The Anacostia-Theodore Roosevelt game Thanksgiving morning at RFK Stadium will still decide the champion of the Interhigh League. But both teams took circuitous routes to get there in this season of forfeits, academically ineligible players and league-wide confusion.
Within the last month, all 11 high schools in the league were involved directly or indirectly in the forfeits that threw the league into turmoil. In a space of two weeks, Coolidge, Dunbar and H.D. Woodson forfeited games. The situation almost forced two playoff games and only last Friday were the division champions determined.
So chaotic has the situation become, the office of the superintendent of schools is investigating. Deputy Superintendent Andrew Jenkins said yesterday no sanctions against any schools or individuals have been taken but that "right now, we are planning to conduct a complete review of the entire athletic situation. Appropriate action will then be taken." Jenkins will head the investigation.
Woodson finished 9-0 overall, 5-0 in the Interhigh East and was ranked fourth in the area. But after one player was ruled academically ineligible, the Warriors forfeited four games, allowing Anacostia to play in the the title game Thursday.
Roosevelt lost the final game of the regular season to Coolidge and expected to play Wilson or McKinley in a playoff game. However, after Coolidge admitted having an ineligible player, Roosevelt was declared the West Division champion.
"It was embarrassing for our league; that's for sure," Anacostia's football coach, Willie Stewart, said. "We're just not checking thoroughly the rules governing eligibility. I guess it's carelessness."
Interhigh League administrators and coaches say some schools knowingly cheat by using ineligible players because they usually get away with it.
Dozens of protests come across the league athletic director's desk yearly. This year, there were at least six in football alone. Charges of schools using ineligible players, recruiting athletes, falsifying addresses and transcripts have frequently been filed with Vinna Freeman, the director of physical education and athletics, and Otto Jordan, the athletic director.
"We are not responsible for checking the ages, grades, transfer situations or physical requirements of each student," Freeman said. "We submit eligibility forms to each school and it's returned to us with the principal's signature. When we get it back, we assume that all eligibility rules are conformed to and met. When we investigate and find irregularities, we try to penalize the parties.
"The state of the league is an embarrassment and a lot of changes have to be made. I'm very concerned about the adults' behavior and how it will affect our students," she said. "We worked three years on our rule book but these coaches simply do not look explicity at the rules."
Apparently many don't care. Freeman said she could recall only "one or two" occasions when a coach or a team has been punished severely for violations. The principals, who are responsible for all activities in their schools, say they are concerned about the problems and several said the administration must crack down on rule violators.
"I'd like to think the individuals involved are not deliberately skirting rules," said Wilson's principal, Mike Durso, who was told one day his school had a playoff game against Roosevelt, then told the next day it was off. Roosevelt was awarded a forfeit victory after Coolidge admitted having an ineligible player.
"There's been little enforcement of rule requirements and it's getting worse each year," Durso said. "We definitely need to look at the entire situation because it's been embarrassing for all of us."
Roosevelt's new principal, Leonard Upson, said he is happy the problems emerged in his first year because his school won't make those mistakes. "I'll make sure I look at each student's record," he said. "I don't want that to happen here."
What happened this year is nothing new for this league. Four years ago, Eastern and Woodson had ineligible players and were disqualified from the league playoffs after each school accused the other of using ineligible players.
Ballou, the third-place finisher, played in the championship game. There were no penalties levied against either school or their coaches, Stewart (Eastern) and Bob Headen (Woodson).
"I agree schools and coaches should receive some type of punishment," Stewart said. "That might be the only way this stuff stops."
According to league sources, there are even more rule infractions involving basketball and track but because one coach won't complain about a colleague, most violations are simply ignored. One basketball coach said most of the coaches don't complain because many are guilty of violations.
In the last few years, several students have played for three different schools in three years. Coaches feud openly over recruiting practices during the summer basketball leagues. One basketball coach said other league coaches have often called his star player's home attempting to get him to transfer.
"I'm sick of this," he said. "These guys have bothered this young man for three years now. The kid comes right back and tells me who the coaches are. He told them he wasn't going anywhere."