by Troy Sparks
Those kids on the Milwaukee Washington football team deserve a better fate than what they were dealt recently. While we’re focusing on the drama surrounding the police chief in our city and the backlash it’s bringing, why can’t we channel some of that energy and direct it at those who may be responsible for what happened to the young men?
The boys endured the heat in the summer when they were out on the field by the high school running through drills and trying to do something constructive and positive. Given the area in the inner city where the school is located, they could’ve been getting into negative activities because they see some of that in the surrounding neighborhoods of the school or at least know people who do wrong.
Add that to the general feeling that some of them may have participated in football just to have something to do for nearly three months would go a long way in maintaining a positive life and knowing that their hard work paid off.
Now granted that the Purgolders haven’t been that good in a while, the guys still represented their school and made people proud despite being undermanned and undersized. That’s a perfect combination for the City Conference schools which have similar size and number issues.
In fact, the City schools which have football teams have dropped down to 11. Every City school had enough players to field their own teams at one time, but the lack of numbers to have full teams forced some schools to combine with other schools to make a full team.
That was the case with Washington. They combined with other schools to get guys who were interested in playing football. It worked out well for them. The numbers were adequate. It was gut-wrenching just to get 30-35 out for football.
It was a big deal for Washington to have a team after once sitting out a year for not having enough players to field a varsity team. A sophomore led the team this year. He was a good running quarterback who ran for 842 yards. A’maru King played youth football last year. He felt that this Washington team would be special.
This was the guy who encouraged some of his teammates to come to practice when they would be interested in getting into other stuff. Some of them probably said, “What the heck? We’re going to lose anyways.”
Now a sophomore who ran the offense for head coach Thoples Carney was like Moses handing the reins over to a young Joshua to lead the people to the promise land. It was supposed to be a shot in the arm for a school that won five City titles, had 18 winning seasons and made the playoffs nine times during the Greg Lehman era.
The Purgolders looked at the schedule and knew that they would be outmuscled and outmanned in non-conference games against Campbellsport and Little Chute, but in the City Conference, everyone was almost equal in size and talent, except Milwaukee Riverside, which Washington didn’t have to play this year.
After losing to Campbellsport, they rolled through the next four opponents and were on track to challenge Milwaukee King for a share the City championship with Riverside in what would have been a big game with a huge turnout at Custer Stadium. They were already playoff bound at that point. The showdown was heating up until the other shoe dropped.
Washington learned that they were ineligible for the playoffs because two of their seniors were in uniform and participated in the four wins. Their conference record went from 4-0 to 0-4 because they had to forfeit those wins over Morse-Marshall, Milwaukee South, Milwaukee Bay View and Milwaukee Pulaski. They beat Milwaukee Madison Co-op and would have been 5-0 leading up to the game against the Generals. You couldn’t blame them if they weren’t motivated to play in their 20-0 defeat after that letdown.
According to the WIAA, the two players in question were fifth-year seniors and needed a waiver to play. Maybe they participated in other sports for four years and decided to play football the fifth year because they wouldn’t be able to graduate from high school in four years or transferred from other schools. Whatever the case, a high school athlete trying to compete in prep sports for five years is unheard of.
So who dropped the ball on this one? You should start with Washington’s athletic director, Marlon Boyd. Give him credit for reporting the violation to the WIAA, but there should’ve been some communication between him and Carney and the rest of the coaching staff about who was eligible to play before the season started. Obviously, it appeared not to be an academic issue with the two players. Did anybody ask whether they attended another school or Washington?
Now the Purgolders will miss the playoffs. All the hype was buzzing in that building about the team being on the verge of winning a championship. They would’ve printed up T-shirts. The principal would’ve been beaming with joy and the community would’ve been proud of these young men who accomplished a goal. And with the team finishing 1-7, you wonder if some of them will have the desire and the enthusiasm to play football there next year or even if there will be a football program for the north side school in the future.