- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 29, 2006

The regionwide traditional basketball championship between D.C. Public Schools and area Catholic high schools will go on. The title game was thrown into jeopardy because of a lack of funding. A number of news sources actually put fault squarely at the feet of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission for failing to ante up. We do, too. But there is plenty of blame to go around.

The D.C.-area basketball championship is as important in and around the Beltway as its counterparts are in New York and Chicago. In fact, both of those cities have considerably elevated their title games, holding them in the legendary Madison Square Garden and what some call the house that Michael Jordan built, United Center. While large D.C.-area venues have hosted the D.C. title games in the past — including the MCI Center, University of Maryland’s Cole Field House, George Washington University’s Smith Center and American University’s Bender Arena — local school-sports authorities have been scrambling at the 11th hour to find money and a venue.

Dishearteningly, this year was more of the same. As D.C. Council member Vince Gray (a student-athletic standout during his years at Dunbar High) told us on Friday : “We are diminishing a state championship game …for a city that is consistently having assaults on our youth. For many this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for young people and our adults… [The game] is a basic in our city fabric.”

The games — which often feature the teams of DeMatha’s legendary Morgan Wooten — are an afterthought for the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, which has spent an inordinate amount of time and resources in recent years to please the Olympics Committee and Major League Baseball. The commission is, according to enabling legislation and its own admission, responsible for presenting and promoting sports. Indeed, its own Web site says that is “supporting citywide and community events such as the Washington, DC Marathon and DC Public Schools sports tournaments and working with other city organizations on such programs as the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative [i.e., the ballpark].”

We are increasingly attentive to what elected and appointed officials are saying this election year. But we are paying closer attention to what they do. Mr. Gray, whose seat is not up for re-election, said what must happen now is for long-term arrangements and commitments to be brought to the table. We agree.

First at bat, so to speak, should be sports commission Chairman Mark Touhey, whose predecessor, Bobby Goldwater, had to be reminded that children and schools were getting short-shrift from the commission. As for Mayor Tony Williams, he could improve his legacy if concrete plans for athletic tournaments for our recreation centers and schools were finalized before he leaves office. (Mr. Williams will be remembered for losing the Olympics bid and bringing baseball back.)

Some coaches work hard throughout the school year to merely field teams, and only a few play well enough to make it to title games — which, when held in the proper venue, have the potential to draw parents, alumni and friends, and, in the case of the basketball tourney, people like Dave Bing — a D.C. grad and one of the 50 best in NBA history. The student-athletes and coaches deserve better recognition.

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