Ballou, DeMatha will play for more than a championship in Sunday's City Title Game

The Post's top ranked teams square off Sunday at Verizon Center in one of the most highly-anticipated D.C. City Title game's in recent memory.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ballou's boys' basketball team showed up en masse Feb. 22 at Trinity University to watch DeMatha play Gonzaga. Carrying plenty of swagger after a recent win over Montrose Christian, Ballou senior guard Zalmico Harmon led his team out of the gymnasium after DeMatha's victory and playfully jawed to a group of fans, "We'll see you at the City Title."

A fan spat back, "We'll see you in prison."

"That hurt," Harmon said last week, recalling the episode after his team wrapped up the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association title. "That's not what we are. But people just look at Ballou and expect us to be bad. We feel we've accomplished a lot in spite of the stereotypes."

When the second-ranked Knights (30-4) meet No. 1 DeMatha (29-3) in the boys' City Title Game on Sunday at Verizon Center, the annual showdown between the city's public school champion and Washington Catholic Athletic Conference titlist will be as much about cultural stereotypes and perceptions as style of play and transition baskets.

"There's a lot of social dynamics involved in this game," said Coolidge Coach Vaughn Jones, a two-time All-Met at DeMatha before graduating in 1992. Jones has coached at three DCIAA schools the past 10 years.

"You go to Catholic schools," said DeMatha Coach Mike Jones (no relation), who graduated from the school in 1991, "you're supposed to be soft, you're supposed to be privileged, and everything [is] given to you on a silver platter.

At public schools, "you're supposed to be tough kids, you overcome so much, and everything you've gotten is earned."

One example of the divide between a D.C. public school such as Ballou, located in the Congress Heights section of Southeast, and DeMatha: Last month, DeMatha opened a state-of-the-art convocation center, part of a $20 million construction project at the Hyattsville school; Ballou was just allowed back into its home gymnasium this past week after its court was damaged in February by snow seeping through the ceiling and dripping onto the hardwood, rendering it unplayable.

"They have enough money to help get the support they need," said Ballou assistant coach Douglas Dormu, who played at Theodore Roosevelt in the mid-1990s. "It always comes down to money between us."

Players on both teams grew up playing together in the same youth leagues, local boys' and girls' clubs or recreational centers. In fact, in 2006, Harmon and future Ballou teammates Christian Leach and Antwan Pittman led Assumption over a St. Jerome team featuring soon-to-be Stags Quinn Cook and Victor Oladipo in the championship game of the Catholic Youth Organization of the Washington Archdiocese.

"We're just in different environments now," Leach said, "but we're the same kind of players."

That's not how they are perceived, though. Put on a school's jersey, and that teenager is immediately identified as a certain kind of player -- disciplined or unruly, tough or soft, fundamentally sound or erratic.

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