Could the City Football Title Game Return to RFK? Bring Back the Title Game!

Championship Gamesmanship: The last title game in RFK ended in a brawl between DCPS’ Eastern and Catholic league champs St. John’s.

At a ceremony last week marking the 50th birthday of RFK Stadium, Mayor Vince Gray remembered some big Redskins games played in the building—and then brought up an event that isn’t talked about enough around here.

“There were 50,000 people in this stadium to see the game between St. John’s and Eastern High School,” Gray said.

It’s all true: High school football could once fill big stadiums here. In fact, before Sonny Jurgensen arrived, schoolboy ball was the biggest game in town.

The St. John’s College High School/Eastern High School tilt in 1962 drew 50,033 fans to what was then known as D.C. Stadium for what was then called the City Title game, played each Thanksgiving Day between the D.C. Public Schools champion and the local Catholic school champ. That was the largest sports crowd in D.C. history to that point. The previous record had been set a year earlier at another game between the schools.

Gray, a former star athlete at Dunbar High School, attended the 1962 matchup, which ended up being the last City Title game. In his speech, he said bringing high school football back to RFK, which lost the Redskins 15 years ago, could keep the stadium viable.

This isn’t the first time Gray has tried reviving the City Title game. In 2007, as chairman of the D.C. Council, Gray teamed up with the Washington Post to approach the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference with a plan. That didn’t pan out. A year later he joined with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission to found the All-City Senior Bowl, which matched DCPS football players against private schoolers. At the time, Gray told me he hoped the public/private pairing would inspire a reprise of the City Title game.

At last week’s ceremony, I asked Gray about kickstarting the long-dormant tradition. “I think it can happen,” he said. The confidence isn’t unwarranted given Gray’s record in forging public/private partnership in prep sports.

The City Championship basketball game, also traditionally played each season between the DCPS and Catholic league champs, was foundering and near death few years ago before Gray got involved and returned the event to the Verizon Center and to sporting prominence.

And although the favorite sport of his youth, baseball, has been on life support for a couple generations in city schools, Gray melded his political clout and his sporting passions while helping put together the Congressional Bank Baseball Classic, a day-long diamond tourney featuring the best public and private teams at Nationals Stadium each year.

But the City Title football game is different. Gray admits that returning the game to the way it once was would be tricky.

There’s the date, for example. “The public schools play the Turkey Bowl on Thanksgiving Day and don’t want to give it up,” he said. “The private schools don’t want to wait until after [Thanksgiving]. But, I’m thinking, if I can get the city schools to move, we’ll see.”

Then there’s the matter of who would be eligible. The level of play in the traditional public school league, now called DC Interscholastic Athletic Association, has never been poorer. The best non-private football team in the city is currently Friendship Collegiate Academy, a charter school.

And, in recent years, the best football team in the old Catholic league, now called the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, has been Our Lady of Good Counsel, located in Olney, Md.

“It’s called a City Title game, but you could have a Maryland or Virginia team playing,” Gray said. “Then you’ve got public charters that have become a force, like the Friendship team. So we’d have to look at if we bring it back, what’s the structure we’d use.”

Not everyone who remembers the 1962 game shares Gray’s desire to overcome the logistics and restore the tradition.

In his speech, Gray didn’t mention why the City Title game went away. As he knows firsthand, it went away because of a race riot, an event so ugly that 50 years isn’t long enough to keep it gone for some folks.

The trouble started in the fourth quarter, with St. John’s up 20-7. The scoreboard didn’t reflect the Johnnies’ domination: Eastern didn’t get a first down until the third quarter and only netted 87 yards of total offense on the day; St. John’s had 270 yards just on the ground.

The scoreboard didn’t show the racial makeups of the squads, either: St. John’s had two black players and an all white fan base; Eastern, a whites-only school in the days before Brown v. Board of Education, was now all-black on the field and in the grandstands. (Its coach was a white man).

Things got nasty after a tussle between St. John’s star Jay Calabrese and Eastern lineman Calvin Harris. Harris was ejected for fighting, but fired up the base by storming the field trying to get another piece of Calabrese. Harris was then removed from the sidelines with a police escort and on a stretcher.

“You could see something bad coming for a couple minutes so I headed for the exits early,” recalls Kevin Dowd, then a Gonzaga senior. “As soon as the game ended, the Eastern people charged straight across the field like Pickett at Gettysburg.” (Dowd says his sister, future New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, stayed home from the game, missing the riot.)

The St. John’s fans took a whupping inside the stadium, in the parking lots, and on surrounding streets. Police wouldn’t let the St. John’s bus leave for three hours; their antagonists waited outside the stadium: “We hadn’t gone a block and every window in the bus had been broken out with rocks,” Joe Gallagher, the legendary St. John’s coach, once told me. “I told my kids to keep their helmets on and stay down. I was laying on the floor of the bus. It really was quite terrifying.”

