Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

High school football for pandemic year 2020 has been a bust.

So, like those all-sports channels forced to rebroadcast old games (you can tell instantly by the full bleachers), I am prompted to revisit the 1970 infamous mud-bowl battle between my teammates at Yorktown High School and Washington-Lee (now Liberty).

Local sports history ace Greg Paspatis reminds me that this week marks the 50th anniversary of that scandal-tinged heartbreaker from an era when “people cared more” about high school gridiron heroics.

The tale involves a mystery that in the ensuing decades has stuck in more than a few North Arlington craws.

In November 1970, I had the honor of starting as a senior offensive tackle on the team that at the time was best in Yorktown’s history (though more recent teams surpassed us). Our school was newly integrated, and boasted its largest student body (more than 1,800). That allowed us to be Yorktown’s first football squad to field enough talent to go two-platoon.

Our scampering running back Harvey Banks broke school and county rushing records that year. Metropolitan news coverage drew large crowds to the games, and we were undefeated as we reached the final game on the district schedule.

But beginning the day before that matchup before 10,000 at W-L’s War Memorial Stadium, the heavens opened and rain fell in buckets.

“I remember coming into the locker room after pre-game warm-ups and [Yorktown Coach Jesse] Meeks was extremely angry at the field conditions,” Yorktown defensive back Sam Houghton recently recalled. “We should have gotten on the bus and left right then. I remember lining up for the first play from scrimmage and looking down at my right foot completely submerged in mud.”

But the W-L coaches wouldn’t hear of postponing. After two hours of slow maneuvering and frequent fumbles, the W-L Generals emerged victorious 12-0. That meant they won the Potomac District, with an 8-2 record versus our 9-1. Our hopes for regional and state playoffs (we were ranked 8th statewide) were drowned.

Then the rumors started — never fully quashed — that W-L staff had purposefully watered down the field.

Life, healthily, went on. A dramatic photo of myself and teammates on the sidelines of that mud-caked contest was obtained and blown up as a souvenir of misery. My father displayed it for years at his office. In the late 1990s, a classmate rescued the old instructional films of the 1970 season and transferred them from 16mm to VHS. We watched avidly. I phoned the retired coach (Meeks died last year), but I couldn’t get him to confirm whether anyone watered down the field. In thanking him for teaching me sports discipline, I apologized for causing — out of frustration — a piling-on penalty on a punt return by W-L.

In 2016, I was a friendly guest at a W-L Class of ’71 reunion, a sort of late-life “domestic exchange.” There I met with some of those former opponents (Tom Arthurs, the since-deceased Larry Nash and Riley Meeks, our coach’s son). Those aging jocks were still proud, and didn’t budge an inch while dismissing the watering-down rumors. We laughed together.
Last year, I posted the film of that muddy mess on YouTube.

In watching again, I realized that my decades-old sad feeling of having underperformed during the big game…was overblown.

Clarification: After this column was published a Yorktown teammate reminded me that Coach Meeks, at age 87 in 2014, did declare in letter that “W-L did hose the field.” That letter was to me! But of course there’s no proof.


Poor Metro. Bad enough that the pandemic has depopulated many of its trains. Add to that the fancy bicycle storage cage that opened in August at the East Falls Church station, which is hardly being used.

An Oct. 16 inspector general report found that Metro spent $5.9 million for three of those souped-up security facilities for a total of 304 bicycle spaces.

That’s $19,400 for each slot inside the painted cage, when existing outside bike racks stand nearby.

On a recent walk, I stopped by the deserted white cage and literally heard crickets.