Members of the Johnson Middle School Panthers walk out of their school building in Ward 8 to the cheers of student and adult fans. (Ja’mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)
Members of the Johnson Middle School Panthers walk out of their school building in Ward 8 to the cheers of student and adult fans. (Ja’mon Jackson/The Washington Informer)

The John Hayden Johnson Middle School Panthers football team, based in Ward 8, confidently walked out of the front of the school with dozens of students, faculty, staff, parents, and community members cheering them on Sept. 8 to the bus waiting to take them to their next game, against the University Middle School Hawks in Morgantown, West Virginia.

“We are proud of you, say we are proud of you,” chanted five members of the school’s cheerleading squad several times.

The young men wore white dress shirts, khakis pants and a black and gold striped tie, representing the school colors. They walked single file to the bus carrying overnight bags and some had paper bags for snacks. While the football players went to the bus, anti-violence activist and entrepreneur Ron Moten wore a white poster saying, “Let’s Go Johnson.” Some students stood in front of the school building holding posters saying, “You Got This Panthers,” and “Let’s Go JMS.”

The Panthers have amassed an impressive win streak on the gridiron. The last time they lost a game was in 2018. They have won eight city championships in recent years. They were first in the nation ranking for middle school football in 2022. They were traveling to Morgantown to contest for the national championship. However, Panthers head coach Mike Sharrieff said he is most proud of the fact that many of the players are on the school’s honor roll.

D.C. Supports the Panthers

When Moten learned a few weeks ago about the football team’s quest to play in the national championship game but lacked the funds to make the trip, he went into action.

“They came to my youth summit, and it broke my heart that these young men didn’t have the money to go to West Virginia despite the obstacles they face and the great things they are doing,” said Moten, 53. “They have received no media attention for what they are doing. Me and a few others decided to step up and help them.”

Moten said by helping the Panthers go to West Virginia, he was sending a message to young people in the community.

“In the Black community, there is a mentality that it is cool to be a fool,” he said. “That is wrong, and we have to do what we can to put a stop to that.”

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (I-At Large) was at the send-off and he said the event produced memories.

“I remember as a young man participating in AAU basketball and traveling all day to a tournament in Florida,” McDuffie, 49, said. “That trip produced many memories, and I formed relationships that I still have today.”

McDuffie noted the community turnout for the send-off and said, “this is what success looks like, this is what a village looks like.”

Nicole Jasper was one of the parents who attended the send-off. She is the mother of David Jasper, a sixth grader.

“I had to be here, this is his first trip,” Jasper, 52, said. “This is an exciting experience for the children here. Coach Mike has done a wonderful job with these young people.”

The Game 

Sharrieff, 59, said the team defeated the Hawks, 42-0. He said the team’s linemen performed well. The game was played at the stadium of University Middle School.

“We had outstanding work from our offensive line,” he said. “Our defensive line did well also. Their physicality made all the difference in the game.

Sharrieff said players Trevor Mercer, Donovan Burch, Chris Alston, John Strickland, Daquran Tibbs, Tayron Burwell and Uriah Johnson were among the players who stood out. The coach said he is looking forward to a productive season and hopes that his team will travel to Florida and Canada to play in 2024.

The Trip

Sharrieff said there were no problems with the 50 players that made the trip, along with assistant coaches and other staff.

“The young men acted perfectly,” he said. “We got a number of compliments for our team’s manners. I teach my players to respect authority.

The coach said at the Courtyard Marriott located in Morgantown, he had assistant coaches on each floor where the players were roomed. There were two players per room. Sharrieff said there were no problems with the overnight stay.

“On Saturday [Sept. 9] the players had to be lobby dressed and ready to go by 6 a.m.,” he said. “Many of the players were in the lobby by 5:45 a.m.”

Throughout the journey, the players ate at a Golden Corral in Frederick, Maryland, and Oliveria’s in Morgantown on Sept. 8. On Sept.  9, they ate at IHOP for breakfast and Buffalo Wild Wings after the game before departing for the District. They arrived at Johnson Middle School in the evening.

Taryon Burwell, 14 and an eighth grader, said the trip to Morgantown was enjoyable.

“The trip was fun, but we saw it as a business,” Tayron said. “It was a good experience and we really had to mature when it came to staying with our roommate. That is what they do in college and now we know what it is like.”

Ziyon Jenifer, 13, who is also in the eighth, agreed with his teammate.

“It was an amazing experience,” Ziyon said. “This is something I have never done before. The whole experience was great. The room was nice. The food was nice.”

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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