The Pope Francis boys’ hockey team did not have practice scheduled for last Thursday afternoon. The Cardinals arrived back in Springfield late after Wednesday night’s thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against St. John’s Prep at Loring Arena in Framingham.
So coach Brian Foley didn’t get the opportunity to look his players in the eye and tell them they would not be heading to TD Garden on Sunday to play in the Super 8 championship game against Arlington. Instead, their season, like many others, was over after Thursday’s decision by the MIAA Board of Directors to cancel the state championships in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It was more texting between the coaches and players,” Foley said. “It was emotional.”
The consolation is that Foley was able to tell his team that, like Arlington and all of the other state finalists in hockey and basketball, they would be named co-champions.
Oddly enough, it’s a conversation he almost had to have a year ago — albeit for much different reasons.
That time it was at TD Garden, where Pope Francis and BC High had fought through three grueling overtimes in the Super 8 championship game. With players dragging and time running short, the Division 1 final still yet to be played, MIAA officials met with coaches and athletic directors from both teams and told them the next 12-minute extra period would be the last.
“They brought us in and told us their decision,” Foley recalled. “I made a comment, ‘Why don’t we go three-on-three? That might settle it earlier.’ But the MIAA said they couldn’t do that, it wasn’t written into the rules.”
It turned out to be a moot point when Declan Loughnane scored in the fourth OT to finally give BC High the victory and the title.
“They said [that] would be the last overtime, and both sides agreed to it,” BC High athletic director Jon Bartlett recalled. “The kids, they had nothing left. My personal opinion is that was the right call.”
Thus, the Eagles and Cardinals avoided the rarity — pre-2020, at least — of being named co-champions in boys’ hockey. It had happened just once before, in 1944 when Needham and Medford shared the title after playing through a pair of scoreless overtimes. The game story published in the March 6, 1944, edition of the Globe said, “After the sudden death stanza, the crowd chanted 'play it out’ but the league heads wisely decided to call a halt, figuring 48 minutes of rugged play was enough.”
But there was a time when co-champions were a common occurrence on the soccer field. According to high school historian Mike Richard, there have been 14 soccer state title games that ended in ties, including at least one almost every year from 1996-2004 (the 2000 postseason was the lone exception). In 2004, one girls’ and one boys’ state final ended with co-champions.
BC High was one of the teams, unable to solve its 0-0 stalemate with Algonquin in the 2004 Division 1 boys’ final.
“Obviously the kids wanted to play longer,” Bartlett said of that ’04 game, played at Worcester State. “But both teams went home and could say they were state champions.”
The MIAA has changed its format to allow penalty kicks in a soccer state final, and there hasn’t been a co-champion in soccer since that year. Nonetheless, Bartlett still believes history looks favorably on his Eagles squad and all of the others that had to share the glory.
“You reflect back, and think of the banners on the wall," he said. "We talk about them as a state champ, as I’m sure Algonquin does the same thing. I don’t think it’s anything negative for both teams.”
One of the few other instances of co-champions occurred in cross-country in 1966, when Narragansett and Norfolk Aggie shared the Class E crown, according to Richard’s records.
The abrupt end of the 2020 postseason is the most unusual circumstance since the 1981-1982 and 1982-83state tournaments were wiped out by Proposition 2½. The difference is that all teams entered the postseason in those years knowing the stakes.
The reality of this year’s cancellation of the state championships still is fresh, so it remains to be seen how 16 basketball co-champions and 12 more in hockey will be remembered.
“We were almost back-to-back co-champions,” Foley said with a slight chuckle. “That would have been something.”
Past co-state champions in Massachusetts high school sports*:
1966 — Class E, Narragansett/Norfolk Aggie
1944 — Medford 2, Needham 2 (2 OTs)
1981 — EMass Division 1: Waltham 0, Winchester 0 (no state finals, Prop. 2½)
1988 — Division 3: Bromfield 2, St. Mary’s 2
1997 — Division 1: Ludlow 2, Weymouth 2
2002 — Division 3: Sutton 2, Stoneham 2
2004 — Division 1: Algonquin 0, BC High 0
1981 — EMass Division 1: Concord-Carlisle 1, Wellesley 1 (no state finals, Prop 2½).
1987 — Division 1: Agawam 0, Andover 0 (7 OT)
1996 — Division 2: Wellesley 1, Wachusett 1
1997 — Division 3: Sutton 1, Weston 1
1998 — Division 1: Springfield Cathedral 0, Winchester 0
1999 — Division 2: St. Peter-Marian 2, Oliver Ames 2
2001 — Division 3: Medway 1, Sutton 1
2003 — Division 1: Springfield Cathedral 0, Lincoln-Sudbury 0 (2 OT)
2004 — Division 3: Lynnfield 1, Sutton 1
*source: Mike Richard