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Tuesday’s City Title basketball game between Gonzaga and Roosevelt drew more than 6,000 fans. Not bad for a high school game in this town, right?
Well, for these times, anyway.
But go back to the early 1960s, and nothing could pull in fans like high school sports. Not even the Redskins or the Senators.
You can look it up: The City Title football game could sell out D.C. Stadium. Some amazing (perhaps only to me) local history buried in this week’s Cheap Seats column: The 1962 gridiron matchup between St. John’s and Eastern brought in 50,033 fans to the place now called RFK, making it at the time the biggest sporting event in D.C. history.
And this is a town that by that point had hosted NFL Championships, World Series games, and even Joe Louis fighting outdoors for the heavyweight championship (against Buddy Baer at Griffith Stadium in May 1941).
But, the St. John’s/Eastern game ended horribly, with a black-on-white brawl that brought tons of attention to D.C., all of it bad. Columnist Drew Pearson told readers of his nationally syndicated “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column that the brouhaha was “the worst race riot Washington had seen” in more than 40 years. Congressional hearings were held to discuss what happened. And, all future City Title football games were put on hold. Perma-hold, really.
But, now there’s been movement to put the matchup of champions from the public school league, the DCIAA, and the Catholic league, the WCAC, back in play. And the main player in this movement is, strangely enough, the Washington Post.
Last football season, some 45 years after the brawl, David Jones, public relations manager for the Washington Post, approached WCAC and lobbied the Catholic schools league to restart the football game. Jones was backed in his discussions by D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.
Asked why the Post would launch such an effort, Jones said, “We’re a hometown newspaper. This is a big event.”
Jones declined to answer any other questions about the City Title game or his role in its possible comeback. Despite the powerful folks behind the campaign, the leagues have yet to agree on terms.