The Dunbar and H.D. Woodson football teams did not play each other last season for the first time since 2003. That’s the risk that is run when the good of a league and the good of a rivalry are up for perennial debate.
For the past 15 years, Dunbar and Woodson have claimed all but one of the DCIAA football titles. Josh Cribbs, Vernon Davis, Byron Leftwich and Josh Morgan are just some of the college and National Football League talent who played on those teams.
But the two schools reside in separate divisions, which keeps them from being automatically scheduled to play each other in the regular season, and during that period they never have arranged to square off in an inter-division contest.
That means Dunbar and Woodson have met only in the playoffs or in the DCIAA championship game, known as the Turkey Bowl. And because both programs consistently possess talent-laden rosters, they have met often. Should Dunbar and Woodson meet in the postseason this fall, few observers will be surprised.
But it’s not a given, and that fact has contributed to simultaneous debates that have existed for years: What is the best environment to foster a rivalry? What is the best environment to foster a league?
“I don’t understand why the game hasn’t been done,” Dunbar Coach Jerron Joe said. “People want to see the best teams play, so quite naturally the city would pretty much shut down. You would have media. You would have the top recruiters come check out that game. It would definitely become a heated rivalry.”
Woodson Coach Greg Fuller thinks the rivalry is intense by its very nature, because the only possibility is for the two programs to face off in a high-stakes matchup.
When asked why Dunbar and Woodson had never scheduled a crossover regular season game — such as the one Dunbar played Aug. 25 against McKinley or the one Woodson will play Sept. 28 at Wilson — Fuller said: “We always thought that we would see each other in the playoffs or in the championship, and we wanted to try to keep that intense rivalry going in that type of setting and not in a league game type setting.”
Yet Fuller also thinks the DCIAA should be restructured to eliminate the dual-division format, even though that would allow for an annual regular-season game between Dunbar and Woodson.
Fuller, Joe and many other DCIAA football coaches agree. The topic of scraping the East and West Divisions in favor of one whole league briefly was discussed at a coaches’ meeting Aug. 1. DCIAA Athletic Director Stephanie Evans said that was the second time during her nine-month tenure that the topic has been informally raised, but it has yet to evolve beyond the trial balloon stage.
“Like everything else in life, people don’t like change,” said Dunbar Athletic Director Johnnie Walker, who favors a whole-league format. “People always refer back to, ‘We do things because that’s the way we’ve always done them.’ ”
Will Dunbar and Woodson face off this fall? Maybe. That’s the way it’s always been done.