D.C. High School Football Hits Bottom Another year, another string of embarrassments for Washington's once-proud public school football league. Why you should care about the city's gridiron futility.

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Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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.

McKinley Technology High school lost 39-0 to Suitland High School of Prince George’s County.

Anacostia lost 41-0 at Morgantown High School, another West Virginia school.

Spingarn High School lost 56-0 at Edmondson-Westside High School, a Baltimore trade school.

Roosevelt lost 54-0 at Maryland’s North Hagerstown High School.

Every one of these games were subjected to the “slaughter rule,” which limits one team’s ability to run up the score in a lopsided game. It’s a rule we’ll likely see more of as the season progresses. DCIAA football, these days, is getting slaughtered. And the story of just why that is involves some ugly truths about life and education in the District of Columbia. In a school system that spends a lot of time talking about reform, varsity sports remain a conspicuous example of adults letting kids down.

“It’s embarrassing,” says Arnold Hudson Sr.

Hudson makes his assessment of the state of DCIAA football while sitting in the grandstand at Roosevelt, where the Rough Riders are hosting Pittsburgh’s Langley High School.

Hudson has two kids on the Roosevelt squad. He also went to school there, class of ’86, and played ball himself. He wanted his boys to play at his alma mater, too, so he enrolled them out-of-boundary at the Petworth school.

Hudson says he doesn’t understand why Roosevelt forfeited its opening game for an alleged lack of eligible bodies. He’s not happy that a lot of kids on the squad weren’t allowed to play against North Hagerstown, either. “There’s 33 kids on the team tonight,” he says, pointing to the home bench. “I don’t know why they said there wasn’t enough [to play Ballou]. Those things didn’t happen when I played.”

The eligibility snafus are dooming Roosevelt this week, too. As Hudson talks, eight kids wearing orange Roosevelt jerseys—but no pads or football pants—are watching the game standing behind the bench. The boys, some of whom are very large, see Langley score on a fourth and goal from the one yard line with 17 seconds left to win the game, 14-8. Roosevelt remains winless.

Keeping those large bodies behind the bench certainly didn’t help this game. And it wouldn’t have hurt to have had those kids on the field in that 54-0 whacking Roosevelt took from North Hagerstown a week earlier.

Moments after the final gun, I ask Roosevelt head coach and athletic director Daryl Tilghman about the kids in street clothes. Turns out Hudson isn’t the only one confused by their non-participation.

“Those guys, that’s all eligibility issues, physicals or transcripts or something,” says Tilghman, a big body himself, with a shrug and a roll of the eyes. “Paperwork. That’s what I’m told [by DCIAA]. I don’t know when they’ll get to play. Next week? I don’t know. That’s not up to me.”

It’d be easy to paint this kind of shenanigans as a byproduct of poverty, stuff that’s inevitable in a school system so worried about teaching kids to read and write that it doesn’t have time to focus on extracurriculars like sports.

Not so long ago, in fact, you could find ample visual evidence for this theory all over the District. Back in 2003, Spingarn’s Green Wave played their home games on a dustbowl because nobody at the school knew how to work the sprinkler system installed courtesy of a donation from the Washington Redskins. The team’s locker rooms didn’t have hot water. “I have to pay for my own footballs to practice with,” coach John “Peterbug” Matthews told me at the time.

But in the years since, D.C. has gone on a facilities building boom, which makes it hard to chalk up this year’s calamitous start to funding woes. The field at Roosevelt, on which the home team has just lost once again, is the product of a publicly funded $20 million upgrade of six DCIAA stadiums launched by DCPS in 2008. It’s an amazing facility, with a big scoreboard, a state-of-the-art artificial turf field, and a fancy press box. Even the bench that the eight ineligible kids in street clothes stood behind is new. All DCIAA schools have gotten the same upgrades.

It’s also hard to blame the kids: To judge by the makeup of NCAA and NFL rosters, the athletic talent pool in D.C. remains as deep as any jurisdiction in the country.

