Personally, I was stunned to find out the two longtime rivals had gone 14 seasons without playing. That is a darn shame because this series has a ton of history behind it.
St. Mary's beat Annapolis 14-7 in the second game of the 2002 campaign. That marked the last regular season meeting between the schools until this season. The Panthers
and Saints did scrimmage in 2011 and 2012, but a regular season game scheduled for 2013 was cancelled.
Both sides agree the reason why the rivalry went dormant was because St. Mary's showed no interest in playing Annapolis. I've heard some of the rationale behind that decision, and frankly it's hogwash. This is a traditional rivalry that absolutely should be played annually.
Any player who has ever been involved with Annapolis-St. Mary's boys lacrosse will tell you why it is so special. Granted, the rivalry has been one-sided with the Saints now holding a 27-6-2 lead in the all-time series. That does not matter one bit as many of the games have been extremely close while the outcome does not change the experience for the participants.
I was shooting the breeze with current Annapolis High boys' basketball coach Danny Smalley recently when talk turned to our high school athletics days. Smalley played basketball and lacrosse at Annapolis then went on to letter in the stick sport at the Naval Academy.
To this day, Smalley still considers what happened at the end of the 1984 lacrosse game against St. Mary's as the worst moment of his athletic career. With the Panthers leading by a goal late in regulation, Smalley took a shot that was saved by goalie Tom McClelland.
McClelland threw an outlet pass to midfielder Tim Andrews, who raced downfield and scored the tying goal. St. Mary's won the ensuing faceoff and Andrews, who remains one of Smalley's best friends, subsequently scored the winning goal. It was the closest Annapolis had come to beating St. Mary's in years and Smalley remains crushed by his mental mistake that allowed the game to turn so dramatically.
Annapolis High head coach Dustin McConnaughhay remembers the thrill of playing against St. Mary's and has tried to renew the rivalry throughout his 10-year tenure. As a sophomore midfielder for the Panthers in 1996, McConnaughhay remembers losing to the Saints by the lopsided score of 19-3. However, he still considers it an honor to have played against what is widely considered the greatest team in St. Mary's history, the one that went 17-0 and was declared national champions.
"This is a great rivalry that goes back a long, long time. I've taken a look at some of the trophies in the showcase at our school and it's really cool to see the results of games from the 1960s," McConnaughhay said. "I've tried to get St. Mary's back on the schedule for as long as I've been head coach at Annapolis."
Give second-year St. Mary's head coach Victor Lilly credit for reviving the rivalry. Lilly, who played in the game himself from 1985-87, was adamant about adding Annapolis to the schedule.
"I firmly believe that it's important to the community that this game to be played," Lilly said. "Annapolis and St. Mary's are located in the same city about five miles apart and both schools have a rich tradition in boys lacrosse. It makes no sense for these two schools not to play."
There is much that connects the two schools, starting with the fact C. Mason "Daffy" Russell served as head coach at Annapolis before co-founding the St. Mary's program in 1950. Russell was the coach at St. Mary's the last time it lost to Annapolis, 7-4 in 1966. Freddy Kramer, a fine player who enjoyed an outstanding career at Maryland, still gets guff for being the last Saints goalie to lose to the Panthers.
Alumni of both schools were thrilled to see Annapolis-St. Mary's return to the prep schedule this season. In the days leading up to the March 23 meeting, several videos from past Panthers-Saints contests were posted to Facebook.
Watching the grainy clips was like taking a step back in time and was exactly how I remember the games as a St. Mary's student in the early 1980s. It was rock-em, sock-em lacrosse with the Panthers always attempting to physically punish the preppy Saints.
In one highlight I watched, there were at least four hits that would now be considered illegal in lacrosse, a sad commentary that is a story for another day.
"I am committed to playing this game every year. As long as Dustin and I are the head coaches, St. Mary's and Annapolis will get together on the lacrosse field," Lilly said.
WHAT A LINEAGE: Annapolis lost an amazing lady with the passing of Norma Burnett late last month at the age of 96. The longtime Arnold resident was quite the spitfire and is known to many as the matriarch of a remarkable athletic family.
Norma and Jack Burnett (who died in 2010) raised seven children and all displayed a penchant for sports. Three of the boys – Bob, Tom and Jim – played football and lacrosse at Severna Park High while a fourth – Bill – played those two sports at Wroxeter. Jimmy Burnett was a member of the 1975 national championship squad at Maryland.
Ann, the oldest of the children, was an accomplished ice skater while the other daughter – Laura – played lacrosse and field hockey at Archbishop Spalding.
Mike Burnett, the youngest of the seven children, was a standout lacrosse player at Wroxeter and St. Mary's then went onto a highly decorated career at North Carolina
. The All-American attackman led the Tar Heels to a pair of national championships (1981, 82) and is a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame along with the Anne Arundel County Sports Hall of Fame.
A slew of Norma's 14 grandchildren excelled in sports with the youngest – Jack Burnett – currently playing lacrosse at St. Mary's. Nolan Burnett-Milbourne, a great grandson, was a standout lacrosse goalie at Annapolis High.
Norma Burnett, who was profiled in the book "Inner Strength: Inspirational Stories of Older American Women," was an avid tennis player and actually beat her granddaughter Angie – a lacrosse standout at Annapolis High and Anne Arundel Community College – at the age of 80.