Booted from championship game at Verizon Center, D.C. girls basketball team fights back — and wins


The Uptown Girls D.C. basketball team, which was booted from the citywide championship tournament on a technicality. (Courtesy of Laura Albert) (Courtesy of Laura Albert)
Petula Dvorak
Columnist March 14, 2013

Here’s what happens when the decisions of dopey adults are exposed to the ridicule they deserve: the Uptown Girls win the day!

Initially, the 11-12-year-old girls’ basketball team simply wasn’t going to get away with its shocking transgression, D.C. officials had decided.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Headed for the big citywide championship tournament at the Verizon Center this weekend, the Uptown Girls were booted from the game last week.

Cheating? Doping? Loving Justin Bieber a bit too much? What on Earth could their sin be?

It appears that one of the players — a 12-year-old girl who absolutely obsesses about basketball — was playing on BOTH the 11-12 and the 13-14 teams in the league this winter.

I know — GASP! — right?

And as soon as officials learned about that egregious stunt — a technicality buried deep in the coaches’ handbook — they yanked the entire team from the tourney, breaking the tweens’ hearts and infuriating their parents.

“The rule book clearly states that a participant cannot participate on more than one team within the league,” ruled Jennifer Moore, director of athletic programs for the rec department, in a letter to parents protesting the decision. “The rule book was given to all coaches at the beginning of the season.”

Nine-year-old Sydney Keating, who had invited her entire family — including her 99-year-old grandma — to come see her shoot hoops where the Washington Wizards and Mystics play, was devastated. “I’m so disappointed,” she said. “It’s not like the rest of us did anything wrong.”

The team’s win (a nail-biter at 15-11) to advance to the championship game was huge. And after a night of celebrating, frantic tweening, texting and smiling, they all woke up to be told the season was over. No Verizon Center.

Coach Shaun Berger was in knots over the whole thing. He knew the girl was playing on two teams but just didn’t think it was a big deal.

“She’s a sixth-grader. She just loves playing and wanted to get as much ball time as possible,” he explained. “It wasn’t like she was a ringer. She’s an advanced beginner.”

(“She wasn’t even a starter,” one of the parents whispered to me.)

And Berger admitted it, apologized and asked for a letter of censure or some kind of punishment for him, just not for all the girls who had been playing so hard all season.

But rules are rules, right? And isn’t part of parenting teaching your kids that life’s not always fair and that rules mean something?

“But it’s also about teaching them to stand up and fight for themselves,” said Bill Keating, Sydney’s father and one of the parents who began bombarding the rec department with protest letters.

This is the nation’s capital, after all. The team includes some girls from such low-income homes that the meager registration fee was waived. But there are also players whose parents are PLAYERS, as in, a member of Congress, a business owner, a fancy private school teacher and big-shot, lah-di-dah lawyers. Not a group to mess with.

Their argument was that the rule book doesn’t specify a punishment for the grave violation of one player on two teams. And therefore, dashing a team’s hopes to play in the Verizon Center (“I’ve only even been inside it, like, twice,” fourth-grader Sydney said) was a random and extreme punishment.

Plus, in a “House of Cards”-like twist, the violating girl had been playing openly on both teams all winter, with nary a peep of protest from anyone. But the night the team earned the playoff spot at Verizon, a mysterious call came to the sporting directors about her transgression.

This infuriated parents even more. And I could totally understand why. To me, the decision came from the same Department of Logic that suspended a 7-year-old for chewing a Pop-Tart into a gun shape or arrested a 12-year-old for eating a french fry on the Metro.

The athletic folks initially punted when I called them to demand an explanation. “We are looking into this decision and will make a final ruling,” said John Stokes, chief of staff at the rec department.

But three hours after my column went online Thursday, the Department of Second Thoughts called all the parents to announce it had reversed itself. The Uptown Girls — minus a suspended Coach Berger and the double-dipping player — are headed to the Verizon Center at 2 p.m. Saturday to play for the city championship.

Grandma is going to be thrilled after all.

Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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