Practice for the 1985 Interhigh League football season opens today as the conference embarks on a pivotal year after last season was marred by scheduling controversies, poor attendance and numerous forfeits due to player ineligibility.
A new enthusiasm seems apparent at many of the schools despite the problems the league has suffered the past few seasons. For instance, players from Anacostia and Theodore Roosevelt, the defending division champions, have been running seven-on-seven drills on their own for two weeks.
The league has taken steps to ensure that all coaches and players understand the technicalities that affect academic eligibility, and many coaches will enter the season happy that the league has adhered to their wishes to play games on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons.
"We have learned from the experiences of last season to make this season a positive one," said Otto Jordan, director of athletics for D.C. Public Schools. "We expect a highly competitive season."
Last season, Coolidge forfeited five games after some players' summer school grades were declared invalid. That took the Colts out of the West Division race and allowed Roosevelt to win the title easily.
The Eastern Division race also was decided by forfeits. H.D. Woodson forfeited four games because of players declared ineligible due to faulty grades. Anacostia, which had lost to Woodson in a regular-season game, was the benefactor of the forfeits and went on to win its second consecutive Interhigh championship by defeating Roosevelt, 28-12.
Although many of the league's football coaches remain unhappy with the District Board of Education's rules for sports participation, all have been made fully aware of the rules.
The most controversial academic eligibility rule declares summer school grades invalid when the grades are not achieved during an advisory period that begins in September and ends in June. Thus, to play football this season, all players must have completed the proper credits by June 30.
"A decision must be made concerning summer school grades," H.D. Woodson Coach Bob Headen said, referring to a recent school board ad hoc committee's recommendation that summer school grades should be declared valid. However, neither the school board nor the athletic advisory commission has followed up.
On the positive side, Interhigh League games no longer will be played Friday afternoon. The switch to Friday night and Saturday afternoon is expected to encourage the players in the classroom and to increase attendance. All Friday night games will be played at Roosevelt, Spingarn or Dunbar, the only schools with lights.
"This change will keep the players from missing classroom time that they would normally miss with an afternoon game," said Frank Parks, athletic director at Spingarn. "Also, we hope to encourage more parental participation."
Players were prohibited from practicing with their coaches until today, but the individuals who organized their own practices may have an edge that will show later.
"The players need this head start," said Roosevelt Coach Jim Tillerson, "because once we get started, practice will be rugged and there won't be much time before the first game."
Jordan hopes many of the league's problems will not be repeated. "We've worked hard in the offseason to upgrade our program," he said.