'Darkness to light': After year of loss, DC charter school to start football program with Commanders donation

A big check from the Washington Commanders and some former NFL players is helping to start a high school football program at a Southeast D.C. charter school that has suffered great losses this school year.

"This is not just Commander Day.  It's the last day of this school year," said Mashea Ashton, the CEO and founder of the Digital Pioneers Academy.

Students and staff at DPA ended the school year on a high note thanks to a visit by a handful of current and former NFL players and a $75,000 gift to start a high school football program at the charter school, which has a focus on computer science.

"We are so privileged to be able to share and invest in the football program here and the entire school because football is great. Everybody here believes in football," said Washington Commanders President Jason Wright. "For us, it's easy. It provides a living for us and all of that but more importantly, it teaches you to work through adversity."

The gift is especially meaningful for the school community that faced heartbreaking challenges throughout the school year.  Two teenage scholars, 14-year-old Antione Manning and 16-year-old Jakhi Snider, were shot and killed last fall. Then, 10th-grade English teacher Keenan Anderson died after being tased by police in Los Angeles, where he was visiting family. 

"Today, to be very honest, is so bittersweet because I can see Jakhi standing right here. I can see Antoine standing right here. I can see Mr. Anderson right here. And I think about them often," Ashton said. "I think about how in this darkness, we're going to turn this darkness to light."

The donation to start a football program at this high school comes from the NFL Players Coalition, a non-profit founded by former NFL players whose priorities are social justice, racial equality and ending gun violence.

"So as we celebrate the end of a school year and the beginning of a summer and a fresh new beginning for you all, I challenge you all to write down your goals," former NFL running back Tim Hightower said.  

Ashton says out of tragedy, the Digital Pioneers are finding hope and looking forward to this new opportunity. 

"Your partnership, your presence and your gift today is not just for our football players who are right here, it is for our whole community. June 14, 2023, and thereafter — mark it in your book — June 14 will always be the Washington Commanders Day," Ashton said. 

The Commanders' first preseason game is set for Aug. 11. Meanwhile, there's been some movement on the sale of the team.

The Athletic reports that Josh Harris made progress with NFL Finance Committee, saying the sale could be completed in July. The price tag for the team is more than $6 billion — the most expensive in NFL history.