By CHRIS McMANES — All sports schedules are subject to change. Ask DeMatha Head Football Coach Elijah Brooks about it and he’d like to change the subject.
Now in his eighth year leading the Stags, Brooks should have written this year’s schedule in pencil. Or wet cement. A schedule change affected his team four weeks in a row.
“I haven’t had a year like it,” Brooks said. “We’ve just tried to make the best of it.”
No. 7 DeMatha (3-1) will host its first home football game tonight against Avalon (3-0). Game time is 7 p.m. at Wilson Stadium in Landover. Barring a last-minute man-made or natural disaster, the weather shouldn’t affect the Homecoming contest.
“We haven’t had great conditions for passing the ball,” Brooks said. “We’re hoping that with good conditions tonight we’re able to be a little more balanced [offensively].”
The Stags’ scheduling woes began when the start time of their Aug. 31 game at Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia was moved up 30 minutes the day before. This might not seem like much, but on game days, schedules are carefully planned and set well in advance.
That late of a change to DeMatha’s bus contract would have resulted in a financial penalty. Plus, the players were already getting out of class early enough to leave at 11:30 a.m. An 11 0’clock departure was out of the question.
Because of the earlier kickoff, the motor coach arrived in Philadelphia later than Brooks wanted. Teams like to begin their pregame meal four hours before game time. DeMatha players and staff sat down to eat a little over three hours before the opening kick and had to rush through their meal in 45 minutes.
The next Friday night, the game at Franklin High in Reisterstown, Md., had to be postponed to the following day because of lightning. Hence, the school bus and equipment had to go back to Hyattsville and return to the Baltimore suburb the next afternoon. The players had to refocus to play.
“We’ve never checked the [weather] radar as often as we’ve done this year,” Brooks said. “It impacts your game-planning so much. You might have plans to throw [the ball] a lot more, but your game plan gets shot when there’s a monsoon outside.
“I understand that both teams play in the same conditions, but we’re really eager to have some good weather.”
On Sept. 14, the Stags were scheduled to play Canada Prep, a team from Toronto, Ontario. But two days prior, DeMatha officials received a call saying the team was not going to come down for what would have been the Stags’ first home game. It cited concerns over the track of Hurricane Florence.
Had Canada Prep just waited a few hours, it would have known that the weather forecast in the Washington, D.C., area had been changed to 2-4 inches of rain the following Monday. The night they were supposed to play was clear and ideal football weather.
Brooks tried to find the “blessing in disguise” amidst the cancellation, citing a longer opportunity for injured players to get healthy.
“You always want to get that live game experience, but sometimes having the ability to teach an additional week can pay huge dividends, too,” he said. “So, we wanted to play the game, but I do think some good things happened because of it.”
Last week, the Stags’ 27-14 victory over Friendship Collegiate at Anacostia High was originally scheduled for Friday, Sept. 21. It was, at Friendship’s request, moved to Saturday.
The change could help explain the DeMatha Senior Booster’s annual crab feast attendance dropping from 390 in 2017 to 310. Several people at the game, including Brooks, would have been at the fundraiser.
Because game-day changes affect practice schedules, the players have had to continually adjust their mental preparedness. It’s not easy getting psyched to compete and then get let down.
“It’s so much of a mental game,” Brooks said. “So, when the kids and the coaches get geared up to play on one night and it doesn’t happen, then to try to get them going again the next day. You just never know what to expect.
“I think, all in all, our guys have done a great job handling all these scheduling issues.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has won three national writing awards for the Hyattsville Life & Times. He is in his fourth season covering DeMatha football.