Nobody died, but reports on the number of injuries ranged wildly, from 40 to over 500. Syndicated columnist Drew Pearson wrote to his national audience about priests being beaten bloody by the Eastern fans.

Dowd says he found a canister of game film several years ago. But the ugly parts were missing.

Calabrese thinks the fight scenes wound up being taken by the lawmakers who decided to investigate what had happened. “I bet the second reel got taken by Congress,” he says. “Really.”

The report that resulted from the federal investigation, issued in January of 1963, declared that the “reputation of the Capital city of the world’s greatest democracy was tarnished.” Back in those days of trying to win the world’s hearts and minds, legislators saw the riot as a national security issue: “Our city is the most important city in America to demonstrate that Negro and white can work together, live together and play together as a symbol of democracy to nations throughout the world,” their report declared.

But by then, with Eastern’s fans and coach having gotten most of the blame, the Catholic schools announced they would not be playing any more City Title games.

A month after the report, DCPS superintendent Carl F. Hansen issued a rebuttal. He implied Calabrese should have been tossed out with Harris, and accused the investigators of ignoring “community conditions” that “produced the stadium incidents”: “These conditions are overcrowding in homes and in schools; poverty, ignorance and deprivation in the presence of advantages available to others; joblessness, particularly among the young; mobility and family instability; irresponsibility; and the most devastating handicap, the absence of hope among many young people.”

“In a lot of ways, what we saw in 1962 was the coming attractions to the riots of 1968,” says Dowd.

Dowd doesn’t think renewing the City Title game is realistic. “You need tradition,” he says. “A charter school has no alumni, so that wouldn’t work. You need more than just guys like me who want to see a good football game. And I don’t think the Catholic schools right now have anything to gain by playing a D.C. school.”

Calabrese doesn’t believe enough healing has taken place yet to bring the game back to the old stadium. He feels bad, however, that it’s been generations since any local high school player felt what it was like playing in a packed RFK.

“You walk out on the field, and you see 50,000 people, basically on top of you,” he said. “And then, yeah, all those people were on top of us.”

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Correction

DeMatha and Good Counsel are meeting in the WCAC final for the seventh consecutive year. The Stags won the first five of those games before Good Counsel earned a 14-7 win last year. http://ww2.gazette.net/gazettecms/story.php?id=1512

That makes it DeMatha 5 Good Counsel 2
Dave, another great article out of you. You are the best at reliving old DC moments so us non-natives can learn more about our adopted homes. But "Nationals Stadium?" WTF? You are better than that. What is with the "DC media's" obsession with inconsistently naming Nationals Park? You'll see it every possible way: Nationals Stadium, Nationals Field, Nationals Ballpark, Nationals Arena. You don't EVER hear anyone refer to Yankee Stadium as Yankee Park or Yankee Field or Verizon Center as Verizon Arena or Verizon Place, but yet it is somewhat acceptable for every media outlet in the city to refer to Nationals Park however way they choose.

Jesus, let's get our heads out of our asses for a minute.
A lot of things have changed in the WCAC, though. A City Title game now could probably be held with no more problems than you'd have during a typical WCAC interleague game.

My uncle told me about the riot (he went to Eastern) before I went to SJC.

Didn't Eastern and St. John's hook up in basketball last year and there were a BUNCH of technicals handed out to St. John's? Maybe the memories haven't quite faded away about that. I don't even remember if the two schools have ever played in football again.
I think if conditions were right (sponsorship), willingness would follow. I have spoken to many on both sides and a City Title game could happen.
The City Championship was revived in 1972 and played thru 1974. The games were played at RFK without incident. The '72 game was played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and featured Coolidge and St. John's with the Colts winning 20-14. An estimated crowd of 9,000 fans attended. The following year, due to a field availability conflict due to a Redskin home game, the contest was played on a Friday afternoon. Both public and Catholic school scheduled early release to allow students to attend the afternoon contest. strong defensive minded Bishop McNamara team, led by all
Met tackle Keith Lytle, defeated Anacostia. The crowd was a bit smaller due to Friday afternoon start. Then on Thanksgiving morning of 1974, a crowd estimated at 20,000 watched a powerful Theodore Roosevelt team, coached by the late legendary coach James Tillerson, overwhelm Catholic League champion, St. John's, 41-7. A close game was broken wide open when all-American halfback Ronnie Harris electrified the crowd with an 85 yard run seconds before the end of the first half.
The game was discontinued due to lack of
corporate sponsorship. After which, the DC public school renewed their tradition of playing their championship game on Thanksgiving morning .

