For the first time in decades, the D.C. City Title basketball game will not pit the top Catholic league team against the D.C. public school champion. In the D.C. State Athletic Association’s ongoing effort to create a championship format integrating public, private and charter schools within the District, a new eight-team tournament format will be rolled out in March to decide the city champ.
The new structure replaces a championship that dates from 1957 and has been contested annually since 1973.
The boys’ tournament field will include the two DCIAA tournament finalists, the two Washington Charter School Athletic Association (WCSAA) tournament finalists and the highest-placing Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC) team from D.C. The field also will feature the team with the best record among Maryland Independent Schools Athletic League (MISAL), Potomac Valley Athletic Conference, Capital Beltway League and independent schools within D.C., and two at-large bids for the teams with the highest regular season winning percentage within the DCSAA.
On the girls’ side, the eight teams will include the two DCIAA tournament finalists, the two WCSAA tournament finalists, the top Independent School League (ISL) team from the District, the team with the best record among MISAL, PVAC and independent schools within D.C. and two at-large bids for the teams with the highest regular season winning percentage within the DCSAA.
The DCSAA quarterfinals will be held March 6 and 7 at the higher seeds, followed by the semifinal round on March 8 and 9 at Trinity University and the finals on March 11 at Verizon Center.
“The whole purpose of having the D.C. state association is to expand interscholastic athletics to include all schools within the District of Columbia,” said Clark Ray, the DCSAA’s director of athletics. “We feel it’s kind of odd to have a team located outside the District called the city champ, as was the case last year with Paul VI.”
Ray said he talked with WCAC Commissioner Jim Leary “every other day for the past two weeks” in an attempt to create a tournament schedule that fit with the standing tournaments and commitments of the eligible WCAC schools, but both came to the conclusion late last week that there was no feasible solution.
“It would no doubt make the tournament stronger to have those three Catholic schools,” Ray said, “and we’ve agreed to continue working together going forward to make sure they are included in next year’s tournament.”
Leary could not be reached for comment.
Gonzaga Athletic Director Joe Reyda, who oversees basketball for the WCAC, said the format change will take getting used to, but the school is open to participating in the new DCSAA championship mold. Earlier this week, the Eagles won the inaugural DCSAA indoor track meet.
“It’s going to be different because the City Title game is a long-standing tradition in the area,” Reyda said. “It’s a shame we couldn’t work out a date for basketball this year, but we’ve stated right from the beginning that we’re definitely open to participating in the new format if it works with our schedule.”
“It’s a great tradition and you hate to see it go,” said Farello, who also coached at Eleanor Roosevelt. “It’s something every player looks forward to as the reward for winning our league and the event itself has been so well received, so it’s a shame.”
“Essentially, we’re not getting the best teams to play,” Jones said. “The new format might work and I know when there’s change, there tends to be resistance, but I feel like we’re losing a part of history.”
One team that is excited about the new format is Maret. With an 11-0 mark in MAC play and two games remaining, the Frogs already have clinched the conference regular season title and subsequently, a spot in the DCSAA tournament.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to play the top teams in the city and have a chance to be the D.C. champ,” Frogs Coach Garrett O’Donnell said. “I had heard a new format was in the works and we’re thrilled to have a shot at the championship by playing in this tournament.”
Cardozo beat Gonzaga, 73-66, in the inaugural City Title game in 1957. The first girls’ title game followed in 1990, when H.D. Woodson beat O’Connell to take the first of its five championships.
In 2006, the annual championship was moved to Verizon Center and three years later, it was renamed the Abe Pollin City Title Championship after the late Washington Bullets/Wizards owner.