Which leaves old-timers like Tilghman, a former Roosevelt player who’s been coaching there for 24 years, worrying about the state of the game here. The past few years have offered a succession of embarrassments. Last November, Ballou was tossed out of the Turkey Bowl less than 24 hours before kickoff after league officials ruled the team had ineligible players on its roster. In 2008, Eastern Senior High School forfeited its entire season for lack of eligible players. In 2010, according to results tabulated by the omnibus website dcsportsfan.com, Eastern was outscored 293-0 on the season. The school doesn’t have a varsity football team this year, so its upgraded stadium is going unused on fall Fridays.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” says Todd Bradley, the editor of dcsportsfan.com and one of the most knowledgeable followers of the area’s prep football scene. “On one hand, you have this league with such a great history. There have been so many talented football players from the DCIAA who have made it to the NFL and had successful careers. But in recent years the league has really tarnished its reputation. Scheduling a game with a team from the DCIAA has become a crapshoot. You may play, you may not. Teams can only show up to the field and hope for the best.”

Tilghman is hoping that the sad state of this city’s boys of fall will be temporary. “Everything comes in cycles. Everything comes in phases,” adds Tilghman. “The shutouts, the paperwork problems, maybe this is just a bad cycle, a bad phase. At some point maybe it’ll pick back up. When I was coming up we didn’t have these problems.”

D.C.’s public high school football collapse comes just as the competitive landscape is changing.

Public and Catholic leagues are no longer the only games in town. Friendship Collegiate Academy, a charter school near Fort Mahan that emphasizes football but doesn’t even have its own football field, has come out of nowhere to become the city’s top football school. The team has a hard time finding competition, because they’re too good to even be included in the charter school league; it’s been difficult to arrange one-off matches with other local teams who fear a matchup with Friendship would mean slaughter. The school opened its season with an away game—in Cincinnati—that was nationally televised by ESPN.

Unsurprisingly, the school has become a safe haven for disgruntled DCIAA gridiron talent, further diminishing the likelihood that the next NFL generation will feature as many DCPS alums as the current one.

“I know [Friendship’s] got a couple kids from Roosevelt on their team now,” one Rough Rider parent at the Langley game tells me. “And I don’t blame the kids.”

DCIAA doesn’t exactly look ready to fight back. The turmoil of the 2011 season comes at a time when the league is essentially leaderless. In June, Marcus Ellis resigned as DCPS athletic director after two non-astonishing years on the job. Willie Jackson, a former middle school principal who has no experience as an athletic administrator, was given the job on an interim basis.

If DCIAA cares about its kids’ accomplishments, officials don’t go out of their way to demonstrate it. In an era where every midget football squad has its own web page, DCIAA football has no web presence. Parents and boosters say they can barely reach the interim athletic chief on the phone. “Willie Jackson won’t answer to anybody,” a Roosevelt football parent tells me. “I tried to find out why he wouldn’t let Roosevelt play Ballou, why he had so many Roosevelt players declared ineligible. He wouldn’t tell me anything. I’m a parent! I’m an involved parent, and I can’t find out anything.”

I know the feeling. I reached Jackson at the DCPS offices after he hadn’t responded to several emails and phone calls from Washington City Paper over the last month. He said DCPS hadn’t given him “permission” to answer any of my questions.

After I passed my questions on to Jackson’s boss, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, her office issued a statement saying that the agency has dealt with the issues that have crippled DCIAA football in the beginning weeks of the 2011 season. “This year, some of our schools have not followed the rules, which has resulted in forfeits,” the statement explained. “In response to the few instances in which football games were forfeited, procedural information related to security requests has been reiterated to principals and athletic directors within DCPS. All schools now have the required amount of eligible players.”

Nowadays, there’s fewer leaders who even remember when DCIAA was competitive, since many of the city’s top coaches have recently left. Craig Jefferies, the Dunbar head coach who took his team to the Turkey Bowl for 11 straight years, left this year for a job at the University of New Mexico. Horace Fleming, who spent 29 years coaching at Wilson High School, was canned last season. Jason Lane, a longtime DCIAA coach at Coolidge and McKinley, quit as the latter school’s head coach this summer. At the end of the 2009 season, Willie Stewart, a DCIAA mainstay who’d coached in the league for more than four decades, was fired because, according to the Washington Post, the principal didn’t like his “players’ behavior” on campus.

“You lose good men, that’s going to have an impact,” says Troy Mathieu, a former DCPS athletic director.