The City Championship was revived in 1972 and played thru 1974. The games were played at RFK without incident. The '72 game was played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and featured Coolidge and St. John's with the Colts winning 20-14. An estimated crowd of 9,000 fans attended. The following year, due to a field availability conflict due to a Redskin home game, the contest was played on a Friday afternoon. Both public and Catholic school scheduled early release to allow students to attend the afternoon contest. strong defensive minded Bishop McNamara team, led by all
Met tackle Keith Lytle, defeated Anacostia. The crowd was a bit smaller due to Friday afternoon start. Then on Thanksgiving morning of 1974, a crowd estimated at 20,000 watched a powerful Theodore Roosevelt team, coached by the late legendary coach James Tillerson, overwhelm Catholic League champion, St. John's, 41-7. A close game was broken wide open when all-American halfback Ronnie Harris electrified the crowd with an 85 yard run seconds before the end of the first half.
The game was discontinued due to lack of
corporate sponsorship. After which, the DC public school renewed their tradition of playing their championship game on Thanksgiving morning .

The City Championship was revived in 1972 and played thru 1974. The games were played at RFK without incident. The '72 game was played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and featured Coolidge and St. John's with the Colts winning 20-14. An estimated crowd of 9,000 fans attended. The following year, due to a field availability conflict due to a Redskin home game, the contest was played on a Friday afternoon. Both public and Catholic school scheduled early release to allow students to attend the afternoon contest. strong defensive minded Bishop McNamara team, led by all
Met tackle Keith Lytle, defeated Anacostia. The crowd was a bit smaller due to Friday afternoon start. Then on Thanksgiving morning of 1974, a crowd estimated at 20,000 watched a powerful Theodore Roosevelt team, coached by the late legendary coach James Tillerson, overwhelm Catholic League champion, St. John's, 41-7. A close game was broken wide open when all-American halfback Ronnie Harris electrified the crowd with an 85 yard run seconds before the end of the first half.
The game was discontinued due to lack of
corporate sponsorship. After which, the DC public school renewed their tradition of playing their championship game on Thanksgiving morning .

The All City Bowl Game was founded by the DC Coaches Association, along with then Chairman Gray. It was Chairman Gray idea that the game would show case all of the high schools in Washington DC only. The DC Sports and Entertainment was one of the sponsors who help put the game on in 2008. In 2009 the Sports and Entertainment did not play any part of the game because they said they had no money.
The fact of the matter Chairman Gray now Mayor has been a big supporter of the All City Bowl, and what progress that it has made to bring the school systems together in the city. Friendship Edison Public Charter School has a good football team, but most of those students do not live in the city and a lot them will not meet the eligibility rules of the DCIAA or the WCAC. Let’s look at some facts you do not talk about; the city has been the major funder the games and the WCAC puts up nothing , you do not talk about the privet schools like the Model School , St Albans and others because they are also a big part of the city.
Let’s fast forward to today, TCM Community Builders along with the support of Mayor Gray and companies like Models Sporting Goods, Adidas, Shoe City and Pepco and others who support the mayor’s goal of One City. The One City All-Star Extravaganza brings all of the school systems together in Washington, DC to participate in soccer, basketball, cheerleading and a parent summit male and female.
The city agencies that have funds like Children Trust, The DC Sports and Entertainment (now known as DC Events) need to put funds into these kinds of programs who give back to the students of the city. This event is setting the ground work to have high school championship in all sports in the city.
Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? No. Why? because the egoes are still alive and in full effect. To the earlier poster, St. John's and Eastern did play in basketball and Eastern won the game. But St. John's ego got in the way and they have vowed not to ever play Eastern again. So, there goes the chance of bringing back the sportsmanships at any level. Friendship is a good team assembled but they are not DC residents and therefore it puts the whole program under scrutiny. The Turkey Bowl has become a ritual that has lost its luster. Yes, the attendance is noticeable but remember the venue is smaller so who are we fooling? Until we can get a decent capacity crowd at these local games the interests in a City Title Game is all talk. A three-thousand seat stadium at Cardozo with 130 people in attendance does not peak interests.
Can it happen? Yes. Will it happen? No. Why? because the egoes are still alive and in full effect. To the earlier poster, St. John's and Eastern did play in basketball and Eastern won the game. But St. John's ego got in the way and they have vowed not to ever play Eastern again. So, there goes the chance of bringing back the sportsmanships at any level. Friendship is a good team assembled but they are not DC residents and therefore it puts the whole program under scrutiny. The Turkey Bowl has become a ritual that has lost its luster. Yes, the attendance is noticeable but remember the venue is smaller so who are we fooling? Until we can get a decent capacity crowd at these local games the interests in a City Title Game is all talk. A three-thousand seat stadium at Cardozo with 130 people in attendance does not peak interests.
"To the earlier poster, St. John's and Eastern did play in basketball and Eastern won the game. But St. John's ego got in the way and they have vowed not to ever play Eastern again. So, there goes the chance of bringing back the sportsmanships at any level."

