Parents Joe and Donna McShea have tried to teach their children that hard work will pay off, but they are having a tough time explaining why that is not the case in a recent decision that will keep their sons’ football teams out of the playoffs.
The league in which their sons play eliminated their teams from postseason play following accusations that the teams were stacked with the best players — players who should have been put on more elite squads. But the teams argue their players have a record of improvement that shows they performed well because they worked hard, not because the teams were stacked with the best players.
The McShea brothers, 11-year-old Joey and 9-year-old Timothy, play for the Olney Boys and Girls Community Sports Association, which competes in the Mid-Maryland Youth Football and Cheer League. The league, for players 5 to 13 years old, is based in Howard County and includes teams from throughout the Washington-Baltimore area.
The league has five divisions, and each division is made up of several age groups. The McShea brothers play in the Liberty division, which is listed fourth in competitiveness, but Olney also fields teams in the National division, which is usually reserved for the most talented players.
OBGC chair and football coach Dan Dionisio said Olney’s football commissioner recently received an email from Mid-Maryland’s executive committee regarding accusations received by a few parents and a football coach that OBGC purposely stacked the Liberty teams with its best players.
Dionisio said Olney met with the committee to address the allegations of stacking, but was surprised when a memo was later released eliminating three of the four teams — age groups 7-9, 8-10 and 9-11 — from the Liberty division playoffs held in November.
“No rules were broken and the accusations of stacking were satisfied, and that is why no one understands how the governing league body can make a subjective determination that impacts innocent kids in such a way.” Dionisio said. “Ultimately, these 71 boys that have been working hard since the end of July are being banned at the last minute a week before the playoffs start for being too good.”
Dionisio said that in the case of the 9-11 age group, 80 percent of this year’s Liberty team played at the same level last year, and another 15 percent of the kids didn’t play football last year. This year, the team’s record is 7-0, but last year the team was 6-2, and the year before it was 5-3.
Dionisio cited national trends in parent awareness about concussions as the reason why some parents are scared, and therefore choose to keep their kids on less-competitive teams.
“From a legal and liability perspective, parents have a say about where their kids play and that trend is only going to grow,” he said. “Some good players are playing for lesser teams because of their parents’ concerns; it happens on every team in every division and that is what has happened here in a few cases.”
OBGC appealed the decision, which led to a vote on Oct. 23 by the 32 other teams in the league. Mid-Maryland board member Aaron Schwartz said the vote was 29-2 to ban Olney’s three Liberty teams from the playoffs.
Schwartz said the disparity was discovered after week seven, when Olney had only posted one win in three age groups at the National division.
“They were getting destroyed by other teams; they had one win and 23 losses,” Schwartz said. “The total points scored by the three Olney teams was 38, and they gave up a total of 824 points.”
He said they then looked at the same age groups in the Liberty division, which had won 20 games and lost one, scoring 521 points and giving up 91 points.
“What we believed happened is that they put their better players in the Liberty division and forced their weaker players to play in the National level, and they weren’t competitive at all,” Schwartz said.
Dionisio said the situation is a first for him.
“In 25 years of doing this, I have never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s been heartbreaking for these kids. Competitiveness issues should be resolved in the off-season.”
Dionisio said such discrepancies have been evident for years and that is why Olney’s football commissioner made a request to be moved out of the National division and into a less competitive one before the season started, although Schwartz denied that, stating the league had asked Olney to move down, but the club refused.
“This is an important issue that was discussed at the initial hearing and acknowledged by the Mid-Maryland president and raised during the appeal,” Dionisio said. “The key issue of discrepancy was created by Mid-Maryland’s refusal to allow the football program to move down in competitiveness.”
Schwartz said some Olney parents told the league they were not given the choice of what division their kids would play in.
“This was a parent of two boys with no football experience who were placed on a National team without a tryout,” he said. “She said her boys felt demoralized.”
Dionisio disputed that description of the situation.
“The parent in question mislead Mid-Maryland and made misleading statements at the appeals hearing and Mid-Maryland never spent the time to ask us about it or check her facts,” he said.
Donna McShea said that both Liberty and National coaches spoke with her when deciding on placement for Timothy, who had never played football before this year.
“We decided he was more of a Liberty player,” she said. “And for Joey, he wanted to stay on the same Liberty team with his friends.”
Schwartz said that while he thought the process was fair, the unfortunate victims are the 71 children who didn’t get to play for a trophy.
“We had to balance the desires of three Liberty teams from Olney against the other organizations that fielded Liberty teams,” he said. “The competitive balance was so striking because the three teams from Olney were clearly playing in the wrong division.” In response to the notion that parents chose to have their children play at less-competitive levels to avoid injury, Schwartz said he understands that thought process.
“There are injuries down from the NFL to college to high school to youth leagues,” he said. “Football is a contact sport, and we can’t guarantee you will not get hurt. But that is why it is important to have a competitive balance where like talent is playing against like talent.”
Dionisio disputed this by stating that Olney Liberty teams had three reported injuries this year and the National teams only one, and Mid-Maryland’s statistics prove there is no difference in injuries.
Schwartz said this is the first time this issue has come up in the league’s eight-year history and prior to that when it operated as another organization.
“Olney has been an upstanding member of the league from the beginning,” he said.
But for the McSheas and many other parents, it is hard to explain this to young boys who just don’t understand why they can’t play in the playoffs.
Donna McShea said that Timothy started off the season coming in last when running laps, and was ready to quit. Instead, with the encouragement of his coaches and teammates, he persevered, and is now starting at offensive tackle.
“He’s very enthusiastic on the field, and he just loves football,” she said.
Donna McShea said they initially held off telling him about the ruling, knowing how disappointed he would be.
“We just presented it as we don’t understand how adults made the ruling, but we recognize and are proud of their hard work,” she said. “Football has been a very positive experience, but this decision has been a very big disappointment, and as a parent, difficult to explain.”