Bradley, of dcsportsfan.com, sees the advent of Friendship as the shape of things to come.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see charter schools surpass DCIAA schools on the football field in the near future,” he says. “It kind of feels like college football right now with all the realignment talk. As bad as people want the league to succeed, the DCIAA will never be the same. Those days are over.”

The traditional public school league, Bradley says, has rotted from the top down.

“You wonder who is in charge,” he says. “How can the administration consistently let down high school athletes?”

DCPS lost Troy Mathieu after just 10 months.

Mathieu, who’d been athletic director for the Dallas Independent School District and Grambling University, knew things were a mess when Michelle Rhee hired him as DCPS athletic director in 2008. He thought he could fix the system. “I tried,” he says.

Mathieu is now athletic director for the Grand Prairie Independent School District in Texas. He says he’s been following DCIAA’s recent debacles. “You’re in this business to find ways to get kids to play,” he says. “That’s not happening” in D.C.

Mathieu says he studied DCPS’ athletic woes before taking the job, and came up with a plan of attack. But during his days here, he says, Rhee never took school sports seriously. In 2009, she didn’t show up for the biggest basketball event her constituents put on each year, the DCIAA championship. (She was seen that same night at a Cal–UCLA basketball game in Berkeley, alongside her NBA veteran boyfriend, Kevin Johnson.)

Rhee spokesman Hari Sevugan denies Rhee cold-shouldered Mathieu, and adds that his boss “gave [Mathieu] the support he needed.”

“As chancellor, Michelle Rhee took meetings with any staff member, parent or student who requested one, including Mr. Mathieu even though he didn’t report to her directly,” Sevugan says.

One Mathieu friend tells a tale of the city’s athletic director begging the chancellor for a meeting. “After months of this, when they finally got together for their one meeting,” says the friend, “Rhee just looked at her BlackBerries—yes, BlackBerries—for 10 minutes and didn’t even look at him. Troy wanted to quit right there.”

Asked about the accuracy of the tale, Mathieu just laughs. “I want to stay positive,” he says.

But in an interview, he did share some of the ideas he’d tried to pitch:

  • Assign school principals the responsibility for eligibility issues—the single biggest cause of DCIAA’s image woes. “In that situation, the reputation and trust is put on the principal at each school, and they’re accountable and their jobs are on the line. In D.C., all that responsibility is put on the central office. The schools just drop hundreds and hundreds of folders off and the [DCPS athletic director] is responsible for checking them. It’s nasty. When the first stack lands in the office, you want to run out and scream. The highest-ranked folks in the central office spend all their time doing clerical work, checking birth certificates, checking physicals, even checking report cards and getting out their calculators to figure out grade point averages….I’m not aware of any place that does it in such a manual fashion as D.C.”
  • Pay assistant coaches. During a 1970s budget crunch, the school board stopped paying junior varsity coaches, and slashed pay for varsity deputies. “When I was there they paid for the head coach and two assistants,” Mathieu says. “And the stipend for the two assistants was just $1,200 to $1,500 for a whole season…I know several schools where they would take that stipend and try to get four or five people to share that, just to cover gas money.” Mathieu says by reinstituting stipends for assistants, schools would have an easier time getting teachers involved in coaching. More teachers coaching would mean fewer ineligible players sneaking in, and fewer forfeits.
  • Drop the rule that a doctor has to be on the sidelines. “It looks good on paper, but in the real world it causes too many problems,” Mathieu says. “You just can’t get doctors for every game. When I was there, every time there was a schedule change for a game or an emergency at the hospital, we didn’t have a doctor. When I was there, doctors’ groups were telling their members not to work the games for liability concerns. A licensed athletic trainer is good enough in most areas.” Anything that will result in fewer cancellations is a step up.
  • Get rid of the fifth-year student athlete rule. In 2007, Rhee permitted fifth-year high schoolers an extra year of athletic eligibility. For safety and fairness, every state in the country bans them from sports, and won’t play schools who do otherwise. Ditto most private schools. After getting bad press, Rhee said that the rule would be removed, so the Catholic league continued to schedule games with DCIAA. But DCPS quietly continued the policy. Henderson also said the ban would be reinstated. But in August, Jackson reversed that decision for 2011.

