As more than 150 high school football teams prepare to begin competition in the Washington metropolitan area, the question arises -- which jurisdiction or league plays the best high school football?

Is it Northern Virginia, with its manicured fields (some schools have two), large coaching staffs, huge marching bands and big crowds?

Is it the Metro Conference, with its tenacious rivalries (Carroll vs. Everyone, DeMatha vs. Everyone and, of course, Carroll vs. DeMatha), overwhelming won-lost advantage over other area schools and students enrolled from as far away as West Virginia and New Jersey?

Is it Montgomery County, with its many successful coaches (three of whom have each won a total of 97 games or more in the past dozen years), fine facilities and a warehouse full of trophies testifying to the county's recent domination of the Maryland playoffs (seven state championships in the last four years)?

Maybe it is Prince George's County, which despite budget problems continues to turn out competitive teams and may have the best athletes in the area.

Or is it the District's Interhigh League, which has little in the way of facilities, staff and funds in comparison to its counterparts, but sends as many athletes to Division I schools and the professional ranks as neighboring leagues and jurisdictions?

Most coaches answer diplomatically.

"I think every jurisdiction has something different going for it," said Marshall Coach Neil Callahan, whose team won the Virginia AAA Northern Region in 1986. "The style of play is different in each place. If a round robin tournament with the Metro, Interhigh, Maryland AA and Virginia AAA Northern Region champion, you would have a different winner each year.

"On Friday nights, football is the thing over here. In the Catholic {Metro} League, they get good athletes. I think Maryland has the best athletes overall. Virginia has probably the best coaching situation. For instance, some schools in Maryland {and the Interhigh League} have only two paid assistants. I have eight. That makes a big difference."

Springbrook Coach Bob Milloy, the most successful coach in Maryland in the past dozen years (four AA state championships in eight years), says the Metro Conference is probably the best.

"Those schools just have bigger, stronger kids. Physically, they can wear you down," Milloy said. "I have sent about five or six people to big-time Division I schools in the past 13 years. DeMatha sent that many to Division I last year. That is what you have to look at."

Milloy also pointed out the difference in recruiting rules. "The Metro Conference can get kids from all over the place where I have to work with the kids I get and there is nothing I can do about it. A kid will just pick DeMatha or Carroll to attend.

"I don't think the coaching is any better in the Metro Conference than in Montgomery County but they get better overall talent," Milloy said. "With their advantages, they'd better be better than everyone else."

Lake Braddock Coach Joe Clark agreed.

"Let's face it, that atmosphere breeds discipline," he said. "If they had the large staffs like we have in Virginia, whew! They are sort of like T.C. Williams {the only public high school in Alexandria}, they have that captive audience. You might only get 40 guys but 38 are good athletes.

"D.C. has good athletes also but but most of them don't reach their potential because they don't have enough men to work with them."

In terms of wins and losses, the Metro Conference is better. In the past 12 years, the seven schools have compiled a 238-80-7 record. The schools have been particularly successful against the Interhigh League (66-12-1). In that period, Archbishop Carroll is 50-5 versus outside competition (22-0 vs. the Interhigh League). DeMatha is 45-7-1 against non-conference foes and St. John's is 36-16-1.

Montgomery County is second best against non-league competition with an overall record of 169-90-2. Northern Virginia is 47-22-3. Prince George's is only 142-198 and the Interhigh League is a dismal 47-169-2 against non-league competition. Eastern and Cardozo have the worst records, having lost all of their respective 21 and 17 games to non-league foes in the last 12 years. Wilson has the most losses (5-30) and Theodore Roosevelt is the only Interhigh team with a .500 record (5-5) or better.

Because of scheduling conflicts and travel problems, the Maryland and Virginia teams don't face many outside teams. It is rare for schools in Northern Virginia or Montgomery and Prince George's counties to have open dates.

Two years ago, in a first for all three areas, Montgomery County's Einstein played Northern Virginia's Robert E. Lee (the teams tied, 20-20) and Virginia's W.T. Woodson played host to the Interhigh League's H.D. Woodson (W.T. Woodson won, 30-2).

This season, Laurel of Prince George's plays Sherwood of Montgomery County and Oxon Hill of Prince George's faces Gar-Field of the Virginia Commonwealth District. The Interhigh League teams, which reserve September for non-league games, have a total of 19 games scheduled against non-league foes. If history repeats itself, the Interhigh League will not win many, but H.D. Woodson Coach Bob Headen says the experience of playing different teams is valuable.

"I enjoy playing the Metro, Maryland and Virginia schools because kids get a chance to see different teams, different styles of play and it is a good experience," said Headen, who has an 8-17-1 record against non-league competition. "We {the Interhigh} don't have many wins but I certainly don't feel we are the worst league in the area."

Headen points out the number of Interhigh athletes who have gone on to play for Division I schools and in the NFL. Headen says he has sent nearly 50 players to Division I schools in his 21 years of coaching. "Look at that figure.," Headen said. "I think we compare favorably with everyone in that area."