Fitzy nominations produce unintended consequences; better process needed

Those behind the state’s top individual awards for high school athletes — such as the Fitzpatrick Trophy in football — generally have the best of intentions.

But in an effort to ensure a pristine quality among the chosen ones, recognition that originally was centered on athletic achievement now sometimes serves to cast an unintended and undeserved degree of doubt on worthy players who don’t wind up winning the grand prize.

Take Jordan Whitney of Mt. Blue High School in Farmington.

The senior quarterback, safety and punter did about everything a high school football player could do for his team this fall.

He passed for 1,755 yards and 26 touchdowns, rushed for 658 yards and five more scores, intercepted three passes on defense — one he returned for a touchdown — and also returned a punt for another score.

The Pine Tree Conference Class B offensive player of the year was the undisputed leader of a Mt. Blue team that not only won the Class B state championship, but was the state’s only undefeated team this season.

For his career Whitney passed for 4,924 yards and 65 touchdowns, rushed for 1,241 yards and 12 TDs, and intercepted nine passes.

Whitney clearly had one of 12 best senior seasons of any Maine high school football player this fall, and his career stats are just as likely among the 12 best in the Class of 2013.

But nowhere was he to be found among the 12 semifinalists announced recently for the Fitzpatrick Trophy, a Portland-based award that annually seeks to honor the state’s top high school senior football player.

The award originally was presented to the top Class A player but eventually came to include all classes. And while organizers may be reluctant to admit it, over time it’s clear the award has placed an increased emphasis on academics and school and community service in an effort to eliminate young ne’er-do-wells from contention.

On the surface that’s not necessarily bad, but at least one very negative unintended consequence has resulted.

For when candidates with a football resume like Jordan Whitney — or Sam Dexter of Messalonskee of Oakland, who had similarly impressive football statistics a year ago — are omitted from consideration, the conversation inevitably turns from football to the candidate’s academic standing or even speculation about what he might have come up short in another area — certainly speculation the player didn’t bring on himself.

The academic consideration is part of the process Jack Dawson, who heads the Fitzpatrick Trophy selection committee, acknowledged publicly during a recent television interview.

“I’ll let the list speak for itself,” he said. “There are a couple of players who didn’t make the list who are incredibly good football players. Their statistics would knock your eye out.

“But the transcripts would likewise be conspicuous in their comparison with the other transcripts we have.”

I don’t know Jordan Whitney other than his football persona and the fact he has made the honor roll on multiple occasions while at Mt. Blue.

I do know Whitney’s coach, Gary Parlin, and his public defense of his quarterback leaves little doubt he feels Whitney meets all the requirements for the award.

Regardless of whether Whitney’s omission from the list was just that, an omission, or had to do with other factors, there’s got to be a better way to determine these award winners than a process that leaves some of the candidates subject to unwarranted questions in the public arena.

Ernie Clark

About Ernie Clark

I'm a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association, my coverage areas range from high school sports to mixed martial arts.