They crowded onto the field at Howard University’s Greene Stadium (Girard and 6th Streets NW), pumping their fists in the air and cheering wildly, students in uniform, their coaches and supporters. The Beach Boyz—the nickname for the Knights, Friendship Collegiate Academy’s (FCA) varsity football team—had reason to celebrate. They had just won their fifth state high school football championship Dec. 3 by defeating Theodore Roosevelt High School 19-14.
The game was organized by the DC State Athletic Association (DCSAA). As DCSAA’s Executive Director Kenneth Owens crossed the field that evening, supporters of both teams thanked him for giving students the opportunity to play under the lights of a college stadium, an opportunity that many students who do not attend college would not otherwise have.
FCA head coach Micheal Hunter said the championship game was critical for the student-athletes who won. “Our kids work very hard all year and to have that opportunity to showcase themselves and showcase the school in front of the whole city, that’s important for those guys.”
But Roosevelt’s team had also celebrated winning a championship —on a different field, ten days prior. On Nov. 24, the same team that lost to FCA won the 2022 Turkey Bowl.
The Turkey Bowl has been a DC tradition for 53 years. It’s the high school championship game for the District of Columbia, now organized by the DC Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA).
“The Turkey Bowl means so much,” Roosevelt’s Head Coach Chris Harden told the Post after the game. “As someone that’s still a DC resident and grew up in DC, it’s one of the last reminders of Chocolate City. It’s something that’s ours, that we put together that’s been here for years and stood the test of time.”
All the players in these games have reason to feel great pride in their accomplishments. But why are there two different sports organizations serving DC schools? And why are they putting together what looks like two different championship games in one sport?
Both the DCIAA and DCSAA are government-run organizations that organize school sports in the District. But they are different, and they have different responsibilities.
Founded in 1958, DCIAA is the athletic department of DC Public Schools (DCPS). All DCPS schools with at least one athletic team are members. The DCIAA coordinates athletic events on the elementary, middle and high school levels, starting at grade 4 and through grade12. It provides athletic equipment to schools, and pays a stipend to athletic directors and some coaches. 115 schools were members of DCIAA in 2020.
The agency supervises regular league play between DCPS schools in “sanctioned” sports, including traditional sports such as basketball, cross-country, football and track. Sports are offered based on interest indicated in a student survey conducted once every two years.
They also supervise club sports, which are athletic endeavors offered by schools to develop interest and skills but without competitions between different DC public schools.
“Athletics is a vital component to student success. Our goal is to grow students through sports,” said DCIAA ED Michael Bryant. “We want to make sure that students in all walks of life develop academically, socially and emotionally. Athletics give students [that] opportunity.”
In contrast to DCIAA’s decades-long role in District student athletics, DCSAA is a relative newcomer with a more narrow role. In 2010, DCIAA faced concerns over player eligibility, coach certification, scheduling and discipline. The following year, then-Mayor Vincent Gray floated the idea of forming a public charter school league and possibly having the champion play the DCIAA champion for a city title. He wanted, he said, to add staff to the athletic office to help better police league rules rather than relying on individual schools to do so.
The next year, in 2012, Gray established DCSAA under the auspices of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). The immediate impetus for DCSAA was to provide a medium for which the best schools, regardless of public, charter, or private governance, can compete under unified rules for a true District championship —starting with football. DCSAA became its own agency under legislation passed by Council in 2016. The bill created a DC State Athletics Commission consisting of parents, public, public charter and private school administrators as well as city officials. It clarified the relationship between DCIAA and DCSAA: as of 2016, all members of DCIAA are obligated, by law, to be members of DCSAA and so must follow DCSAA rules for eligibility and rules, as well as certification of coaches, volunteers and officials.
Meanwhile, public charter and private schools can voluntarily opt in. In 2022, 53 schools were were listed as members in the school directory of DCSAA’s website., dcsaa.org.
“Every [high] school in the District of Columbia is a part of our association,” Owens said. As the number of schools in the District grows and offer more athletic opportunity, so has the DCSAA. “It’s a big thing. People take pride in being part of the championships.”
Created to Crown City-Wide Champions
DCIAA also sets up elementary, middle and high-school champions in their respective sports. These do not necessarily select the participants in the DCSAA championships, which usually take place after the conclusion of the DCPS athletic schedules.
While the DCIAA continues to offer public schools the opportunity to play for the DCPS championship, DCSAA ensures the winner of its championship games or tournaments is a true city-wide champion. To this end, competitions include students from DCPS, public charter, parochial and private schools.
“[Football] was a good place to start,” Owens said, pointing to FCA, a charter that in 2011 was sending football players on to college, but had nothing to compete for at the end of the season.
In their first year, DCSAA succeeded in organizing a football championship—which FCA also won—as well as a soccer championship and a cross-country meet featuring around 28 participants.
Ten years later, DCSAA awards State Championship Titles in football and another 20 boys’ and girls’ interscholastic sports in two divisions, Division A and AA. There were more than 700 entries at this year’s cross-country meet, most competing at a high school level, but also nearly 200 middle school students.
“Ten years in, I think we’re doing a pretty good job,” Owens said, adding that good communication with athletic directors is the key.
Because DCPS accounts for just under half of DC’s student body, it is the league serving the largest segment of the District’s student teams. But since charter schools entered the District system in 1996, their share of the student population—and so, student-athletes—has grown to nearly the same levels.
Private and public charter schools compete in many other athletic leagues, including the DC Public Charter Schools Athletic Association (PCSAA), Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference and the Potomac Valley Athletic Conference, among others. Like DCIAA, each of these declares a champion, but often include schools outside the District in Maryland and Virginia.
Now, any school in the District that wants to take part in a state championship has to be part of the DCSAA and conform to its rules and regulations.
“Prior to DCSAA you had different entities kind of operating with what was best for them —not so much what was best for the city,” Hunter, the Friendship coach, said. “I think that DCSAA got us on the same page and to where we can crown a true champion in every sport and not just depend on leagues.”
While it is true that, as with DC’s school system, the many leagues can lead to possible confusion, each also carries its own history and tradition that give every participating athlete a reason to be proud.
“We have an outstanding relationship with DCSAA and we look forward to working with them on different issues throughout the year,” said DCIAA’s Bryant. “We understand that we have the same mission—we want to ensure that athletics are accessible for all students.”
“I think it means a lot, I mean anyone who was at the game saw how everyone was so excited at the end,” said Hunter, the FCA Football Coach. “You can just feel the energy and how much it meant.”
Learn more about the Athletic Department at DCPS and read their handbook by visiting thedciaa.com. Learn more about DSCAA at dscaa.org