New-look Ballou football back in title mix

Having won with transfers, Coach Moe Ware wants to show he can succeed with homegrown talent.
Having won with transfers, Coach Moe Ware wants to show he can succeed with homegrown talent. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
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By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mention Ballou's 2006 Turkey Bowl victory, and Daray Crawford's eyes bulge and his grin gets as big as the school's hallway.

Get him talking about that tumultuous season, though, and the senior defensive back winces between smiles. Something, he said, just didn't feel right about that team, be it the half-dozen high-profile transfers who arrived the preceding summer and vaulted the Knights into title contention, or how Ballou used an obscure D.C. public school rule to narrowly escape forfeiting its playoff spot for using an ineligible player.

"It wasn't like what I expected my high school team to be like -- all the transfers and all the drama," said Crawford, reflecting on his freshman season. "There's no more transfers this time. We're doing it the right way this year."

For the first time since 2006, Ballou will be back in the Turkey Bowl, the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association football championship that annually takes place on Thanksgiving. The Knights will play H.D. Woodson at Eastern High on Thursday at 11 a.m.

This year's Ballou team, though, bears very little resemblance to the one that danced on Eastern's muddy turf three years ago

"Both teams played with a chip on their shoulder," Ballou Coach Moe Ware said, "but for different reasons. Big difference."

Led by All-Met defensive lineman Marvin Austin -- one of four players who signed division I-A scholarships after the season -- Ballou's 2006 team was characterized by its star power.

This year's team, on the other hand, did not have a player with a scholarship offer from a division I-A school until junior lineman Jamar Lewter got one this week from North Carolina. Even though the Knights are a one-point loss from an undefeated season, they have felt a need to prove themselves every week.

"A lot of people don't really know much about us," said senior Larry Pinkard, a wide receiver and defensive back. "We kind of have to make a name for ourselves."

On the 2006 team, Austin (now at North Carolina) was one of six players who transferred from Coolidge to Ballou after Ware, a former Colts assistant, was named the Knights' coach. Ware said he had to deflect criticism, inside and outside the DCIAA, from those who said Ballou was just a team of hired guns brought in to win the school's first title.

There were other strings attached to the title as well. Just two days before the 2006 DCIAA playoffs began, Ballou was ruled ineligible for using players who were not meeting academic standards. The following day, Clifford B. Janey, the superintendent of D.C. schools at the time, upheld Ballou's appeal, saying the challenge lodged by another school to investigate Ballou wasn't filed in time, rendering the challenge null. Janey acknowledged, however, the player was, in fact, ineligible. Ballou was allowed back into the playoffs.

"I guess you could say we went free agency for a quick fix for one year" in 2006, Ware said, "but then we went into the draft to develop. I want to win it without Marvin, and so do the kids. I want to show you that these kids are homegrown, kids from around here, this side of the [Anacostia] River."

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