Anthony Johnson, the athletic director at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Md., learned on the morning of Sept. 2 that his school’s varsity football game wasn’t going to take place that night. Johnson’s squad had been slated to face Coolidge Senior High School of the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association, the league for the city’s public high school teams.
“People from Coolidge told us around 11 a.m. that they couldn’t line up security guards, so they were canceling it,” Johnson says. “I’ve been here 20 years and I’d never heard that one before.” The D.C. school, it seems, had stopped looking for guards at least eight hours before kickoff.
A week earlier, Coolidge officials had offered another novel excuse to back out of a meeting with Archbishop Carroll High School, a game that was scheduled to be the season opener for both teams. Carroll Athletic Director George Leftwich says his Coolidge counterpart told him that his players hadn’t had enough full-contact workouts to play a real game.
The reason for the lack of practice? “They said it was the earthquake,” Leftwich says. Coolidge’s AD, Keino Wilson, defends his team’s failures to show up, citing “safety reasons.”
Carroll administrators offered to move the game to the following Monday so Coolidge could get more workouts in. Coolidge initially accepted. But they reneged the night before the makeup, citing rain. The game was never played.
The multiple excuses left Leftwich sad, mad, and confused. “I mean, yeah, there was an earthquake, but it was over,” he says. “Other schools had the earthquake, too, and they could play. I didn’t get it.”
Coolidge is perhaps D.C.’s most prominent public school football program, thanks to the hiring last year of Natalie Randolph, believed to be the nation’s only female varsity head football coach. Randolph made the cover of Parade magazine, and her presence explains why ESPN filmed last year’s matchup against Carroll. But in other ways, the team is pretty typical of a DCIAA squad: Carroll, for instance, won that ESPN game in a blowout. And so far this year, Coolidge is hardly the only District of Columbia Public Schools team to have trouble even getting its players out on the gridiron.
Take Ballou Senior High School, the 2006 city champ and a perennial contender in the Turkey Bowl, the annual Thanksgiving battle to determine the city’s top squad. The Knights also didn’t play either of their first two scheduled games. Their season opener was scrapped because rival Roosevelt Senior High School—another DCIAA team—couldn’t dress 18 eligible players, the required minimum. A week later, Ballou canceled its game with KIPP, a fledgling charter school in Anacostia, because Ballou couldn’t find a medical doctor to work the sidelines, as required by league rules. DCPS’ official explanation has since shifted to blaming Ballou’s failure to hire adequate security.
Cardozo Senior High School had to forfeit its Sept. 2 opener against Options Public Charter School, also for a lack of eligible players. The next week, Cardozo and DCIAA rival Anacostia Senior High School were scheduled to play an official game on the evening of Sept. 9. That contest took place, but it was taken off the books for reasons DCIAA won’t disclose. Anacostia staffers say, instead, the teams met that afternoon in “a scrimmage,” and that no official stats were kept. It’s a strange assertion, since scrimmages are ordinarily held only in the preseason, and the change leaves each school with just eight regular season games scheduled for 2011.
Then there’s Dunbar High School, the Shaw school whose alums include NFL players Vontae Davis, Vernon Davis, Arrelious Benn, Josh Cribbs, and Nate Bussey. But even Dunbar has been a mess this year. Its Labor Day game against Paul Laurence Dunbar High School of Baltimore was stopped in the second half because of an on-field brawl. Players from the D.C. school, which was getting blown out when the fight started, were blamed for inciting the brouhaha. The Washington Post reported last week that Willie Jackson, DCPS’ interim athletic director and overseer of DCIAA, ruled Dunbar must forfeit upcoming games against Cardozo and Bell Multicultural High School; the school has fired first-year coach Ashaa Cherry for letting ineligible players on the team.
A few DCIAA schools were, in the end, able to find enough players, security guards, and doctors to actually play ball over the holiday weekend. Alas, the results of the games that were played paint an even more brutal picture of the sorry state of D.C. high school football.
H.D. Woodson High School, the reigning DCIAA champion, put up just 63 yards of offense while being shut out 48-0 by the Martinsburg High School Bulldogs at their West Virginia campus.