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  • Jack Meltzer

The Jackson-Reed Curse

Van Harllee (‘24) defends against Jackson-Reed Credits: Rami Noursi

On Sept. 14, the School Without Walls girls’ and boys’ soccer teams played Jackson-Reed High School (formerly Wilson). Walls’s girls soccer team rallied behind a goal scored by Nadia Lytle (‘25) in the last 15 minutes that put them up 1-0. But what followed was disastrous for Walls: Star player Kylie Emanuel (‘25) sustained a lasting injury to the face and with two quick Jackson-Reed goals our girls were delivered a 2-1 defeat.

Walls girls soccer has failed to beat Jackson-Reed in the playoffs for 13 years in a row. The Walls track teams rarely place higher than Jackson-Reed. Walls’ boys soccer did win DCIAA in 2019, but they did so without ever beating Jackson-Reed.

School Without Walls athletic director Kip Smith has coached the baseball team for 13 years. Despite coming very close several times, they have never once beaten Jackson Reed. Part of this comes down to preparation before the game, he said.

The soccer and baseball coaches agree that student athletes should treat Jackson-Reed like any other team. “Preparation during practice doesn’t change,” Mr. Smith said in an interview. “The best way to prepare is playing a good non-league schedule.”

While the coaches encourage their players to treat this like any other game, the athletes have the opposite mindset. Van Harllee (‘24), the co-captain of the boys’ soccer team, says on the morning of a Jackson-Reed game he is “excited with a little bit of nerves and a lot of anticipation.”

Because most of the Walls student body is aware when a team is facing up against Jackson-Reed, players feel added pressure. Even Principal Isaac attended both the boys and girls games against Jackson-Reed on Sept. 14. Mr. Smith acknowledged that “mental intimidation is definitely a hurdle when playing Jackson-Reed.”

Furthermore, with many Walls athletes coming from Alice Deal Middle School (a feeder school for Jackson-Reed), there can be intense social pressure because of familiar faces in the stands. “It’s hard because I’m playing in front of so many people that I know,” Harllee explains.

Walls doesn’t always lose to Jackson-Reed. Recently, Walls girls’ ultimate frisbee defeated Jackson-Reed 7-3, led by star Josie McCartney (‘24). Tennis consistently beats out Jackson-Reed in the DCIAA championship. SWW golf won the DCIAA championship multiple years in a row, largely due to the efforts of class of 2022 star Sean Maxfield, who committed to Macalester College for golf last year. Volleyball is also extremely competitive with Walls’ biggest rival. But athletes in baseball, soccer, and track, Walls’ most popular team sports, consistently struggle against Jackson-Reed.

Does it come down to the mental pressure of playing both rivals and personal friends? Some don’t think so. “I love the feeling of the pressure of the game,” Harllee said. “The [Jackson-Reed] atmosphere amplifies that.”

Still, some students believe there's more to their losing streak than mere mistakes. Miles Felix (‘24), who has faced up against Jackson-Reed multiple times, said, “From referee decisions to unlucky bounces of the ball, it feels like we're cursed when we play [Jackson-Reed].”


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