Mathieu, for his part, thinks the decline can be reversed—and says the ex-athlete currently in the mayor’s office could help. “I know Mayor Gray pretty well,” he says. “I know he loves and cares for the sports programs in the city. If somebody in authority would show him how to streamline the system to deal with the issues that are crippling it, I believe in short order he’d change what’s necessary. If you’ve got that support, it can be done.”

Not that Mathieu is trying to be part of that change. I remind Mathieu that his old job as DCPS athletic director remains open, and ask him if he sent in his résumé.

“No, that didn’t happen,” Mathieu says.

Leftwich, the Carroll AD, still seems stung by Coolidge’s stand-up routine. He’s a D.C. native and, as a star on the Carroll basketball teams that put up a 55-game winning streak from 1958 to 1960, a local prep sports legend. The cancellation of a football game, he knows, leads to trickle-down miseries. “It’s a whole production,” he says. “And losing that is a disappointment to everybody, from the kids that have been practicing all along on down.”

High school seniors get one less chance to show off for college scouts. There are bands and cheerleaders that don’t get to perform, and alumni gatherings and fundraising and spirit-building efforts that get flushed, whenever a football game gets scrapped.

To wedge in an overused cliché: That’s why they play the games.

And that’s why, ultimately, the disarray at DCIAA is outrageous. In a city where the schools have let down students for a generation—and at a time when elected officials are patting themselves on the back for supposedly reversing that—the sports programs are a blatant representation of adult leadership failing students once again. And, as opposed to academics, where standardized test results have become the stuff of front-page stories, it’s a place where the system’s failure has gone largely unnoticed and unpunished.

In fact, reformers ought to care deeply about football, and every other sport. Off-the-field administrative futility is yet another sign of systemic bumbling, the sort of thing that should worry all of those parents that DCPS leaders say they’re wooing back to the public schools. And on-field triumphs—or even just the joys of on-field competition—strengthen the bond between schools and kids, not to mention the parents, families, and community members who city leaders like to tell us are key to the system’s future.

People outside the system—the ones with a choice–hint that they’re through with DCIAA. Johnson, the athletic director at McNamara, says he’s not sure the District’s brass comprehends the damage caused by their new forfeit-friendly ways.

“We didn’t have the football game, and that’s the concern for me,” he says. “Losing a game is a very big deal.”

Johnson says that McNamara’s schedule this season left the weekend of Oct. 7 open. He’s currently looking for another school with the same date open in hopes of making up the game lost to Coolidge over an alleged lack of security guards.

He’s not looking everywhere, however.

“Am I considering a DCIAA school for that game? No sir, I’m not,” he says.

Photo Slideshow: Friday Night Blights

Our Readers Say

Lets face it the DC System is F***u*, no other jurisdiction have football games where it seems like a prison camp with all of the security and a Doctor on the sideline which in the majority of instances on players injuries,the athletic trainer does all the work, the Doctor gets paid to do diddle squat. The surrounding counties only require a EMT and some requires none, because the security usually one or two police officer who represents the total security at games will call an ambulance if needed on his/her police radio. Its amazing the thugs don't seem to cause any problems at football games in the counties and there are less security. I wonder why? Probualy because the parents seems more interested in their children and their school although, there are some dedicated parents in DC however, not to the extent you see in the counties..
This is what happens when you leave a bunch of left-wing liberals in charge of anything....DISASTER
Thank you for the great reporting, City Paper. We would not know about the sorry state of affairs at DCPS' football program without you - so that's point number one: the local media does not pay any attention to local public school football - how can we out in the community know anything about it? Point number two is this: it's not just the football, it's all the ancillary school community building that comes with fall football that's affected - the cheerleaders with no one to cheer, the marching band with no audience to play for, the school paper, with no game to report, the A/V department with nothing to broadcast, no pep rallies for the students, no games to go to on Friday nights - without fall football, ALL of these activities fall dormant. Third point: what has been DCPS reaction to all this? Many schools now have nice beautiful new tracks and fields that they keep completely locked off and inaccessible to the public in the communities in which they are located. Local runners or walkers don't come down to the track while the team is practicing, residents don't even try anymore to gain access to the school's facilities (which they, the taxpayers paid for), because of this crazy messed up mentality among DCPS officials that you have to keep people OUT of DCPS facilities. Well, no wonder there's no support for the team, and so no pressure on the team to play well, to succeed. It is time to completely rethink DCPS athletics, and OPEN UP those beautiful new facilities to the community, invite the charter school kids to play on DCPS teams, or even let Charter school teams practice and play on DCPS fields. Lord knows, the DCPS folks aren't doing it right. They are mismanaging taxpayer funded resources, destroying communities, and killing the schools they are charged with operating - let's get these taxpayer funded resources away from them!
Oh my god! The education system is collapsing here...let's worry bout football!

