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Who's being helped?
(Published February 6, 2006)

D.C. politicians have virtually ignored high school sports for many years to the point where D.C. Public Schools' interscholastic athletics coaches often have needed to pull money out of their own pockets simply to ensure that their players have clean uniforms.

It's a shameful state of affairs, not only for the nation's capital but for a city whose leaders don't blink at pouring millions of tax dollars into supporting professional sports or trying to attract the Summer Olympics.

Enter an election year, along with a protracted debate over publicly funding a billion-dollar playground for Major League Baseball moguls, and as they say suddenly it's a whole new ballgame.

Unfortunately, the politicians more focused on Major League Baseball than D.C.'s kids didn't do their homework before proposing their latest one-shot gimmick for "helping the children."

Led by D.C. City Council Chairman and mayoral candidate Linda Cropp (a former school board president, who should know better) and Councilman Vincent Gray (Ward 7's first-term representative, who is being touted as a potential candidate to replace Cropp as chair), city leaders are pressuring the organizers of the annual City Title varsity basketball games to move this year's contests to what they consider a "prestigious" venue. Doing so will cost about $30,000, based on past events.

Two weeks ago, Cropp pledged $2,000 toward the effort and challenged others on the council to pitch in. Gray took up the gauntlet and, later in the week, said he had secured $25,000 in funding from the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., a nonprofit instrumentality funded primarily with D.C. tax dollars.

The plan currently calls for moving the games, in which the girls' and boys' championship teams from the D.C. public school and Catholic school leagues play each other, from Coolidge Senior High School's gymnasium on March 5 to George Washington University's Smith Center on March 14.

The problem? Nobody bothered to ask the organizers of the City Title games officials from the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA) and the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) whether spending $30,000 to relocate makes any sense. Aides to Cropp and Gray, when contacted by The Common Denominator, named D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Chairman Mark Tuohey as the council members' main source of information on the issue. The sports commission doesn't run the event, though some of its staff members have been tangentially involved. Tuohey, mired in baseball stadium negotiations, answered his cell phone and promised to call The Common Denominator back. At presstime, he had not done so.

Two years ago, the DCIAA and WCAC had to make up an $8,000 loss for playing the City Title games at Smith Center. The three previous years, holding the event at MCI Center also drained money from the schools' athletics budgets. Last year, by relocating the City Title games to Coolidge, the two leagues split a $10,000 profit. Understandably, they aren't hot to move the games, which are intended to be a fund-raiser played for bragging rights.

Leave it to the District's leaders to think it makes sense to turn a winning proposition for high school athletics into a financial loss for the taxpayers. Who are they really trying to help?

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator