I began my career in education as a teacher in southeast DC, I have family that goes back several generations in Wards 7 and 8, and I’m a former college athlete who always appreciated team sports. And yet, I never fully appreciated the profound role football plays in southeast DC and its power to build community until a series of tragic events impacted my school.
On October 31, 2022, Antione Manning, a 14-year-old DPA student, was tragically killed in front of his home. Antione was a beloved member of the Clock Boyz, a DC youth football program that has won three national championships and is a source of immense pride in the community.
Less than a month later, Jakhi Snider, a 15-year-old DPA student, was killed on his way to a Thanksgiving football game. He was a member of the Woodland Tigers, a football team that two months later was in Florida competing for a national championship.
On January 3, 2023 Keenan Anderson, a 10th-grade ELA teacher, died in Los Angeles after being repeatedly tased by an LAPD officer. He was a mentor to many of our scholars and a former college football player who wanted to give back to our youth through football, the way that many had done for him when he was a young man.
In each case, I observed coaches and players alike showed up to support the families and provide healing to a community in immense pain. The coaches were the mentors, the social workers, the trusted adults that all scholars–especially the ones in grief–turned to in need.
Our student body has wanted a football team since we founded the school in 2018. In the beginning, that was simply impossible. We did not have the student population or facilities to make that dream a reality.
And then there are the financial constraints.
When people think of high school football, they picture the crisp white lines on the field, the shiny helmets, and the last-minute drives that win a game. Few are aware of the cost involved in launching and maintaining a high school football program.
I run a college-prep school with the mission of building the next generation of innovators. My inclination is to spend DPA’s precious discretionary dollars on additional academic supports, not helmets, pads, uniforms, busing, and coaches for a sports program.
But the more I’ve learned about developing a football program, the more I’ve realized that investing in football IS investing in our students’ academics. For many of our students, athletics provides a sense of belonging that allows them to thrive in school.
Part of the football team’s practice regimen will include study hall three times a week. Additionally, student athletes will have to maintain a certain GPA. Finally, I am confident our future coaching staff will keep kids on track. How can I be so sure? Because we hired them from Clock Boyz and Woodland Tigers football teams. These coaches have known many of our students since they were little kids.
The connection between sports and academic success isn’t speculation. We have data to show that our students involved in after-school activities saw increased grades and attendance and decreased disciplinary issues. Last year we introduced a robust offering of after-school activities in the third quarter. In 9th grade for example, the 9th grade course average in quarter two was 78%. After we introduced sports programming, we saw the 9th grade course average increase in quarter three to 85%.
Football won’t just benefit the 60 players on the team. A football team will also provide opportunities for our scholars to be on cheer and dance squads, to practice broadcasting, and to serve as equipment managers.
And as someone whose success in the classroom and on the field earned a college scholarship to William & Mary, I also know that a football program can give some of our scholars access to opportunities they would otherwise not have.
DPA will always prioritize its core academic mission as a computer science based school, and we see developing a strong football program as aligned–and not in tension–with that goal.
There’s only one hurdle remaining. We have to raise $250,000 for the coaches, buses to the practice field, equipment, and uniforms. I’m confident we will succeed because if there’s one thing being a student athlete taught me, it’s perseverance. If I set out to do something, it’s going to happen.
So I’ll see you at our home opener next fall! Go DPA Pythons!!!