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Adrian Fenty was the higher profile athlete of the mayoral candidates, but Vince Gray’s the bigger sports fan. Particularly of sports in the schools.
Schoolboy sports are thriving in the ‘burbs, but hurting in the District these days. Former football powerhouses Anacostia and Eastern unable to even field teams at the beginning of the 2010 season. Schoolgirl sports in the city need even more help.
Gray’s past hints that the problems with school athletics might be taken more seriously during his administration than while Fenty was in office.
Gray, for example, was the political force behind getting the annual City Championship basketball game moved back to the Verizon Center when it was on the verge of disappearing a few years ago. The matchup of the champions of the DCIAA, the D.C. public school league, and the WCAC, the Catholic schools’ conference, was once one of the biggest events on the annual schoolboy sports calendar, had been flagging and was being held at Coolidge Senior High before Gray moved in.
Baseball’s been hurting in the schools forever, and Gray’s a baseball guy. He helped put together the Congressional Bank Baseball Classic, a mini-tournament played at Nationals Stadium that usually ends with DCIAA powerhouse Wilson, which wins the league title every year, facing a top private school team.
And Gray was a big supporter of the All-City Senior Bowl, an all-star football game between public and private school players founded in 2008 by the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. He served as honorary captain of the public schools team. Gray told me at that game that he hoped someday to bring back the City Title football game. That game used to match the public and Catholic League champs on Thanksgiving Day, and was drawing crowds of over 50,000 to D.C. Stadium before a massive race riot broke out at the end of the 1962 game between Eastern and St. John’s.
Gray attended the 1962 City Title game and witnessed the riot. “Man, that was bad,” he told me in 2008.
But he wanted to bring the event back.
“I think we should bring the city title game back and have a real city championship,” said Gray. “I don’t know if we can return to what it was, for a lot of reasons. Now we’ve got charter schools starting to play football, and other [non-Catholic] private schools in the city that are pretty good now. And there are questions about when the game will be played, because everybody wants Thanksgiving Day for their own leagues. But sports is a big part of the revitalization of our schools.”
If only Michelle Rhee believed that.