August 31, 2009
Fort Hill High School has announced a varsity football scheduling change for this 2009 season. Silver Oak Academy out of Keymar, MD will now travel to Greenway Avenue Stadium in Cumberland to play the Sentinels on Saturday, October 3 at 7:00 pm ET. This game will replace the originally scheduled contest between Fort Hill and Germantown Academy of Fort Washington, PA that was to be played at the Germantown Academy home field on the same date.

Silver Oak Academy was formerly known as Bowling Brook Prep, a school Fort Hill played during the 2003 and 2004 football seasons. The school is located in Keymar, MD one hour and 54 minutes from Cumberland just north of the city of Frederick.

Those are the replacement details. The "why this happened" is another issue. And before all the speculating begins, the proper process and priority would be to inform people just how this schedule change came to transpire.

First, it should be no secret that Fort Hill High School has had difficulty locating varsity football opponents the past few seasons. The Sentinels are no longer in a league that guarantees a certain number of games, public schools from Washington DC and Baltimore are no longer permitted to travel to Allegany County during the regular season for the time being, Prince George's County (MD) public schools have a travel restriction due to economic factors and Western Pennsylvania schools have an entire 10-game schedule made up of other WPIAL members. Making matters worse is that the local teams such as Northern Garrett, Frankfort and Hampshire have ended their desire to put Fort Hill on their football schedules. A multitude of reasons probably explain the local situation but is better suited for an article all to its own. Obviously, to most Fort Hill supporters the excuses become frustrating when all three of those local schools have adopted competition between every other surrounding high school, which brings us to schools in neighboring Washington County. Those public schools, much like Bishop Walsh, are too small despite their involvement in the same playoff point format while sharing the same region and classification.

Which now brings us to a school all the way north of Philadelphia called Germantown Academy. Yes, a four and a half hour drive from Cumberland.

A two-year deal with Germantown Academy and Fort Hill was signed back in February of 2009 between the two schools. The first game (2009) was to be played in Fort Washington, PA - the home of Germantown Academy and the second year (2010) was to be played at Greenway Avenue Stadium in Cumberland.

Germantown Academy is a very academically achieved private school and a member of the PAIS (Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools). There are 101 other schools belonging to the PAIS organization. These schools are not a member of another group in the state called the PIAA (Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association), which in short is the Pennsylvania version of the MPSSAA (Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association) of which Fort Hill belongs.

On August 19, six months after the contract had been signed and four practice days into the Fort Hill 2009 football season, a call came from Mr. Ned Sparks (the Executive Director of the MPSSAA) to notify Fort Hill that they could not compete against Germantown Academy because they were not a sanctioned school by the MPSSAA. They are not a member of the PIAA much like Mount St. Joseph, Calvert Hall, DeMatha, and many other private schools are not a member of the MPSSAA in this state.

Germantown Academy does participate against other PIAA schools in over 10 different men’s and women’s sports. They follow the same exact sanctioning “rules of competition” standard that all PIAA members must adhere to. PIAA schools all receive credit and points for competing against Germantown Academy under a non-membership contract (after all they are not members of the PIAA). According to Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA does not honor or possess such a non-member contract. Germantown Academy has agreed to sign any form of “rules and eligibility” contract available. Unfortunately, none exist in the state of Maryland.

Germantown Academy was founded in 1759 and is America's oldest nonsectarian day school. Germantown Academy's faculty is rich with talent and experience. One hundred and thirty-six strong, 65 percent of their full-time faculty holds masters or doctorate degrees. One hundred percent of GA graduates attend college on an annual basis. The Patriots had 10 graduates in 2008 named National Merit Scholars. Additionally, the school shares the oldest continuous football rivalry with the William Penn Charter School, which celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2006.

Numerous members of the PIAA senior office and other officials involved from within its very own organization have told the MPSSAA that Germantown Academy is a very legitimate school. Not to mention direct dialog between the MPSSAA and Germantown Academy Athletic Director Jim Fenerty, who has done all that could be asked from a man in his position to keep this game on the slate. But the MPSSAA decision makers have their hands tied by what has been labeled "political red tape" and there was nothing that could be done.

Fort Hill was then left with only nine football games just two weeks removed from kicking off their regular season opener. The following pursuit to locate a replacement was about to take many turns and twists not for the scheduling faint of heart. Desperate searches were made in a nine state radius from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Kentucky and even Michigan that involved over 2,000 emails and 300 phone calls. Luckily Fort Hill found Silver Oak Academy, a reform school in rural Carroll County, which was just sanctioned by the MPSSAA less than a week ago.

Silver Oak Academy will make the trip to Cumberland in 2009 to give their kids a chance to play under the bright lights and grand traditions of Greenway Avenue Stadium.

What is left behind is a proud Germantown Academy with no opponent on the weekend of October 3, 2009 as of yet and a chance for Fort Hill players, coaches and fans to see what PIAA executive director Brad Cashman has called, "an extremely beautiful campus you need to play at." The kids are the ones that almost got cut short playing one less game. This Germantown Academy match up should have happened. But Fort Hill can only continue to work within the rules that are handed down…especially on dreadfully short notice.