In a September match between the John F. Kennedy High School and Walt Whitman boys’ soccer teams, Cavaliers forward Fitzroy Clair made a run in the opening stages of the game and caught the attention of the announcer and scorekeeper in the press box.
“He’s pretty good,” they said.
Ten minutes later, Clair completed a far more difficult run and held the ball in the corner against three oncoming Whitman defenders. The senior eventually won a corner kick as a result of his hard work.
By the 25th minute, Kennedy led by a pair of goals thanks to senior forward Jean Bangweni and won the match, 4-1. Entering the game, Whitman had allowed two goals all season.
“Wow. They’re really good. What are their names?” said a member of the press box staff, looking down at the roster.
A school not always known for athletic prowess, the Cavaliers are attempting to alter the preception and the forward tandem of Clair and Bangweni are a major reason why.
“They’re the best team we’ve played so far,” Whitman coach David Greene said following the loss. “I’d probably be more upset if we got beat by a team I would consider to be inferior. They’re going to be tough all the way through the season.”
With a powerful presence up top, solid midfielders and three senior starters on the backline (Ronald Andrade, Christian Garcia and Javier Marroquin), Kennedy is hoping they can eliminate the losing stereotype and bring prolonged athletic success to the school.
“Kennedy’s a good school. You’ve got to be inside the school to know the school,” Clair said. “People just think it’s a bunch of knuckleheads running around kicking a soccer ball.”
With a 3-3-1 record (through Sunday) and 16 goals for and 11 against, Kennedy sits behind James H. Blake and Montgomery Blair in the 4A East standings. All three defeats have been by a goal, including one in overtime against Northwest.
In 2010, the Cavaliers won their first division title in 25 years and also have two state titles (1978, 1989).
Bangweni and Clair have been at the forefront of this year’s success, though. In a season where few teams possess top strikers, the aforementioned pair creates potential problems for opposing defenses.
“Playing with Jean is a blessing,” Clair said. “If I try to make a run across the line, there are three guys there waiting for me. If I make a run and bring three players there with me, it gives Jean a one [against] one opportunity or we switch the roles. It’s always good to have a second forward up top.”
The scary proposition for Montgomery County teams, is that Kennedy coach Victor Quiroz believes neither Bangweni (7 goals) nor Clair (4 goals) have reached their potential.
“They are good players. They are good strikers. They are scoring a lot of goals,” Quiroz said. “However, I think that they are not at the peak of their game. I know they have much more to give.”
Greene was equally as impressed with the speed and holding power for both Bangweni, who plays club at Calverton Revolution, and Clair (Bethesda FC).
“These two kids from Kennedy were as good as anybody I’ve seen. They were fast and they were dangerous,” he said.
Surprisingly, it’s the away matches Kennedy favors to playing on their home field, which is uneven and hard. Many of the fields throughout Montgomery County better support the Cavaliers’ horizontal style of play, which emphasizes crisp ball movement.
“I understand that they want to play vertical sometimes, but their maturity will help them understand that that’s not our game,” Quiroz said. “When they start to play horizontal consistently, that will provide the maturity and consistency needed for a championship team.”
While Clair said the team isn’t going to get too far ahead of themselves, they do believe — at the very least — that they’re on the right path toward bringing sustained respectability to Kennedy soccer.
“They know other teams are watching us,” Quiroz said. “We’re very aware of that.”
Added Clair: “We want to do it for or our coach and players and school. We’re trying to represent Kennedy in a good way since the other sports don’t do as well. We want to make Kennedy stand out.”