeping across the country.

Plus, the spring season barely got started and was wiped out eventually. But after a lot of effort, a bunch of Catholic schools in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association worked out an arrangement this fall in which various teams are playing an open season — not really in a conference — around six or seven games. That started Nov. 6-7.

Archbishop Spalding coach Kyle Schmitt said his team is set for seven games — including two apiece against Mount Saint Joseph and Calvert Hall. In fact, the Cavaliers opened the season with a 17-7 victory against the Cardinals Nov. 7, and Spalding was thrilled to get back on the field.

“I just think the main goal was to give our players a chance to have a season, to give our seniors the opportunity to have a senior night,” Schmitt said. “During this, I really wanted to play.”

This was not a typical offseason filled with workouts for the Cavaliers and other teams working out. For Spalding, they got 10 workouts in from mid-July to early August but couldn’t use a football. The school finally received approval from the Archdiocese and the MIAA to start working out with a football.

There were many similarities between the schools playing in this Catholic league when it came to the summer and preseason work. First-year Calvert Hall coach Josh Ward experienced similar issues during the summer and preseason.

Josh Ward
Josh Ward (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Calvert Hall)

“It’s been a transition but we’re getting better every day,” said Ward, who played at Calvert Hall and graduated from the school in 2004. “It’s wild. It’s a different year. Ws are Ws, and Ls are Ls, but we’re just happy to play ball. This all brings a sense of normalcy. I think that’s what our kids need right now.”

Ward said that because of COVID-19, Calvert Hall is doing what a lot of teams are doing. They are trying to “be smart,” as the coach said. The Cardinals use the locker room for short stretches and maintain social distancing on the sideline. They’re planning to wear visors on their helmets throughout the season.

“It’s been different because at the beginning … at first, you’re doing a lot of strength and conditioning,” he said. “Once we got a football, it all started to click.”

Joseph Battaglia
Joseph Battaglia (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Concordia Prep)

Joe Battaglia has taken over the football program at Concordia Prep, and his team is set for six games and a possible seventh, mostly against schools that have played in the MIAA A and B Conferences. The team opened with a loss to Pallotti Nov. 6. He also said getting on the field was something that delighted everyone.

“It’s been extremely difficult, but it’s been a good difficult because our kids got a chance to play,” the coach said. “They’re extremely excited.”

Like many other schools, the Saints worked on non-football things during the first part of their summer camp. Battaglia said they focused a lot on conditioning, culture-building, attention to detail and mental toughness.

Schools seem to be using a variation of not letting players in the locker room or only having them in there for a short period. The Saints will not use the locker room and come to the field dressed and ready. Players must travel on their own, even to road games. Concordia Prep plans on practicing social distancing on the sidelines and will wear masks during games.

“Whatever protocol is given, we will follow,” the coach said.

Concordia has another tough thing to deal with. Since the school is in a neighborhood, the Saints must be off the field by sunset — more difficult than usual since the season started shortly after daylight saving time ended. They have an agreement with the neighborhood on this, and a violation means a fine could be levied.

In the end, it’s going to be kind of a different season in many ways, but the Cavaliers at least have found something good from all of this. Schmitt said the Zoom meetings they’ve had with staff and players can be used in future seasons.

“All our meetings are online [through Zoom], and I think we’ll absolutely use them [in the future],” he said. “It’s been a nice deal to learn that.”

Despite all the problems this season, the teams have plenty to look forward to. Calvert Hall, for example, will get to host the annual Turkey Bowl game with Loyola (the 101st meeting between the schools) on Thanksgiving. That’s the first time the Cardinals will have that opportunity.

“We are thrilled,” Ward said. “We can’t wait. It’s an awesome time.”

So after all of the problems the teams went through in the summer — not knowing if there was even going to be a season, working out without a football, relying heavily on Zoom meetings and learning a lot about being safe during the pandemic — it’s finally time to get on the field.

And in the end, that’s what the teams wanted. Staying safe and away from COVID-19 is crucial, of course, but these coaches and players simply want to play some football. Now, they finally can do that, and it will be interesting to see how it all turns out.

“These games [count],” Ward said. “We want to go out there and win some football games.”

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Archbishop Spalding

Jeff Seidel

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