Sallies’ schedule hangs over start of football season

Salesianum, which played Smyrna twice last season, currently only has five games on this year’s football schedule. Delaware State News file photos

DOVER — Delaware high school football has already cleared one big hurdle to playing its fall season.

But, just a week before the season is slated to start, there’s still a lingering question hanging over the sport.

The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association board of directors spent a good portion of its meeting on Thursday talking about Salesianum School and its inability to fill out its football schedule.

The all-boys’ Wilmington Catholic school currently only has five games scheduled, including three against Henlopen Northern Division squads. The Sals want to play seven regular-season games, which is the maximum number allowed in this season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sallies has threatened to file a lawsuit against the DIAA that could, in theory, keep all Delaware teams from playing.

Despite discussing the matter, though, the DIAA board didn’t make any changes to help Sallies on Thursday.

It voted 9-2 to hold the football state tournament as recommended, including having the Henlopen and Blue Hen Conference keep their automatic bids.

There was thinking that not having an automatic bid would free the Blue Hen Conference Flight A to open its schedule to non-conference games.

This week Sallies did add Pennsylvania schools Malvern Prep and Lansdale Catholic to its schedule. But the school was also told by the DIAA that its players would be required to wear masks during competition even if it was playing out of state.

Part of the issue is that Sallies is the only Division I private school in the state.

Sallies faced Sussex Central in the 2018 Division I state finals and is slated to face three Henlopen North teams this fall.

In a letter sent to the DIAA on Monday, Salesianum president Brendan Kennealey said that the school has no interest in stopping other Delaware schools from playing this fall.

“We, obviously, don’t want that,” Kennealey said in the letter. “The whole point of the struggle to get sports up and running is that a lot of people think sports are a good thing particularly right now. The last thing on Earth we want to do is shut that down for some reason other than safety.”

With Dover, Smyrna and Sussex Central already on the Sals’ schedule, presumably Sallies’ other potential opponents are in Blue Hen Flight A, where Hodgson is the defending Division I state champion and Middletown is a perennial state-title contender.

The Blue Hen Conference, with eight teams in both Flight A and Flight B, has opted to play only within its conference this season.

With the coronavirus pandemic still the biggest issue in the sport, Smyrna coach Mike Judy said he’s not overly concerned about how Sallies’ situation might impact the rest of the state. But he did say he didn’t think a lawsuit would be good for anybody.

“I’m just glad we’ve got a game,” said Judy. “And I think the three teams that are on their schedule from in-state are probably in the same boat — glad to have that seventh game. Hopefully, Sallies can find a solution that works and can make them a tournament-eligible team.

“I really don’t enough about the legal stuff. But I would hope that they’d be able to resolve it without doing that.”

A few DIAA board members, including former Cape Henlopen athletic director Bob Cilento, said the Sals’ situation is another reason that the state should look seriously into a realignment that joins up football programs of similar ability.

Thursday’s DIAA board meeting ended with its usual public-comment session where several mothers of Sallies’ players pointedly criticized the organization for not stepping in. One suggested that there should be an official Catholic Conference with the Sals always receiving the automatic Division I bid from the league.

“You should be ashamed of yourself,” said another.