In the last four years, Upper Marlboro sent five teams to the state high school football championship games: Henry A. Wise in 2009, 2010 and 2012 and Frederick Douglass in 2011 and 2012.
Aside from Baltimore, a city with a population nearly 10 times Maryland’s next largest, no other place in Maryland (defined by postal address of the school) has sent so many teams to the state-title games in such a short span.
Is the recent success of these two programs just happenstance? Or is it the result of factors that will keep Upper Marlboro’s teams on top?
And if it’s the latter, what makes that area of Prince George’s County so good?
Here are positive several factors that unite Wise, which opened in 2006, and Douglass, which opened in 1923, but also differentiate the two teams from the rest of Prince George’s County and the state of Maryland.
Forestville High School coach Charles Harley, an Upper Marlboro resident who sits on the Marlboro Boys and Girls Club’s board of directors, raves about that club’s football teams and coaches.
He said players from all over the DMV come to Marlboro — citing E.J. Levenberry, who played two years at DeMatha and then two years at a public school in Virginia, before signing with Florida State as one of the nation’s top recruits — to play youth football. Many, like Levenberry, leave Upper Marlboro before high school, but in the meantime, they help raise the level of players and attract quality coaches to the club.
Douglass coach J.C. Pinkney noted a high number of starter homes in the area, which feeds the perception of Wise coach DaLawn Parrish, who said he frequently said he gets players who stay four years.
“Economically, we’re able to do some things that maybe other programs aren’t,” Parrish said.
That affects the process in a variety of ways — fewer players who must choose after-school jobs over football, don’t have the means to get to optional practices and more players who buy personal training, attend camps, have driver’s licenses and cars to get to offseason team training.
“Things just get done,” Parrish said.
Wise has made the playoffs the past five years, winning a state championship, reaching two more state-title games and winning four region titles. Douglass has made the playoffs the past 10 seasons, one of the state’s longest streaks.
Their traditions don’t show just on the field, but in the stands, where they typically draw larger-than-average crowds.
Together, these factors provide an enticing mix for Upper Marlboro residents torn between attending the local public school and a private school. It’s debatable how much this advantage is necessary. In Upper Marlboro, it seems, there’s enough talent to go around.
“I’ve watched games on TV, and I’ve seen kids playing at Division I level and some even in the NFL,” Pinkney said. “And when they put up their bio, it says ‘Hometown: Upper Marlboro.’ I’m like, ‘Who is that kid? I’ve never even heard of that kid before?’”
Wise, a 4A team, has the state’s fourth-largest enrollment (1,783 students according to the Maryland Public Secondary Athletic Association’s 2013-15 classification numbers). Douglass has the 11th-most students (889) among the state’s 49 2A teams.
Between their large student populations and proud programs, Wise and Douglass have no trouble drawing a large pool of players to choose from. More than just relying on high numbers, Parrish and Pinkney can be even more demanding.
“You can say, ‘Those of you who don’t jog 12 miles every morning can’t play,’” Harley said. “You’ll have 100 kids jogging 12 miles.”
Between them, Douglass and Wise have won The Gazette’s past five Coach of the Year awards — Parrish in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 and Pinkney in 2011. Pinkney also generated significant support for the honor last year.
“They coach their butt off,” said Suitland coach Ed Shields, who graduated from Largo. “Those guys work very hard. You can take some people that don’t have the experience and don’t work like they do, then you’d have vastly different results. So, again, as far as the kids, yes, it’s an advantage. But that’s life. You’re going to have to deal with it.”