FORT HILL TO HOST TEAM FROM FLORIDA THIS SATURDAY

MELBOURNE CENTRAL CATHOLIC COMING TO GREENWAY AVENUE STADIUM

Melbourne Central Catholic of Melbourne, Florida, will travel to Cumberland for Saturday’s varsity football game against undefeated Fort Hill at Greenway Avenue Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

In 82 years of Fort Hill football, the farthest a team has ever traveled to tackle the Sentinels was Bishop O’Reilly out of Kingston, Pennsylvania, in 1993 — a total of 238 miles away. Melbourne Central Catholic will make the 981-mile trek via air, also marking the first time a team has ever flown here to play Fort Hill.

The four-time consecutive Maryland state champion Sentinels are currently undefeated at 6-0. They are pursuing a state record fifth consecutive state championship, have lost one game in five years, having won 60 out of their last 61, and hold a local area record of 31 straight victories.

Doing things for the first time in school history also creates a large array of off-the-field considerations for the first time, from financing to plane, bus and hotel plans to feeding an entire team for an entire weekend. Melbourne Central Catholic will fly into Washington on Friday afternoon and bus to Cumberland for a two-night hotel stay before flying back out of Washington Sunday afternoon.

In today’s world of high school football these type of long distance match-ups are no longer a rare occurrence per se, especially for private schools. But that is not the case for either of these schools. Melbourne Central Catholic did make a 534-mile bus trip to start its season against Georgia Buford, a Top 50 USA Today program who has won seven state championships in the last 11 years. Other than that, traveling outside the Sunshine State is not something Melbourne Central Catholic is accustomed to doing, but it’s something they would like to start doing according to head coach Stacy Sizemore. Cumberland will be one of the first steps in achieving such a status.

Turning the wheels to make a game such as this happen isn’t easy, especially for Fort Hill, a small Maryland Class 1A public school. First, the coaching staff has to be convinced. Unfortunately for Fort Hill there were no other options available for this date. Several attempts were made to land a team from Canada and another game with a West Virginia team over four hours away. Basically a slim to none list of choices, which in turn made the decision to tussle with a Florida school a must just to get to a nine-game schedule.

Second, the people in charge of money have to be convinced. That task falls on Fort Hill Principal Joe Carter. Not many in his educational position, if any at all, are faced with such a conundrum. In the end it became obvious that just to get the Fort Hill team a ninth football game — when they still needed 10 — was worth the risk/reward. In business the adage one has to spend money to make money is absolutely the truth. But rarely ever are educational administrators at any school required to be in the business of spending money to make money. Luckily for Fort Hill football they usually put fannies in the seats which equates to money at the gate.

With as much said, for any Fort Hill graduate or fan living within a reasonable driving distance, it’s vital they show up Saturday night and put those fannies into those seats. This is a major worry when taking on such a financial risk and support is crucial. Through the past decade or so student enrollments and population declines in Cumberland have hurt the numbers of fans in seats. This game requires special notice. It’s never been done in 82 years. It’s the wide open Florida speed versus the traditional Cumberland wing-T power football.

The Melbourne Central Catholic Hustlers advanced to the semifinals in Florida Class 3A last season with an undefeated record before losing to Miami area powerhouse Chaminade-Madonna. They are led by 6-foot-2 quarterback Joaquin Collazo, who as a junior last season threw for over 2,000 yards with 26 touchdown passes in a wide-open spread passing attack. Six players on the 2017 roster have Division I college football offers. The Hustlers enter the game against Fort Hill with a 4-2 record and last week were listed as the 39th ranked team in the state of Florida.

Of course when mentioning any team from Florida there is no escaping what recent Hurricane Irma meant for so many residents. For Melbourne Central Catholic two games were cancelled, power was out and the school was closed for over a week. One of their post-Irma opponents east of Tampa had their entire football field underwater for an extended time. Many schools in that part of the country are now playing games on Friday and again on the following Monday to make up for lost games, something this private school from Melbourne also had to undertake just last week.

The thought of not traveling to Cumberland never crossed anyone’s mind in Melbourne. In fact, playing the game was imperative with the cancellations already noted and non-refundable deposits already paid on details such as airfare.

A Maryland connection

The Melbourne Central Catholic athletic teams are called the Hustlers. The name came from one of the founding school priests who attended the University of Maryland when former head football coach Tom Nugent in 1962 referred to his offensive specialists as the “Hustlers.” The University of Maryland library explains how the name became permanent.

Melbourne is located in Brevard County, Florida, on the Atlantic coast halfway between Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale and is situated just a hair south of Cocoa Beach-Cape Canaveral.

If you are looking for some entertainment this coming Saturday night, make the trip to Cumberland for some top-notch high school football. Fans are encouraged to purchase pre-sale tickets, which went on sale at Fort Hill High School on Tuesday and will run through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the athletic director’s office. Enter through the gymnasium doors. Stadium Pizza is not included in the price but will be piping hot and ready when these two high-octane powers clash for a once in a three generation lifetime.