McKinley hasn’t made an appearance in the Turkey Bowl since 1970, and despite a promising uptick in turnout and talent this summer, the Trainers won’t get the chance to return to the iconic DCIAA title game — at least not this fall.
D.C. Public Schools announced in April that it was revamping the structure of DCIAA football. In an effort to establish competitive balance and give under-developed teams a chance at long-term success, DCPS split the league into a higher division, called Stars (Anacostia, Ballou, Coolidge, Dunbar, H.D. Woodson and Wilson) and a lower Stripes division (Bell, Cardozo, Eastern, Phelps, McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt).
The teams in Stars will continue to compete for a place in the annual Turkey Bowl, while the Stripes will hold its own four-team playoff in November that culminates in a second city championship game. Both winners of those respective titles will receive automatic berths into the DCSAA playoffs, with the Turkey Bowl winner advancing directly to the championship in December.
“I came out of the Interhigh, I played here at Wilson out of the Interhigh, I came out of the 80s,” said Mark Martin, who now coaches at his alma mater. “It’s really going to make it competitive. There’s not going to be a lot of blowouts. If Roosevelt doesn’t have enough players, if they don’t have 50 players like other teams, it’s going to make competition better. They’re going to have a chance. It gives teams a chance to build their programs.”
While many coaches and administrators continue to welcome the change as football season nears, others have questioned how the structure was formed, and what the future holds. Second-year McKinley Coach Al Kallay, a former Gonzaga and New Mexico assistant, believes his team was caught in a limbo between the two leagues (prior to last year, the Trainers had 14 wins in three seasons) — and moreover that coaches and athletic directors in the Stripes division weren’t given an opportunity to weigh in on the decision. The Trainers went 2-8 in 2012 with a young roster, but with a new strength and conditioning program and their highest turnout in years, they eyed this fall as a potential breakout season. Last year Anacostia played in the Turkey Bowl one year after a 0-8 season.
“When I heard, I called them. I called downtown right away to tell them I was against it,” Kallay said. “These kids grow up in this area to play in the Turkey Bowl. When they go to high school, that’s their whole thing. When they talk to guys across town, that’s their whole thing is we are playing for the Turkey Bowl.”