By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO
The concept of a state high school championship in the District of Columbia has been a stroke of genius for fans and given charter school programs something to play for. With the DCIAA shunning their admittance to the conference, the non-traditional public school programs the DCSHAA championship gives them something to play for.
However, the challenges of getting to that state title are different depending on the road the team travels to get there. The regular season runs to prepare teams for the playoffs, but the inherent challenges of earning the right to represent their conference builds fortitude to contend in different ways.
Craig Jeffries, the longtime coach at Dunbar (D.C.) High School used to play as tough a non-conference schedule as possible to get his team ready for the DCIAA championship run. He wanted the Crimson Tide to “pick up their bat speed” so they wouldn’t get caught off guard by anything that the local rivals had in store for them and it worked with championship results. Their traditional struggle to open the season was followed by a strong finish- thanks to, in some years, by losing early games.
It’s a recipe that is working for H.D. Woodson in their hopes of regaining the DCIAA championship by winning the Turkey Bowl. After facing upper echelon competition in September, they seem to be peaking at the right time and once again when faced with a tough road challenge they won to remain on top of the Stars division.
In a rematch of the 2017 Turkey Bowl the Warriors beat Ballou 21-18 for their fourth straight win. Woodson has not lost since falling to Friendship Collegiate at RFK Stadium in September. However, Woodson would welcome the challenge of facing them again if they can successfully navigate the remainder of their schedule against DCIAA rivals.
In the top heavy DCIAA – where the stars division has a prohibitive advantage over the stripes – there will again be the possibility of a rematch for the Turkey Bowl. With two weeks remaining in the regular season Woodson is one game ahead of Wilson in first place. Wilson is one game clear of Ballou in the race for the last playoff spot in the division. The top two teams in each division qualify for the playoff with the higher seed hosting what amount to the citywide semifinals.
Wilson and Woodson could meet in the Turkey Bowl if – once again – the strength of the league holds its form as two teams from the stars side meet for the championship. Last season Ballou ended the hopes of Bell who was the top seed from the stripes but lost in the semifinals to the second place Black Knights from the stripes on their way to the upset of Woodson in the city’s championship contest.
Mike Hunter has no choice but to schedule up at Friendship Collegiate. It has been difficult for the charter school to find a conference home, so they schedule teams from anywhere in hopes of playing a full schedule. Their competitive buffet features games versus DCIAA, WCAC, MIAA, Prince George’s County, and teams from Baltimore as well. They have also travelled to Rochester, New York to find opponents and played teams from St. Catherine’s, Ontario, Canada at home.
Despite being the “state” champion with little fanfare they continue to grind daily. Most experts and coaches around the city recognize they have a roster of blue chip prospects that gives them an edge, and many are reluctant to add them to the schedule. However, as their grind continues the paths may be similar but the goal to win the championship remains the same while the obstacles are different.