Who gives a flying f**k?! Fix the education first.
A good league is composed of teams of players that are guided, nurtured, and supported academically and athletically by their schools, communities and government. Coaches belong on the sidelines, not sorting paperwork. The DCIAA Administration's inefficiency has crippled EVERY school's ability to focus on THE GAME!!!!

Mr. McKenna: Great article!! Hopefully your words will ring loud to those who don't realize how that function called a JOB that they are PAID money for is not being done properly and its full impact on kids and the community.

Oh, and congrats that Dan Sydner is no longer suing you. I appreciate your articles :-)

~Former DCPS athlete
This is an artical full of untruths who writes this stuff without checking their facts. Willie Jackson did not reverse the five year rule that was done by OSSE at the request of coaches and athletic directors.
Until someone with the best interest of children becomes the director of athletics in the DCIAA, and does not play politics, or is not looking out for former coaches or associates. Clear example:Current Interm Director recommand that a team forfiet two division games, crippling them for a run to the play offs creating a clear path for another team to win the division. Who does that in the best interest of kids or a entire league?
It was unfortunate that Troy came along when the Chancellor and Mayor was only interested in firing teachers.






Nice piece.

Cato June (Ana alum who played at Michigan and then with Colts and Bucs) had a one-day clinic down at ANA HS this summer. Alums in the pros want to help and give back, but it doesn't seem the system would even know how to use their help.

Lets you further know Rhee was some sh*t and left town just in time.
Hey remember the days when high-school games started at 3pm on a Friday and many students would cut 6th or 7th period to trek to the away games? Remember when only certain schools had lights and the "friday night light" games were a novelty. Remember when the championship game was played at RFK, when the east versus west game was played in the summer at RFK? Remember when principals used to brag about having the full compliment of activities i.e., band, cheerleaders, boosters and the team. Remember when principals were mandated to attend football games? Remember when the team bus was the yellow school busses and not the over-priced busses that they ride on now? Remember football games were judged in two capacities winning your rival game and winning your homecoming? Remember when the scholar-athlete was not such a novelty? Remember when the vocational high-schools were the power-houses in football? Remember when the vocational high-schools became the easy win? Remember when high-school coaches were in their position seemingly like for a life-time? Remember JV teams rivaled everything that a varsity team had in spirit, winning and participation? Finally, remember when football coaches were actually a gym-teacher for the school that he coached?
So, if each high school had a full time athletic director in place, housed within the school and responsible for DIRECTING the ATHLETICS pertaining to that particular school, wouldn't there suddenly be some accountability for DCIAA athletics and thus a substantial decrease in the embarrassment that is the inevitable product of no accountability? Essentially, if you want it done well, pay someone well to do it.
Excellent, excellent article. Every point made was spot on. If DCPS sports are to be all they can be then putrid petty politics have to be put aside. I certainly hope that those who espouse "children first" will take a long hard long at this article stop behaving badly.
This information is sooooooo wrong from top to bottom, Calvin Coolidge was not blown out by carroll and the game against carroll the following year was not canceled by rain, it was canceled by an earth quake... The city paper is horrible!!!
One of the sad ironies about the downfall of DCPS football, is it has occurred at a time that DC public schools have high school football stadiums and fields that are the equal of the other public schools in the area, including the northern Virginia and Montgomery suburbs.

Having lived in the Anacostia area for the last 20 years, but having grown up across the river in Fairfax County, there were always jokes made about DCPS' playing on fields that had far more dirt, rocks, and glass fragments, than grass. Schools in the city rarely had a field for practice and a separate stadium with bleachers for fans to watch. Instead, the practice field was also the game field and often times fans watched standing because of broken bleacher seats if there was seating at all as most stadiums only had seating on one side.

