BALTIMORE -- There are better, more conventional ways to leave a favorable impression on your audience than to drop a 40-0 decision in the last game of the regular season.
But precious little about what happened during the inaugural football season at St. Frances Academy -- a private school of a little more than 300 students in East Baltimore -- was conventional. So when coach
It's ambitious talk for a coach with a .500 season barely in the rearview mirror. Considering there was no football team before June, Clay -- who joined the school after his contract was not renewed at St. Mary's (Annapolis, Md) despite winning last year's MIAA's 'B' Conference title -- had reason for optimism. "We're all out here learning something," said
That the Panthers finished the season at .500 is a testament to perseverance and faith -- a commodity in great supply at St. Frances, which is located in a drug-riddled neighborhood. Founded in 1828 for the children of slaves and run by the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the nation's oldest order of African-American nuns, the school added football as an alternative to the streets.
"I've seen such an increase in gang activity," said Sister
Students need only look across Biddle Street for perspective. On the other side is the Maryland Penitentiary -- a maximum-security prison from which announcements are audible in the surrounding area. "You can't [be] opposite a jail every day with announcements going off and helicopters going around and police wailing up and down the street without seeing what difference you're making," said
Well-known to hoop observers for producing
On game days, Clay handled a depleted roster due to injury, behavior problems and academic ineligibility. With just 19 of the 50 players who had showed up regularly in August gone by the season's penultimate game, Clay installed the single-wing offense for their road game against the Ferris School (Wilmington, Del.). The gimmick paid off handsomely as the Panthers won 36-8, and provided momentum for last Friday's season finale against Friendship Collegiate of Washington, D.C. "Things got a little shaky, but sometimes they say, you have to get worse to get better,' said
Without Snipes, their best pass-catching weapon because he was suspended from school for getting in a fight, the Panthers were left to rely on the ground game for the finale. When sophomore tailback
In spite of the loss, progress was made. With only seven seniors on his roster, Clay hopes the program will improve. For now, the first season's foundation is something for Clay to build on. "This year, we're just building the relationship and the trust between the kids and our coaches," Clay said. "That's our goal: to get them to understand that this is another opportunity."