From what I read, the officiating in that Eastern-SJC game last winter was extremely controversial. The St. Johns coaching staff was not happy with the attitudes of the officials and perceived bias. Probably why they are not willing to play again. I don't think it's the end of sportsmanship - SJC is always happy to schedule DCIAA schools in many sports (like McKinley and Wilson in football this season).
If it ever did return it would have a short life. The games would be blow outs. It is a different area than 20 years ago, then public schools could compete against private schoools. Not any longer. The best athletes know that there best chance at playing at the next level is by playing in the WCAC and the WCAC recruits much more than it did then. Also many inner city kids who have the size and skills to play ball are not and going in different directions.

A far better game would be the champion of the MIAA playing the WCAC champion.

DC and MD and VA public schools can not compete against the WCAC elite teams.

It is much easier to field a competetive team in basketball vs football. Basketball has 5 players on the court and 1 or 2 great players can carry a team. In football you have 22 players and it takes more talent over a broader area.

This year GC has 3 of the top 50 players in the nation on the roster along with 7 linemen who weigh more than 270 lbs I don't think H D Woodson and Coolidge combinned have that many.

Also Over the past 4 years these are the number of D1 signees these schools have had in football.

The only DC team that has any chance competeing with DM or GC is Friendship Edison Public Charter School and the reason is that they can recruit as well.

DM 36
GC 30

The DIAA combined doesn't have many.

The only DC team that has any chance competeing with DM or GC is Friendship Edison Public Charter School and the reason is that they can recruit as well.


@ Inter-High Connection: St. John's demographics are ENTIRELY different now and if you'd ever seen a recent St. John's football or basketball game, you'd understand that. St. John's black students now come mainly from PG County. Their student body is a lot more diverse than it was when the ill-fated City Title game occurred.
All of the boys that had to play that game at Eastern for SJC weren't even born when the riot occurred. But jerks like you and people that think like you want to blame St. John's "ego" for why they won't play Eastern again? Child, please. As a coach, there's no sense putting your players in a situation where the past will be held against them in a game like that. Eastern, as the home team, paid for the officiating crew. That official showed up for the game and said, "St. John's isn't winning today" for all to hear. If I coached at Eastern and I knew he'd done that? That's not a game I'd allow to stay on my won-loss record. As a coach, the AD of a school that would hire such a "man" to officiate a boys' game of basketball, you won't give him another chance. As an alum of SJC and a black man? I wouldn't put my child on the court against Eastern for just that reason. So, Inter-High, you'd punish every black kid that's gone to St. John's in perpetuity for what happened back in the 1960's? Those kids today should pay for that with b.s. foul calls and technicals? Grow the hell up, dude. The officials are there to officiate that day's game not grind an axe from the damn 1960's. And what did that teach the kids at Eastern? That it's OK to screw over people. Yeah. Good job, Inter-High. The way you think solved everything. You do realize that you're depriving every DCIAA kid a chance to prove himself against the Good Counsels and DeMathas out there, right? These kids should play this game. But, in typical fashion, the adults are getting in the way. And you're one of those so-called adults and your attitude proves that fact.
Good Counsel has 18 D1 scholarship players this year, This is a perfect example why the game will never be played.

http://www.thesportsfannetwork.com/forums/thread/12301-18-division-1-scholarship-offers-on-one-team/
I'm afraid I'll have to correct Mr. Jennings on a few points. First, the game was revived in 1972, and it was on a Saturday, but it was played on December 2, 1972 (a week after Thanksgiving) between Calvin Coolidge High School and St. John's. Coolidge (8-0-1)had beaten Anacostia (9-0) 14 to 12 on Thanksgiving Day 1972. WOL 1450 AM carried the game live. I ran the winning touchdown with 22 seconds on the game clock. St. John's (the DeMatha of the day) played Coolidge nine days later. Both games were at R.F.K. St Johns jumped out to a 14-0 lead but eventually lost to Coolidge to the score of 28 -21. I know because I ran the go ahead touchdown from 6 yards out for the second week in a row. It was D.C. Hall of Fame Coach Sam Taylor's first year as a High School Head Coach.
40 years ago and it seems like yesterday. I hope the championship game is revived at some point in time.The caliber of play between the leagues has a gap but as we did with St John--that can be overcomed.
To read of how white D.C. school authorities in 1962 bowed with fear to black street tyrants and "civil rights" leaders in the wake of the Thanksgiving City Title game riot is to be reminded once more of the old adage, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." D.C. Schools Superintendent Carl Hansen's words could be straight out of today's news.

Message from the world of realism: There is no rational explanation for unprovoked mass black crime against whites. Blacks, by nature, are feral and vicious. One can plumb those fabled "root causes" all one wishes, but in the end it's a case of tilting at windmills.

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