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The Boston Globe

Sports

THE PLAYOFF DEBATE

Postseason vs. tradition divides Great Boston League

There weren’t too many smiles to be found at MacDonald Stadium after Malden High’s football team took a 35-12 beating from Lynn English two weeks ago.

Forget about the loss, this was just supposed to be practice. Any offense that’s similar to Everett’s is one that Malden coach Joseph Pappagallo wants his kids to play against.

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But since Lynn English switched out of the spread offense after Week 2, this game was ultimately useless.

“Guess I’ll have to stop scheduling them,” Pappagallo said.

In Malden, there’s one game each year that decides the fate of the Golden Tornadoes’ season, and it comes against a team they haven’t beaten since 1991. A win over Everett might finally give Malden a Great Boston League title. Twice in the last eight years, the Golden Tornadoes have given the Crimson Tide a run. Once, they made it all the way to overtime.

These memories are all Malden has. Players cling to this distant hope when they get their pads in the preseason. Maybe they’ll represent the first Malden group to ever beat John DiBiaso. The Everett coach is a perfect 19-0 against the Golden Tornadoes.

But because Malden can’t beat Everett, Malden can’t make the playoffs. And because Malden can’t make the playoffs, it hasn’t won a Super Bowl. The MIAA playoffs started in 1972 and in the 40 years since, Malden has never participated. In Medford, Cambridge, and Somerville a similar scene plays out, with Everett and the current playoff format a roadblock to the postseason. In fact, the last team other than Everett to win the Greater Boston League was Waltham in 2000, a school no longer in the league. The remaining GBL schools need help.

“Everett beats everybody,” said Malden senior quarterback Jake Martino. “We go into that game in the regular season and no one gives us a chance against Everett. But if we had a chance to go to the playoffs, that would change everything.”

Just a chance is all Martino wants. And with a vote Friday, every school in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association will have a chance to give Martino’s younger teammates some hope. The new playoff proposal would give five-team leagues like the GBL at least two playoff teams each year.

“That would be a blessing for this team,” Malden receiver Jean Sylvain says.

But Malden principal Dana Brown won’t be voting in favor.

“I don’t think as a program we spend a lot of time worrying about the postseason,” said Brown, standing against the MacDonald Stadium fence, peering into the stands that were about 90 percent empty. “Sure it would be great to get a playoff game, absolutely. But to me there are so many more important things.”

The concerns mainly stem from the historic Malden vs. Medford Thanksgiving game, a rivalry that will hit its 125th year next month, one of oldest rivalries in the nation.

Under the new proposal, league games must be completed by Week 7 so that qualifying teams can begin the postseason. Malden and Medford will still play on Thanksgiving, but they’ll also have to play once before that.

“I think it would diminish the importance of that game,” said Brown. “I certainly wouldn’t want to be the principal that was responsible for seeing the end of the second-oldest rivalry in the history of high school football. That would be my footnote in history and I don’t want that.”

Medford athletic director Robert Maloney thinks if one team qualifies for the playoffs, there’s little incentive to keep starters on the field all game.

“They won’t play four quarters,” Maloney said.

Argued Medford coach Jason Nascimento, “With the tradition that’s there, it’s still going to be a big game no matter what.”

But if neither team qualifies for the playoffs, Maloney and Brown worry the rosters could quickly disintegrate.

“If you’re a Boston city coach,” Brown said, “and your kid is taking two buses and a train every night after practice, and he finds out in Week 5 you’re not going to the playoffs, some kids might say I’m all set.”

Martino said he couldn’t see that happening in Malden.

At Medford, coach Rico Dello Iacono was fired after an 0-3 start and 6-27 record in more than four years. Assistant coach Kevin Clifford died unexpectedly this past spring. And Medford is 0-7 after a loss to Winchester Friday. Still, Nascimento said nobody has quit.

“That’s lots of adversity to battle through,” he said. “But we continue to work.”

The new proposal might cause some headaches for Malden and Medford school administrators. But for the players, the idea of having more hope when they get their pads in August is something worth fighting for.

“And it would get so many more kids to join the program too,” Martino said. “The Thanksgiving tradition is a cool thing, but if I could go to the playoffs instead of the Thanksgiving game, I’m all for it.”

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