But when Herrera reached high school, McKinley Tech didn’t have much of a team. The coaching was inconsistent, she said, as was the school’s support. Her enthusiasm fizzled. She quit. And in the two years since, she has spent her afternoons sitting on the couch, doing homework and watching TV. Now 16, she has gained 20 pounds and become shy and self-conscious.
“I feel people are looking at me because I’m so fat,” she said, eyes downcast.
DC Scores, the largest nonprofit after-school program operating in the city, has spent nearly 20 years giving girls such as Herrera a chance to play sports while young, building a pipeline that coaches and athletic directors say is crucial to girls’ sports participation in high school and beyond, much as Pop Warner football and Little League do for young boys.
But as more girls such as Herrera move on to high school and find they again have no place to play, organizers of DC Scores are frustrated that they’re building a pipeline to nowhere.
“We feel we are creating so much interest in sports, but the system doesn’t support it,” said Amy Nakamoto, DC Scores executive director. Last year, the organization fielded teams for 1,450 low-income kids, nearly half of them girls, from 42 D.C. public and charter schools in all eight wards. They played 200 games a season, culminating in a DC Scores Capital Cup championship.
“It’s hard to watch a girl play soccer for six years and love it, then not play at all,” Nakamoto said.
In the District, only four of 15 traditional public high schools have consistent girls’ soccer teams, Nakamoto said. “That’s insane.”
The D.C. public school system is the subject of two Title IX complaints lodged with the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights alleging that the high school sports programs discriminate against girls, with gaps as high as 26 percent in some schools between the percentage of girls enrolled at the school and those who participate in sports.
“We have not done enough for girls’ sports in D.C. At all,” said Adrian Valdivia, who coaches girls’ soccer at Bell Multicultural High School and runs the school’s teen pregnancy prevention and health programs. “If we have to get sued for things to happen, then we need to get sued.”