Anacostia, Eastern football seasons delayed by turnout, clearance concerns

By Alan Goldenbach
Thursday, September 2, 2010; 3:16 PM

Nine months after firing longtime football coach Willie Stewart, Anacostia is unable to start its season on time because the Indians could not get clearance medically and academically for the minimum 18 players.

The Indians had to back out of their scheduled opener last week at Gonzaga, and announced Thursday afternoon that they will not have enough players for Friday's game at Theodore Roosevelt. Eastern, too, will not be able to open its season Saturday at Fairmont Heights because of a lack of eligible players.

"We've had some challenges in the summer, getting the program going," said Anacostia principal Ian Roberts, who added there are more than 65 players interested in playing, but not all have been certified as academically eligible by the school or have yet to complete their preseason physical examinations. "Now, we're pulling all their transcripts and running through them with a fine-tooth comb. We want to make sure every one of them is eligible."

Though both Anacostia and Eastern say they have more than the 18-player minimum (as required by the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association) who are academically eligible and have passed preseason physicals, D.C. Public Schools requires football players to complete eight consecutive practices (three out of pads, five in pads) before being allowed to play in a game. Both schools said that is one of the biggest hindrances to getting players eligible.

"I've got kids who come one day and then don't come the next," Eastern Coach Leonard Dempsey said. "Once you don't show up, that [eight-practice] clock has to start all over again."

Last December, Anacostia fired Stewart, who had coached the Indians since 1981, after he and then-first-year principal R. Malik Bazzell (who was fired last spring) were at odds over player behavior and study-hall participation. Stewart's replacement, former assistant Terry Dixon, who played for Stewart before graduating in 1996, was not given the job until last June, allowing him little time to attract players.

Furthermore, Dixon said he and several other DCIAA football coaches are struggling to get players to preseason practice because they work summer jobs right up until the first day of school.

Dixon had six players at practice on Aug. 20. Three days later, after the first day of classes, 39 more students showed up at practice telling Dixon they wanted to play. The problem was, Anacostia's first game was five days later and those players would not be able to get the minimum practice time completed.

Roosevelt Coach Daryl Tilghman, whose team was supposed to have played Anacostia this week, said he had heard last Wednesday that Anacostia would have trouble getting enough players for the game, and wanted to find out if the game would be cancelled. If so, Tilghman said, he wanted to try to find another opponent with an open date.

Tilghman said, though, that neither Dixon nor DCPS Athletic Director Marcus Ellis would return his calls seeking confirmation of Anacostia's status until Thursday, when it was too late to find another opponent.

"What am I supposed to do?" Tilghman said. "I had coaches who wanted to go away for the long weekend, but they thought we might have a game. Now, we don't."

This situation is nothing new for the Ramblers. Low turnouts forced them to cancel early-season games in 2002 and '07, and they wiped out the entire 2008 season.

With only 12th graders in the school this year as it is being remodeled, Eastern knew drawing a team from a pool of about 200 students would be a challenge. Dempsey said he had about 27 players, but only 14 of them have completed the required practices consecutively. Eastern has struggled in the past to attract players, and in 2008, had to cancel its season. The Ramblers' next scheduled game is Sept. 24 against Cardozo.

Anacostia, meantime, is scheduled to host Cardozo Sept. 10. Roberts said he expects to have enough players qualified by then.

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