Providence City Cup high school football games need a better plan

PROVIDENCE – There was so much right with the inaugural Providence City Cup Thanksgiving Game.

Gabe Aofolajuwonlo was a shining example. The Hope senior steered a season marred by administrative upheaval that led to the departure of coach Jeremy Ogunba into a winning regular season. Wednesday night he and his Blue Wave teammates matched with Central to take on a team of players from Classical and Mount Pleasant and came away with a 30-6 victory, Aofolajuwonlo a victory waiting for him.

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“It was great to play with a higher team in Central – they are DI. We didn’t have success [on Hope], but to come out with our first dub, it feels great,” said Aofolajuwonlo. “A lot of the guys I knew, but it was just a great experience playing with people you haven’t played with in years.”

That should be the focus, but what was wrong with the inaugural Providence City Cup Thanksgiving Game was also on full display. There was disagreement about the rules — which were very Pro Bowl-esque — and clear confusion about the intensity and intent of the game. A Mount Pleasant player was injured late in the third quarter and a rescue had to be called and while that was going on, a fight started in the stands and moved to the lower bowls of Conley Stadium before it was broken up by police.

The game went to a running clock for the fourth quarter, but the final three minutes were just wiped off the schedule after another player took a hard hit.

After the players left the field, an intense discussion took place in midfield. It was led by the classic athletic director Robert Palazzo and directed towards Central coach Mike Washington and his staff, with coaches of hope in the circle. It lasted a good 15 minutes, well after the last spectator had left Conley Stadium.

What did Washington do that caused him to be introduced as if he were a high school student who broke a rule?

His kids playing too hard seemed to be one of the points, but Washington – very vocally – reminded Palazzo and others that this is how his team has played all season and you can’t ask a team that with that kind of Intensity on every snap played suddenly withdraw.

The Knights played with the same edge they have played with all season. They talked trash from the moment they got on the pitch and backed it up with their play, which was easy to do against lower division opponents and not, for example, against a team like Hendricken in the second half of the State Championship Semi-Finals.

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The endless running of mouths has led to hard feelings on the other side and it’s hard to blame them. Classic and Mount Pleasant coaches sold players on a game that would be fun, a chance to showcase their talents — and then a smash-moon football game broke out.

It created a particularly unsafe environment on the pitch (as evidenced by the injuries) and a dangerous one in the stands.

This is not a soapbox discussion to end this game. It should definitely be played – just not like this.

The fix will require several steps, the first of which is an end to the not-so-secret bad blood between City’s coaches. Washington, Classical’s Kris McCall and Mount Pleasant’s Jay Addison – not to mention who will be Hope’s next coach – are more important to many of the youth in Providence than the superintendent, the principals or anyone else in positions of power in a school system that does not Respect their coaches as they should.

McCall — the city’s veteran coach with 17 seasons under his belt — and Addison seem to have similar visions for how they believe things should be done. Since arriving on the scene, Washington has unapologetically done things his own way and while it may rub many coaches the wrong way, the only thing he cares about is his kids and his program.

With several seniors missing games this fall, Washington saw Wednesday as a last chance to get game tape to send to coaches. He disagreed with the rules of the game — no blitz, no two-way play and a few other safety-related changes — because in his mind, they more than helped his kids.

Whether he is right or not, a serious, sit-down discussion needs to take place here about what is good for one and what is good for everyone.

Providence is home to Rhode Island’s best football talent. If the players from the four teams were combined into one, there is little doubt who would routinely win the state Super Bowl. (Spoiler alert: it wouldn’t be the game’s annual contestants.)

That talent is what Providence should celebrate every Thanksgiving. While no one likes the NFL’s Pro Bowl, the game showcases talent and that’s its sole purpose, other than making the league a boatload of cash.

This is what the Providence All-Star Game should be (minus the gobs of money thing). To do this, there must be understanding between the coaches and players.

This means that linebackers need to know that the package is as good as a tackle and the backs need to know that the pile is not a thing. Receivers and defensive backs can fight on 50-50 balls, then yap all they want after breaking up a pass or breaking an ankle on a route. Linemen get to take it easy for three quarters until they live out their dream as a skill-position player in the fourth quarter.

There were many positives on Wednesday.

The pump and the circumstances of the event should return. The in-house DJ created a party-like atmosphere – during the break the central and hopeful players danced with cheerleaders who did the dougie.

This annual event should become less about football and more about the city. At the end of the night – even after all the trash talk, hard hitting and endless flags flying – both sides stood up, shook hands and showed each other what Providence really is.

“The city, we were not a family,” Aofolajuwonlo said. “This game brought everyone back together.”

There are currently 13 accredited, degree-centered institutions operating in the state, including two research universities, one community college, and one art school.

Who has the most high school football championships in Ohio?

Number of titlesSchoolBoys titles
43Cincinnati St. Xavier43
43Upper Arlington26
42Lakewood St. Edward42
33Cuyahoga Falls Walsh Jesuit22

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