“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.