I follow high school sports pretty closely, and one of the main issues this article didn't discuss is how the numbers of kids playing football is way down. But not just in the inner city, its happening even in the close in suburbs too.

I attended Stuart High over in the Baileys Crossroads/Lake Barcroft area. I didn't play football but from 6th grade until high school graduation in 1975 I probably went just about every Friday night game over a 10 week period. Most games had 3K to 5K attend, even for some of the teams they weren't that good. The varsity team might have 50 to 60 players, the JV would have at least 30, and the freshman team another 30 or so. In the farther out suburbs in Fairfax County you might be able to double that number. Today, many inside the beltway schools in Fairfax and Arlington County's are lucky if they have a total of 70 to 80 kids between varsity, jayvee, and freshman. And these are schools whose enrollments number between 1400 and 1800 students.

With charter schools syphoning off kids form DCPS, the typical DCPS high school might not have more than 700 students to choose from. And thats the offical number not the ACTUAL number, which appears to be much lower. With an absence of father figures in the home, many of the male students of these schools have no interest in playing football. A lot of kids don't even know the rules.

Thats one problem.

The other is DCPS open enrollment policy where kids can go to pretty much attend any public school they wish. That has made DCPS high school sports driven by recruitment. A few DCPS who have a go-getter as coach may have 50 kids or more on their roster, most of them not even living in that schools attendance boundary.

Ballou's program has cratered when their head coach, Moe Ware, left to take a college assistant job and the Knights football program has dropped off significantly. Before he went to Ballou, he was head coach at Coolidge and that school had a good program. Then four years ago he left to go to Ballou and took many of his best kids with him. His leaving is in part what led to Natalie Randolph becoming head coach because the schools football team went very very good to very very bad over a two year period where they struggled to find a qualified man to take the job. Randolph, already being a teacher at the school, stepped up to apply when no one else appeared qualified to do so. She seems to kow what she is doing, and because of the stability, they Colts may be a team to watch in DCPS this season.

Dunbar doesn't appear to have fallen off as bad since Craig Jeffries left at the end of the last year but that is another school that went from producing Division 1 scholarship athletes to appearing now to struggle to win games.

Over 20 yeas ago, Richmond, VA had a similar problem with interest in high school football. What Richmond did was to combine schools to be able to field complete teams. Thomas Jefferson, Huguenot, and George Wythe high schools became Jefferson/Huguenot/Wythe. They stayed separate academic schools but for athletics competition they combined under one umbrella. Armstrong and Kennedy High Schools combined, and so did Maggie Walker and John Marshall. It worked for a while for the Richmond schools, with Marshall-Walker becoming a power in the Central Region. But students and parents wanted to go back to neighborhood school athletics, especially for basketball, so after about a 10 year run, they went back to individual schools. I think DC might need to take a page from Richmond and do the same here. There are several schools, Anacostia-Ballou, Roosevelt-Cardozo, Eastern-Spingarn come to mind as schools that might benefit from combining their athletics teams. On the other hand, those schools also have students that have beefs with one another which may or may not be problematic.

In any case, seeing how high school football unites so many communities, its sad to see that after DC has put a lot of money into facilities, both athletically, and also the academic buildings, that interest has fallen off so much.

Nice article, McKenna. You do great work. For the record, both CityPaper and the Post have touched on the debacle that is DCIAA football this season, and props to both papers for bringing this info to the forefront. As someone already said, adult politics screws the kids. And with the proliferation of the local charter schools (and DCPS' continued school of choice regulations), I don't see it ever getting any better. Too bad.
And if all this is happening to the boys in football, imagine what's happening (or better stated: what's NOT happening) for the girls in athletics? The Title IX disparities are off the charts.
Fix the academics first, DCPS. Is it important for DCPS principals, ADs and coaches run the logistics properly for sports? Absolutely. To make sure the schedule goes off without a hitch? But what good does it do a college coach to recruit a DCPS athlete when he knows that the kid's academics might not be up to snuff to where he can stay eligible and graduate? Get the grades taken care of first. Get the IMPORTANT part handled. Then worry about what's going on in the field/diamond/basketball court.

