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The biggest worry of most high school football teams is winning the games on their schedule.

At St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, the primary concern is finding teams willing to play them.

The Marauders and many of their brethren from the Msgr. Martin Association have to look high and low for teams to play when the football season rolls around.

In the case of St. Joe's, that search has taken them to Ohio, Pennsylvania and Canada this year. The Marauders, the No. 1-ranked large school in last year's Buffalo News Poll, will play only four games against Western New York competition this season and those are contests against fellow Catholic League teams.

On St. Joe's schedule this year, along with MMA League AA foes Canisius, Timon/St. Jude, St. Francis and Turner/Carroll from League A, are the likes of Cathedral Prep from Erie, Pa., Chardon from the Cleveland area, Father Henry Carr from Toronto and Wilson Magnet and Edison Tech, both from Rochester.

"It's frustrating," St. Joe's coach Bob O'Connor said of the situation. "For the past few years, we have had to go begging for teams to play us when we would love to play some of the other top large schools in our own area."

For the most part, Section VI Federation schools simply refuse to play the Catholic schools. There are only a handful of public schools who regularly put any MMA opponents on their schedules.

"Maybe it's the old thing about the Section VI schools not wanting to allow the Catholic schools into the section, but we're not even looking for that at this point," O'Connor said. "We are just looking for schools to put us on their football schedules."

O'Connor says the players and high school football fans across Western New York are being cheated.

"You can't tell me that people wouldn't pack the place to see us play teams like Jamestown, Sweet Home, Clarence, Lancaster and Orchard Park," he said. "Those are the kinds of games that get people talking and paying attention to high school football.

"Our kids want to play the local powerhouses to see how we stack up and you can't tell me that the kids from those schools wouldn't like to see how they'd do against us. In my opinion, it's just a political thing."

"Last year, when we were battling Clarence for No. 1 (large schools) in Western New York, it would have been great to be able to settle it on the field," said St. Joe's senior running back Sandro DeAngelis, last year's Connolly Cup winner and Buffalo News Player of the Year.

Marauders athletic director Joe Wolf says that games against local public schools have drawn some of the biggest crowds for games at St. Joe's.

"We played a couple of games against Kenmore East back in the early '90s and those games drew nearly as many fans as when we played Canisius," Wolf said. "When teams like Cathedral Prep come here, they don't bring a lot of fans with them and the crowds aren't nearly as large. People around here don't know a lot about those teams."

Wolf said that playing far-away games is costly. St. Joe's will spend between $2,500 and $3,000 on travel expenses for football in 1999.

"And we have to raise that money ourselves," he said, "we don't get it from the taxpayers."

The Marauders, who had played Niagara-Wheatfield, Grand Island and North Tonawanda on a somewhat regular basis in the past, had played Orchard Park for the past eight years.

St. Joe's opened the season by beating the Quakers last year. Orchard Park has opted not to play the Marauders this season.

"There were a lot of issues involved that I'd rather not go into. It just got to where it wasn't a good situation for us," OP coach Gene Tundo said. "We didn't look at the game the same way. I'd play them preparing to play my league opponents and they played like beating us would make their season.

"We felt like there wasn't a lot of respect for us from their program. They should have been thankful that we played them."

Section VI football chairman Chuck Funke said Msgr. Martin schools are tough to match up against for many of his teams. There are nine games between Section VI and MMA teams on this year's slate.

"The Msgr. Martin Association is pretty much made up of Class AA (large schools) and Class C (small) schools with nobody in between. We have 10 AA teams in Section VI, so there aren't a lot of open dates," Funke said. "We have been more successful accommodating the smaller schools in the Catholic League with some games.

"There may be other considerations, too, when Section VI teams turn down the opportunity to play the Catholic schools, like past history between the schools or the local school board having a policy about not playing private schools. We try to help (MMA teams) with as many games as we can."

"We have to take care of our commitments to the other public schools first," said Jamestown coach Wally Huckno. "I don't feel bound to give private schools games. You choose that education and that's the route you take.

"There's no doubt that there are fewer opportunities to play the larger private schools because there are so many teams in our classification. We've played St. Joe's in the past. We don't even play all the other Class AA teams in the section."

O'Connor says the public school teams are influenced in scheduling by the impact a loss might have on their status in the polls.

"I believe in my heart that the poll poses a problem," O'Connor said. "Look at what happened to Orchard Park last year. They lost to us in the opener and that dropped them down in the poll right away and they were never able to recover, even though they were the best team in Section VI.

"The public schools can lose to us and still play for a state championship," O'Connor said, "so I don't see what the point of avoiding us is."

What if the Marauders lose to a couple of out-of-town powerhouses and finish the year with a 7-2 or 6-3 record? In that scenario, does O'Connor feel his team will be judged fairly?

"If the poll participants take into account strength of schedule, we'll be OK," he said. "The bottom line is that we could have two or three losses and still be the best team in Western New York.

"There isn't a team in the state we can't compete with. We'll find out how we stack up against some of the better teams from Pennsylvania and Ohio."

St. Joe's 1999 football schedule

Day Date Opponent Time
Sat. Sept. 4 St. Joe's 64, Turner/Carroll 0
Fri. Sept. 17 at Cathedral Prep 7:00
Sat. Sept. 25 Chardon 2:00
Sat. Oct. 2 at Wilson Magnet 1:00
Sat. Oct. 9 at Edison Tech 2:00
Sat. Oct. 16 Father Henry Carr 2:00
Sat. Oct. 23 Timon/St. Jude 2:00
Sat. Oct. 30 at St. Francis 2:00
Sat. Nov. 6 at Canisius TBA

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