The first time the Ballou football team had a game canceled this season — two weeks ago because Theodore Roosevelt didn’t have enough eligible players — senior Dontray Crawford was understandably upset. Colleges interested in the 6-foot-4, 200-pound receiver wanted to evaluate film of his first three games before possibly offering him a scholarship.
The second time Ballou had a game canceled — last week because a doctor wasn’t scheduled for its matchup against KIPP — Crawford walked out of the cafeteria at the Southeast Washington school, where he and his teammates met, mad at his coaches and with thoughts of quitting football. “I had to keep my composure because I’m a captain on this team,” he said.
The first two weeks of the football season in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association have been an experiment in scheduling and competition — a black eye for a league often chided by outsiders for its problems. Two of last year’s DCIAA semifinalists, Ballou and Coolidge, have yet to play a game. Theodore Roosevelt and Cardozo canceled their season openers because of a lack of eligible players. Nearly half the games involving DCIAA teams weren’t played and only one school, Wilson, played two games.
The first two weeks “were really a disaster, to be honest with you,” longtime Cardozo Athletic Director and Coach Bobby Richards said. “It’s a number of reasons: A lot of changes, changes in the athletic office, changes in policy and the demographics in the city, with some schools having more than enough players and some schools are struggling.”
When teams did play, the results were lopsided losses; DCIAA teams lost all seven games they were involved in last week by a combined score of 308-21. H.D. Woodson, the three-time defending DCIAA champion, was defeated 48-0 last week by Martinsburg (W.Va.), a state title winner, thanks in part to four turnovers. A fight in the fourth quarter of DCIAA finalist Dunbar’s season opener last week ended a game it was losing to Dunbar of Baltimore and resulted in the Crimson Tide forfeiting its league opener as punishment.
In the past two weeks, athletic directors and coaches have been adjusting to new leadership and rules. Hours before the first DCIAA football game, an emergency rule allowing fifth-year seniors to play this season was circulated to principals and athletic directors. D.C. Public Schools interim athletic director Willie Jackson, on the job for barely more than a month, has been trumpeting an effort to strictly enforce rules.
“It’s a transition period,” Dunbar Athletic Director Johnnie Walker said. “It really is. I think for so long, people thought we were the league that couldn’t shoot straight, where anything was allowed from fifth-year kids to having kids playing on teams [when they] didn’t live in the city.”
This is all happening as the popularity and strength of football at D.C.’s public charter schools grows. Seventh-ranked Friendship Collegiate Academy is perhaps the city’s best team (and one that has earned national attention) but, like all charter schools, can’t compete for a DCIAA title. Maya Angelou and KIPP are fielding their first varsity teams this fall, while Options started one last season.
Jackson said he isn’t concerned by the results of the past two weeks. (“It’s not about the outcome, it’s about the experiences,” he said.) But, he said, the fact that players have missed out on games is troubling.
“It’s not embarrassing for me,” Jackson said. “It’s unacceptable that we have folks in leadership that are not doing what they need to do to get kids on the field. That’s unacceptable. . . . We’ll take our lumps the first few weeks if that’s what it takes to make sure everybody is on the same page and operating on the same playing field.”
Many of Cardozo’s 25 players joined the team when school started two weeks ago and hadn’t practiced the necessary days in full pads to be allowed to play, thus forcing the Clerks to forfeit their season opener against Options on Sept. 2. They also changed Friday’s game against Anacostia into a scrimmage. Roosevelt had only 15 eligible players instead of the required 18 to play its Aug. 26 opener against Ballou because of grades, missing report cards and physicals, Jackson said.
Smaller DCPS high schools such as Cardozo and Roosevelt don’t draw as many football players as Ballou or Wilson, so filling a full and eligible roster is a frequent challenge. The problem is further amplified because of the DCIAA’s policy of out-of-boundary transfers that allows students to apply to change schools for any reason.
“In a couple of years, we’ll have that competitive balance that we used to have,” Richards said. “I think it’ll come back with the renovations and modernizations of all the schools.”
Ballou’s second game was canceled because the Knights’ matchup against KIPP wasn’t on the DCIAA master schedule, Jackson said, which meant that no doctor was scheduled for the Sept. 2 game as is required for all league games.
After hearing the reason for the cancellation, Crawford said he calmed down and refocused. Having to wait to send colleges, such as Maryland and West Virginia, the film of his first three games will hurt him some, but he hopes he can recover from the lost time.
A week from Friday, Crawford will suit up again and, if all goes well, play a game for the first time this season.
“I’m looking forward to playing Coolidge,” Crawford said. “I’m tired of hitting my teammates.”