If the DCPS puts out great students, the recruiters will show up for the student-athletes. THEN we can bitch about the ADs and coaches not getting their act together as far as making the scheduled games go off when they're supposed to.
This has started viable discussions. I am guessing who's going to make sure that what ever we are experiencing that it will stop. The most quoted person in the article is a person who held the job the shortest and lives the furthest away from DC.

This article was a great starting point to correcting a deeply rooted problem. The solution to the problem for the DCIAA as well as the DPR is to clean house and bring in new administrators who will admitt that there are problems and unbiasly take on those problems without the assistances of anyone who is oppossed to their actions.

This may include getting rid of some of the longtime and well like Coaches and Administrators as they too are part of the problem and stand-offish to positive change because they are comfortable in their situation. The new AD for the DCIAA has to have the attituded that change is not going to be easy, but it can be done as many will try to buck the system.

Finally, as Mathieu mentioned, let's put the responsibility of eligability issues in the hands of the Principles and Head Coaches of the schools. The biggest problem is there is no recourse for using ineligable players at the Principle and Head Coach level. I have not seen a Principle or Head Coach removed from their job over the years.
Firing a principal, surely you jest. Then you say fire a coach, that too has me laughing. Do you remember the tenure of Bob Headen it seemed like every decade there was a team disqualification? That is what legends in coaching represents. Your logic have the two most involved people exonerated and that is the athletic director and registrar of the schools. Also don't give these parents exemption...some are fully aware of every rule that they are breaking.

I really liked the guy named Mathieu but he was forever doomed when he did not clean house. Those who were working with him were relics, matter of fact their team should be called the Tales of the Crypt!!!!!
I echo the comment from PLearner. If there are problems with DCIAA football, imagine what is happening to girls sports in the District! I am sick and tired of female sports in the district not being comparable to the female athletic teams in the neighboring counties. The girls sports are suffering too, and not just with having enough girls who are eligible to field a team, but also with the quality of the coaching. It's not alright just to hire anyone to coach just because you need a coach. How about trying to find qualified individuals who actually know proper skills and technique and who can teach the student-athlete to perfect her craft. It's a shame to waste such talent and athleticism to a psuedo coach who just wants the extra duty pay. Don't get me darted on the DCIAA referees! In a word... Horrible! Try watching the sport played at a higher level and get a clue about what the sport is all about before you decide you want to referee a game!

If the student-athletes actually were exposed to quality athletics in DC, then maybe they would take more pride in their education and work harder in the classroom in order to be on the field, court, track, or in the pool. DCIAA needs to clean house and get people in th athletic offices who really care about the children and their futures beyond high school. Lead by example.

DCPS football has never been very good. Basketball is their sport. But in a sport that requires at least 50 players to make a solid squad, DCPS faces some increased disadvantages. First of all, gentrification is pushing black families out of the city and the white residents who take their place either don't have kids or wouldn't dream of sending them to Roosevelt or Dunbar. So their are less kids at these schools. Also, the proliferation of charter schools has further drained the schools of potential players. So this pattern isn't going to end any time soon.
I probably have to agree that if divesity is going to be the main cry for DCPS then we will be two sport town. Soccer and Basketball will eventually take the helm of being the major salavation for the school harmony and team spirit.

I was recently at a basketball game and the cheerleaders got more applause than the team. Those young ladies had tumbling and acrobatics down to a science, first major thought was "does Domonique Dawes have a gymnastic team in DC?" If not, then there is about 20 African-American young ladies who could be her nucleas.
fuck this dumb ass story or wat evea it isss
@DC Dave

You are missing the point. As someone who worked with DCPS kids and coached a DCPS school, let me firmly say that while I am no fan of the over-jocked atmosphere and celebrity-athlete status being cultivated at some schools (and by ESPN), the fact of the matter is that few things keep hard-to-reach and at-risk kids engaged with school and safe from the streets like sports. Even more, the lessons a great sports program can instill in players, coaches, fans and staff are one of a kind and are incredibly applicable to every day professional life.

I grew up trying to separate my academic/professional life from my sporting one. The more I matured, the more I realized that to do so was to miss an opportunity to make myself better in the non-sporting senses.

