It was the last day of school for the students at Digital Pioneers Academy (DPA) but it wasn’t the “schools out” jitters that generated the excitement. It was a different kind of celebration for the more than 200 students as they welcomed the Washington Commanders, who were there to make an important announcement.
The introduction was set up by Mashea Ashton, the CEO and founder of DPA.
“We are celebrating hope for Digital Pioneers Academy by announcing that we are going to have a football program here for our students,” said Ashton, who started the school five years ago. “This is not just for our students, it is also for this community and will allow us to come together.”
The football team will begin its inaugural season this coming fall.
It was then time for Commanders President Jason Wright to make the much-anticipated announcement.
“As part of our commitment to this community, the Washington Commanders is donating $75,000 to start the football program here,” said Wright, the first Black president of an NFL franchise.
“You have been through a lot this year, but you have been resilient. The football program will reward you for your resilience. You have finished strong despite the challenges,” Wright continued.
Digital Pioneers Academy is a public charter school operating two campuses in the District of Columbia.
Wright and Alston both alluded to the challenges of the students there as they lost two of their classmates to gun violence during the school year.
“I am myself, personally, a victim of gun violence with some close to me,” said Wright. “We had one of the players [Commanders running back Brian Robinson] in our organization who was a victim. This is a great opportunity for us as an organization to invest in making a difference in the community.”
Some of the members of the team were on hand, including former standout Josh Morgan, who starred at local H.D Woodson High School along with Tim Hightower, a former member of the Commanders and also a local, having played at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Hightower vowed commitment from those associated with the Commanders’ Alumni Relations, for which he serves as director.
As an added incentive, Wright challenged the students to document their goals for their futures in writing. As a bonus, Ashton promised that any student who documented their future goals in writing by a set deadline, would be awarded a $100 gift card.
The team will be coached by a veteran who is no stranger to success and building programs– Robert Harris. Harris most recently led Archbishop Carroll High School to a 23-4 record the past two seasons, including a DCSAA championship in 2021.
“There are going to be challenges,” admitted Harris, who spent eight-and-a-half seasons at his alma mater.
“Things like not having practice facilities and a home playing field that you need are things that will have to be addressed,” explained Harris, who officially starts his role on July 5.
“On the other hand, it is exciting that you have an opportunity to put your imprint on a newly formed program,” the coach reflected. “I am ready to get started.”