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.