A milestone in local sports history was passed last week.
With no fanfare, no TV cameras, no spectators and, for a while, no football, the new University of the District of Columbia held its first official football practice at Randall Junior High School.
Moments before the scheduled start of practice, Raymond Buckner sat on a bench next to Randall's baseball field staring at the practice surface. Patches of grass were missing. There were no goalposts.
Buckner is UDC's starting quarterback. Last year he quarterbacked Federal City College. On Aug. 1, FCC merged with D.C. Teachers College and the Washington Technical Institute to form UDC. Wednesday was the beginning of something brand new.
"I guess we're kind of like pioneers," Buckner said with a smile. "I know I'm not the best athlete in the world and I probably couldn't play at a big school. Here, I'm good enough to play."
Being a pioneer is not easy. Wednesday, many members of the team were late for practice because of work and because they had to battle city traffic. Those that arrived on time had to sit and wait because the footballs were late arriving.
Buckner, a junior, and Barrington Scott a 5-11, 205-pound senior, who plays both ways on the line, are UDC's captains. The team's third captain, safetyman Dirk Smith, broke his arm earlier this week when he fell of his bicylce while being chased by dogs.
"Hey it's rough," Buckner said. "This is a city school. We don't have any campus and when practice is over the guys head off in 1,000 directions. But I like to play football. That's why I make it down here."
Carroll Payne, who coached Federal City to a 5-3-1 mark a year ago, is aware that he is not exactly in an ideal situation. But he sees the merger of the three schools as a step in the right direction.
"It'll get more bodies out," he said as he watched the 26 players who showed up for Wednesday's workout go through calisthenics. "Last year we had only 29 men on the team and I'm hoping for more than 50 this season."
The number at practice Wednesday was held down by school registration and the fact that some are still finishing up summer jobs. In addition to its weekday workouts at Randall - on the baseball outfield - UDC will also be working on weekends at Laurel's Marple Glen school.
"That has to help a lot," Payne said. "Just having all the guys together for more than just practice will be different. We'll try and get together and talk about more than just football so we get to know each other."
Co-Captain Scott views football much the same way Buckner does. Payne says, "the only thing God didn't give him (Scott) was size. I'd go anywhere with that kid." Scott, while taking his football seriously, also views what he is doing as a means of making things easier for those who come, after him.
"You have to start somewhere, and with someone," he said. "I've always figured it might as fell be me. They've always said I'm too small for lineman but I like taking those big dudes on. Playing on a team like this is a challenge for all of us."
UDC, with a student body of more than 8,000, will play its games at Cardozo High School. It will be in Division III this season after competing as a club team at Federal City, which had an enrollment of 3,137. Payne and the players say that won't be a problem. "We could've played Division III last year," Buckner insisted.
The opener is Sept. 17 at Scranton followed by the home opener on Sept. 24 against Gallaudet.
Payne is just worried about getting players out, learning their names and putting together a competitive team.
"Listen, there's no reason we can't win all our games," he said. "I know it's not easy but if our kids are well coached, and they're going to be, we'll be winners.
"Sure this field isn't too great. But it's a start. We have to take it from here. Make it better for ourselves and other. We just have to work hard."
"This is an improvement on the field I played on in high school," said freshman safety Anthony Davis. "I'm used to just playing on dirt on Bell.