D.C. officials announce plans to crown city football champion, private schools are skeptical of scheduling

D.C. officials announced an idea Wednesday that has been years in the making: High school football teams across the city, from traditional public schools to public charter schools and private schools, will vie for a true city championship.

The format, set to begin this fall, will include a four-team playoff of public charter schools, independent schools and private schools, with the winner to meet the champion of the Turkey Bowl, the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association title game traditionally held on Thanksgiving Day.

The bracket opposite the DCIAA could include independent powers such as Friendship Collegiate, private schools such as St. John’s, Carroll and Gonzaga of the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, St. Albans of the Interstate Athletic Conference, or Sidwell Friends and Maret of the Mid-Atlantic Conference.

The winner of the public charter school league, the Washington Charter School Athletic Association, if there is one next season, could be awarded an automatic bid into the four-team field. A power point system would determine which four teams would be selected.

But while most affiliated with D.C. Public Schools back the proposal, athletic directors and coaches at private schools across the city are skeptical, primarily about the scheduling.

The WCAC, which has three members — Carroll, Gonzaga and St. John’s — in the city, traditionally completes its football season before Thanksgiving (the 2012 championship game is scheduled for Nov. 18). The proposed city championship game is Dec. 1.

In the past, the WCAC officials have been reluctant to push back the end date of the football season, said league commissioner Jim Leary, who met with D.C.’s recently appointed statewide athletic director Clark Ray three weeks ago.

“We’re going to wait and see what the schedules are going to be,” Leary said. “And how it’s going to meld with the traditional D.C. city schools and what they are going to do. We’re not opposed to it but not jumping in with both feet.”

Sidwell Friends Coach John Simon said he was interested in the football playoff system. But smaller schools such as his often rely on dual-sport athletes to fill a football or basketball roster, and scheduling could also be a determining factor.

“Something like this is good,” he said. “It’s just a question if the schools are going to allow a team to play that long. You’re talking almost another month.”

Ray was tapped by Mayor Vincent C. Gray in January to create the city-wide athletic office and championships for all sports. On Wednesday, Gray and Ray — flanked by State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley, D.C. Public Schools Athletic Director Stephanie Evans and others — announced the creation of the D.C. State Athletic Association and the football playoff system. Ray admitted next season would be a transitional year.

“The privates have taken the attitude that this is something that has been talked about for a long time but there has not been any action put into play here ,” Ray said. “. . . The announcement is out and everyone knows that this is the real deal. And we’ll see more people come to the table.”

James Wagner joined the Post in August 2010 and, prior to covering the Nationals, covered high school sports across the region.
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