DCPS' pathetic sports programming is something out of a bad Jon Lovitz movie. If its foibles were presented by Comedy Central, it would seem fitting. That these insane stories of disorganization, neglect and disappointment are real -- and true across every school -- is heartbreaking. They are sad metaphors for the growing income gaps DC is experiencing.

Before anyone plays the "academics first" card again, go work in a DCPS high school for a year and find out how "easy" it would be for a teacher to engage a kid without sports (or band or drama or debate or...). It doesn't just complement education, it simultaneously makes education possible AND IT IS EDUCATION.
I had no idea that the state of affairs in the District Public School System, as it relates to football, was in such shambles. It makes me absolutely furious to the point of bringing tears to my eyes. I can so clearly remember the days when I played and how excited I was every Friday on game day. To think that so many kids are being deprived of that same feeling breaks my heart. How pathetic!!!

I was just visiting my alma mater (Roosevelt) earlier today and checking out their state-of-the-art football facility. What a shame to think that all the funds that went into upgrading DCIAA stadiums is essentially going to waste. Just another example of the taxpayers money being squandered.

It's positively disgraceful and embarrassing to have our young people subjected to this kind of incompetence from supposedly professional adults who are being paid to provide sound leadership and direction.

Needless to say, it starts at the top. I, for one, have absolutely no patience with grown folks. Anyone at DCPS who is not fully committed to their job and the welfare of the students should be summarily fired! End of story!! Based on the article, it sounds like a broom needs to be brought in to 'clean house'. If the head person at DCPS falls in this category, the mayor and city council needs to do whatever is necessary to have that person removed.

Folks need to stop looking at sports as just some side activity to be considered less important that academics. Those who have participated know that sports is the ultimate competition and character is build through competition. Having said that, if, as some have pointed out, there are a myriad of reasons beyond the control of administrators for this sad state of affairs, then those with the authority should simply remove football as part of their sports curriculum.

Yes ... I can already here those who think this is too radical a solution. But you have to ask the question ... what has more lasting harm to the students -- canceling football altogether or having them subjected year after year to the current nonsense? When all is said and done, we must remember that, regardless of the reason, these kids are witnessing a bunch of adults who can't get their act together. Do you honestly think that this kind of behavior won't rub off on some of these kids? When they become adults, perhaps some will remember this fiasco and, like their example-setters, choose not be as committed to their line of work. And we have the nerve to wonder why so many kids are the way they are!
Part of the problem with dciaa is that they have some athletic directors as coaches. It's almost impossible to get rid of them. That shouldn't be allowed.
This article and nearly every comment about it misses the real point. Especially the ridiculous criticisms of Rhee- the city's only real administrator ever. DC schools are the worst not in the USA but the world. We live in a completely new global society where information and technology have more than equalled the playing field, they have blown by the outdated 1980 mindset of USA schools. Ask yourself in the last 20 years how many of these tough men have earned a living off of football? Out of the thousands perhaps 2-3. High school sports are the absolute worst means to get a kid out of the ghetto yet an inordinate amount of resource are squandered on it between the facilities, travel, coaching etc. If just half of this budget was put into academic programs such as debate, speech, computer sciences, business clubs... We would see ALL of the benefits these uninformed citizens profess sports achieve but never do. High School sports make the largest promise, cost the most, and deliver the least. It's the exact same syndrome as the lottery and the same reason it seems to target the uneducated poor. Everyone thinks they will win. Every kid sees sports as the one way out. If you examine the stats and success of the urban debate leagues they are staggering. Kids graduate. They get scholarships. They have attended ivy league colleges and have not only competed with but routinely beaten the top debaters at private schools. The UDL is just one example. The question is when will you wake up and stop telling kids that sports is the only answer?!
No, you didn't and neither did I. I was tauhgt who he was by Thomas Sowell. It was in one of his columns many years ago. There's a small blurb on wikipedia but you'd think that if you wanted a hero to the black community, James Armistead would have his national day along side MLK. But since it doesn't promote the America torn by racial hatred template, sadly many kids who could use a true American hero will never hear of him.
Lol.... Sounds like someone loves the private schools more than the public schools??? Horrible lies and bs article!!!!

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