This morning, while most people are either watching television, welcoming relatives or helping prepare dinner, Douglas Batten of Anacostia High School and Frank Warner of Dunbar High will be pulling on football uniforms and anticipating the highlight of their scholastic atheletic careers--playing in the city's interhigh championship game at RFK Stadium.
It has been 10 years since the Anacostia Indians took the field to compete in the high school championship game that has been a city Thanksgiving Day tradition since 1955. The Indians play the Crimson Tide of Dunbar at 11 a.m. today.
Luther Banner has taken his Dunbar team to the championship game four times in the last 19 years only to come away empty-handed.
The District's top ranked public and Catholic high school teams used to play for the citywide championship title on Thanksgiving morning, but a melee following the 1962 game where St. John's beat Eastern ended the public schools versus parochial school showdown. The interhigh game between the city's top-ranked public schools then replaced the citywide game as The Game of the holiday.
"Every kid who has ever played high school football wants to play at RFK Stadium on Thanksgiving morning," said Willie Stewart, Anacostia's football coach.
"That's all they talk about, playing at the stadium," he continued. "It is a thrill for them to use the luxurious Redskins' locker room with its maroon and gold colors and to use the same showers as the Redskins," Stewart said.
Warner, a defensive back for Dunbar, agreed. "It's like a dream to play at RFK. It's a high school goal."
The stands will be filled with admiring parents, relatives, teachers and school administrators. Alumni, many of whom have left the city to work or to go to college, return and attend the game to see their old friends and cheer for their school.
An estimated 14,000 people attended last year's game, although observers say interest in the game appears to be declining because the match up is often between teams that have played each other during the season, with one side defeating the other by sometimes lopsided scores.
When the teams leave at half time, they will be replaced by the colors, bands, drill teams and cheerleaders of the schools and the best of the city's high school marching bands.
"I would rather cheer at the RFK one time then I would anywhere else for the entire year," said Chicquita Jones, captain of the Anacostia cheerleading squad.
At the beginning to this season, Stewart said he told his Anacostia team, "If you want to go home, go home. If you want to stay and practice so we can go the stadium and then eat turkey after we win, stay."
Anacostia compiled an undefeated record in its nine games this season. Last week, the team beat a determined H.D. Woodson defense in overtime to win the East Division championship and the right to play for the interhigh title. On Saturday, Dunbar defeated McKinley 20-6 to win the West Division title with a season record of 7-4.
"This game signifies our state championship where our best athletes are visible and the whole city can rally for them," said Otto Johnson, supervising director of athletics for the District public schools.
"The best of the D.C. high schools compete and the top flight bands and cheerleaders perform," he added. It also is a time when many of the city's retired school coaches get to see each other.
Martin Chelsey, an Anacostia senior, who plays tight end said, "After playing all year on dirt and rocks, it is a pleasure to play on grass" and revel in the limelight.
The tradition of a city high school football game on Thanksgiving Day started in l955 after the public schools were integrated, Frank Bolden, former director of athletics for the District public schools, recalled a few years ago.
It was played at Griffith Stadium (which has been torn down and replaced by Howard University Hospital). "We had great crowds," Bolden recalled. "It was the event of the year for schoolboy sports."
In those days, the interhigh game was played the week before Thanksgiving at Cardozo High School, 13th and Clifton streets NW. When the citywide game was dropped after 1962, the interhigh game continued at Cardozo but the date was changed to Thanksgiving Day.
In 1969, the game moved to RFK because the attendance had outgrown the Cardozo stands, Bolden said.
In l972, the city, with the help of television station WMAL (now WJLA), tried to resurrect the citywide championship game between the public and Catholic schools with the best records of the season. But the game drew only 10,000 people. This was considered a small crowd and meant there were no profits for the leagues to share. The citywide game was disbanded again, Bolden said.
Batten, a defensive back for Anacostia, has been in the stands for the championship game for the last two years. "I enjoyed it but was disappointed cause I wasn't on the field," he said, "But this year I'll be there."
The game will be telecast on WYCB, 1340 AM, beginning at 11 a.m.