On a late July afternoon, the Crossland High School football team walked across the school’s concrete track, and onto an uneven grass field for an informal summer practice.
Referred to as “the dust bowl” and “the prison,” the field will be its home for the next four months. The players want it to look nice, and when they strap on their equipment, they want to look nice playing in it, too. But unless there’s change at the Temple Hills school, they’ll likely have another season with second-class gear, playing on a second-class field and feeling like they’re a second-class team, said Stephen Powell, Crossland’s third coach in as many seasons.
“Our kids have been fighting a negative mindset for years because their surroundings don’t say that they’re worthy of better, and it impacts them on the field, it impacts them in the classroom, it impacts their expectations,” said Powell, 64.
Crossland has had its fair share of successful athletic programs, but its football team, coming off a 1-9 season, has spent the better part of the past decade at the bottom of the standings — and its equipment and field could be part of the reason why, Powell said. Prince George’s high schools each receive $17,000 for athletics, plus $2,000 specifically for football, and additional funds to cover helmet expenses, according to Earl Hawkins, athletic director for Prince George’s County Public Schools. But Powell, along with several county coaches, said that’s not enough to field a winning team.
“The county provides money, the school provides money, and it’s nowhere near what we should have,” said Powell, a volunteer assistant coach last season. “It puts our kids at a disadvantage immediately.”
Eric Knight, Crossland’s athletic director, said that equipment management and fundraising are essential in developing winning varsity teams and that the Cavaliers football team has lacked in both of these areas in recent years.
“If you don’t fundraise, and this is for any sport, you’re going to have to live off what you get from the budget,” Knight said. “And what you get from there is not going to be enough for the extras that you want or may need.”
At Fairmont Heights High School, which was 1-9 last season, insufficient fundraising and a lack of cooperation from its athletic department have made equipment maintenance difficult, said Jeff Johnson, a second-year coach at the Capitol Heights school.
“Some of [the uniforms] are fading, some of them are raggy, some of them, the numbers are coming off, but we’re still going to wear them,” Johnson said. “... We’re just hurting here.”
At Bladensburg High School, 2-8 last season, new coach Lester Overton said the team could not afford headsets last season. Overton said that low football participation numbers make competing with other county schools a challenge. “When you try to fundraise, the money doesn’t come in ...I’d have to do a lot of fundraising to equal [other county schools],” said Overton, who purchased used headsets for the upcoming season.
Suitland High School coach Ed Shields, the president of the Prince George’s County Football Coaches Association, said a combination of factors contribute to fundraising discrepancies, including school location and coaching staff continuity.
“Some of the programs that keep switching coaches, they’re the ones that really get hurt,” said Shields, a sixth-year coach at the District Heights school.
Crossland is expected to field a junior varsity squad for the first time since 2009 and the team also started a football booster club, though Knight said fundraising attempts like this have been futile in the past. Players said they feel optimistic about the team’s future, but aren’t expecting change to happen overnight.
“We’re trying to upgrade and do better things, but it’s taking a long time,” said Crossland senior Eriq Hall. “The grass grew a little bit ... it looks better than it did.”