Josh Pratt won’t have the opportunity to play a football game Friday night.
His family and friends won’t have the chance to come watch him play. His fellow students won’t get to cheer him on and take part in a weekly community event during the fall.
“It’s kind of a bummer,” he said.
Pratt is a junior running back and defensive back for the Brunswick High School varsity football team. The Railroaders (1-3) were scheduled to play at Thomas Johnson High School this week, only that game won’t happen since the Patriots decided Monday to pull the plug on the rest of their varsity schedule, citing a lack of numbers and safety concerns.
Previously, TJ had forfeited games against Tuscarora, Oakdale and Walkersville following a 49-0 season-opening loss at Middletown on Sept. 6.
“It was another game we were looking forward to on our schedule,” Pratt said. “We looked forward to getting ready for them this week. It’s pretty hard [on us].”
The cancelation of the Thomas Johnson football season is having a ripple effect across Frederick County. A season that was already condensed to nine games due to the expanded playoff format will now shrink to eight on-the-field opportunities for every public-school team in the county except Middletown.
While those schools will all be awarded forfeit wins, their players will be denied the opportunity to participate in meaningful events that aren’t all that frequent. Urbana was scheduled to host TJ in its homecoming game next week.
“A football game is an event in every stretch of the imagination on the high-school level, specifically the four or five games that you get to play at home,” Oakdale coach Kurt Stein said.
While the coaches and players interviewed for this story were understanding of TJ’s plight and sympathetic on some level, their teams were still left to deal with the impact.
Tuscarora (3-1) was in the midst of a normal practice week on Sept. 11 when coach Vince Ahearn got a call saying there would be no game two days later.
“I felt bad for my seniors because it’s another chance they won’t have to play football,” Ahearn said.
Oakdale, Walkersville and Brunswick, meanwhile, all knew roughly a week in advance they wouldn’t be playing TJ.
“It makes it a hard week for the kids. There is nothing really for them to look forward to,” Walkersville coach Joe Polce said. “It definitely breaks up the routine in a bad way. There is a rhythm to every week. The kids come in and know what to expect each day. [This] makes it almost impossible to have a normal [week].”
For a team like Oakdale, which is incorporating a bunch of new players into its starting lineup, every repetition in a game is important.
The Bears entered last Friday’s showdown with visiting Linganore having not played in two weeks since they lost the chance to play against Thomas Johnson the week before, and their special teams were not up to their usual standard in a 30-17 home loss to the Lancers.
“We really need those reps,” Stein said.
Other teams saw not having to play as an opportunity. Ahearn got a head start on preparing for the following week’s opponent and got to scout South Hagerstown in person. As did Stein, who hosted his team for dinner before going to watch Linganore play Middletown in Week 3. Meanwhile, former TJ coach Jerry Smith looked at it as a chance to get his team at Brunswick healthier.
At the end of the day, though, “it’s not good for anyone,” Ahearn said. “It’s not good for TJ football. It’s not good for TJ High School. It’s not good for any of us. It’s not good for Frederick County football.”