WASHINGTON - High school football teams all over our area will compete under the lights on brand new turf fields, but one D.C. school only dreams of having a field to call their own.
On Saturday afternoon, the Friendship Collegiate Academy Knights will host Paramus Catholic in a home game played at Anacostia High School.
But why is it being played there? That's because Friendship Collegiate doesn’t have a home field.
They barely even have a practice field. They prepare on plot of dirt where practice is anything but a day at the beach.
Here is how some of the players and coaches described their practice field:
“Very dusty, dirty.”
“It kind of looks like a sand storm.”
“Don't wear your nice shoes out because they’re going to get dusty.”
“Welcome to Friendship beach.”
Friendship beach isn't white sands and crashing waves. It's a gnat-swarmed dust bowl that is home to this football team. The beach is missing features most teams take for granted.
“They don't see hash marks and numbers until we play a game,” said Friendship Collegiate head coach Mike Hunter.”
The field isn't just hard to look at. It is hard on these players physically. One player said it can be hard to breathe.
“You really can’t see anybody,” said running back Vincent Abney. “Everybody kicking up dust, sneezing, especially if you have allergies.”
Depending on the day, you never know what you might find when you walk out for practice.
“We have found dead bodies,” said Donald Hense, the founder and chairman of Friendship Public Charter School.
“We've had stolen cars left up here that was on fire,” said Hunter.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In a fundraising drive spearheaded by the NFL and the Washington Redskins, Friendship Collegiate raised $550,000 toward the construction of a new turf field three years ago.
Yet, the beach remains.
The process of getting a new field actually built has been stalled by politics and bureaucratic red tape for over a decade now.
“This is been an unbelievable process,” said Hense.
He has been trying to get a field for so long, he doesn’t count the time in years.
“This is now the fourth mayor,” he said.
“Friendship has done everything possible to make this happen,” said Hunter. “We're waiting on city officials to provide a field for the young people who attend the public school system.”
The latest roadblock is D.C.'s environmental regulations. The land where the Knights practice collects rainwater and the city wants them to pay for the rainwater collection to be move to another location. It is a cost of $250,000 a year.
“If indeed this is what has to take place to get something built in the District, I would be sorry for the entrepreneur who was attempting,” said Hense.
The city said there are options for Friendship Collegiate to avoid paying the $250,000 cost, but the school would have to scrap building plans and start over from scratch.
“I probably would have retired by now,” Hense said.
While the city and the school go back and forth, the Knights take to the beach waiting for their ship to come in.
In a statement, the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment said, “Friendship Academy has not requested a permit from DOEE for the new field. Once they do, we will work to help them to meet the District’s stormwater requirements.”
The players made it clear they don't make any excuses about the condition of their field.
And it hasn't made much of a difference as the Knights have a 5-2 record on the season.