DCSAA state semifinals offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

WASHINGTON — When the snow made an unwelcome return to D.C. last week, it had one unforeseen positive side effect: The District of Columbia State Athletic Association basketball championship was delayed a day, pushing the semifinals to Monday and the finals to Tuesday. With the Verizon Center, the intended host site for the finals, only available Monday, the semifinals were played there instead, allowing twice as many teams the once-in-a-lifetime experience of playing on an NBA floor.

The four games Monday featured St. John’s College High School against National Cathedral and Georgetown Visitation against Anacostia on the girls’ side, and St. John’s vs. H.D. Woodson along with Gonzaga College Prep vs. Maret on the boys’ side. While the finals will be held at UDC on Tuesday, half those schools would not have gotten the chance to play at Verizon Center if not for the snow.

For Anacostia, that made all the difference in the world. The Indians hung tough in their game Monday night, but couldn’t overcome an early deficit in a 58-42 loss. Nevertheless, with a contingent of fans including about 20 teachers in tow, they got the chance to compete.

Anacostia brought a full complement of cheerleaders and a couple dozen teachers in support. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Anacostia brought a full complement of cheerleaders and a couple dozen teachers in support. (WTOP/Noah Frank)

“It’s amazing to see them out there,” said Kassandra Soter, an English teacher. “We were just commenting that they were on the big screen, and how amazing it was to see them up there.”

Of course, the school didn’t know that their team would even get this chance until they beat Wilson on Sunday afternoon. But that didn’t keep the school from holding a pep rally for the whole student body earlier Monday afternoon.

“I am just really proud of them for even making it this far,” said Tamu Turner, who has two students on the team in her algebra class, both with A’s. “They’re amazing and talented athletes, but also students.”

The tournament also gives schools from across the city, that would never end up on each other’s schedules, the chance to square off on the hardwood. Brian Griffin, athletic director at St. John’s, saw both his teams advance on Monday. But he was equally as happy about the experience his students were able to have.

“A lot of these kids, whether they go to St. John’s or whether they go to Woodson, grow up together,” Griffin said. “For all of us to be able to come together from different conferences, from different schools, we consider it very important to not only our school, but to our city.”

Georgetown Visitation will take on St. John's in the girls final. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Georgetown Visitation will take on St. John’s in the girls’ final. (WTOP/Noah Frank)

Gonzaga boys head coach Stephen Turner, a D.C. native who grew up playing in the city championships, has experienced that firsthand. While those old city title games would take place at Cole Field House, he understands the additional meaning behind playing at Verizon Center.

“This is a place that some of these guys dream of being to be able to play (in the NBA),” he said. “It’s something that these guys are going to be able to talk to their kids about.”

And while he misses the old format, Turner is happy to see D.C. get a true state championship including public, private and charter schools.

“D.C. doesn’t get that state love like everywhere else in the country,” he said. “To have the opportunity to be able to come to the best forum in the city and play for the championship, the kids love it.”

Turner’s Gonzaga team will take on St. John’s, while on the girls’ side the Cadets will take on Georgetown Visitation in the finals Tuesday night. The girls tip off at 6 p.m. at UDC with the boys’ game following at 8 p.m. For more information on the DCSAA or to get tickets for the finals, go to DCSAA.org.

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