By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO
Bell High School has answered every question the DCIAA stripes division has asked this regular season. They capped a perfect regular season and will take the momentum of four consecutive shutouts with them as they open the playoffs against Anacostia.
Regular season success is nothing new to the Griffins who have been the elite team in D.C.’s perceived weaker division for several years. This year, however, Bell may have its best chance to erase the stigma no team ever wants to be known for when it comes to competing for championships.
They can’t win the big one!
Bell has dominated its stripes division but has yet to win the Gravy Bowl game. For the last four years they have watched as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson win and advance from the District’s junior circuit to the Stars division – home of the heavyweights of the city league.
The stars and stripes divisions in the DCIAA are tiered to create a competitive balance. After the Gravy Bowl, the champions immediately move up to the Stars division and out of relegation as they do in European soccer. The stars are traditionally the most successful programs whose teams rarely drop below .500 with losing records so they remain in the tougher division.
The stripes are a division full of teams searching for respect. Most aren’t a threat to the District’s contenders, yet they play a full schedule against in-town rivals while creating new rivalries inside the D.C. boundaries.
Yet despite being called a “perennial powerhouse” by some publications they remain relegated to the junior circuit because they can’t get beyond the Gravy Bowl which is the stripes division championship. The Griffins have mastered the art of the crushing defeat which has led to a resilient group that may have enough to finally break through this year.
They have exceptional team speed on both sides of the ball and can be explosive offensively and defensively. When Bell met Ron Brown two weeks ago it was clear they were on another level. Senior running back Rashaad Harris set the tone with a 59 yard touchdown run which was one of his three scores in monsoon conditions. It was the second time this season that Harris scored three touchdowns while the defense was pitching another shutout.
This year the Griffins appear to be equipped with a team that is built for the playoffs. During the regular season they displayed a championship caliber defense which was suffocating at times. Bell’s defensive unit personifies the frustration of the veteran players and coaches who still wear the agony of last year’s loss to McKinley like an emotional chip that drives them after the heartbreak.
Some coaches around the District have labelled them the Buffalo Bills of D.C. high school football. There is a healthy respect for what they’ve accomplished but nobody is intimidated by the thought of playing them either. Bell has impressed some of the DCIAA’s best programs. However, despite dominating their division, they don’t strike fear around D.C.
Friendship Collegiate remains the standard by which all programs are judged- what the stars division uses to evaluate themselves. Nobody is ready to put Bell into Friendship’s league but their dominance during this year’s regular season bears watching as the single elimination tournament begins.
Bell would love a shot a competing with the DCIAA’s heavyweights for an entire season and with two more wins this year it would come true in 2019. They feel they can play with the District’s best but now must prove they can win twice in the playoffs to earn that shot.