New D.C. Public Charter School Athletic Association emerges

August 16, 2013

Richard Bettencourt was beaming about his new office desk at Washington Latin Public Charter School last week, only because it signifies how far he has come as the Northwest Washington school’s athletic director. When he took the job six years ago, his office seat was a silver trash can, and he would prop his laptop on his legs with his back resting against a radiator in a small office. He later graduated to a folding chair after he got too sore.

Bettencourt is flexible and always on the move, both essential job requirements in building a small charter school’s athletic department. He has done that to the extent that 90 percent of Washington Latin’s middle school and high school student population will be participating in sports this fall, he said. But in those six years, Bettencourt also has envisioned something more for public charter athletic directors in the city.

So in April, Bettencourt spearheaded an open forum about creating a new athletic league that would include all D.C. charter schools, giving each athletic director a voice in the scheduling and rule regulation of the city’s charter school athletics. The meeting, according to Bettencourt and others, was a hit. And the Public Charter School Athletic Association, born in May, has a chance to be even more popular when it rolls out its first league competition this fall.

“The conversation was becoming more and more that the charter schools and their athletic directors should have a little more control,” said Bettencourt, who is the league’s president. “We weren’t handpicking who was in the association. We really wanted to forge a new path for all the charter schools in the city.”

The new league will boast 22 charter schools, which at the high school level will include Friendship Collegiate, Cesar Chavez, KIPP, Maya Angelou, National Collegiate, Options, Perry Street Prep, Capital City, Thurgood Marshall and Washington Latin. About “95 percent” of charters have committed to the organization, according to Bettencourt, with some schools migrating away from the Washington Charter School Athletic Association. The PCSAA will debut this fall with boys’ and girls’ varsity soccer, cross country and girls’ volleyball, with all sports competing for championships in late October.

“Now that they have an umbrella for all the charters and you know that charters are growing in terms of number, it’s certainly best for our organization that they all be under one umbrella and continue to grow as one organization,” said Michael Williams, the D.C. State Athletic Association’s program coordinator of athletics.

The formation of the new association coincides with significant growth in charter school enrollment in the city over the past few years. Charter schools enrolled about 43 percent of the city’s students in 2012, a 2 percentage point increase from 2011 and a sign that the academies are growing at a faster rate than D.C. public schools.

“We keep growing. As the charters get larger in the city, athletics is also growing,” said Cesar Chavez Athletic Director Ernesto Natera, who also acts as the PCSAA vice president.

Basketball will be the primary sport in the winter, with the PCSAA likely to draw up two divisions later this fall. The league also will sponsor indoor track and field and cheerleading in the winter, followed by outdoor track and field, baseball and softball in the spring. Automatic bids into the DCSAA tournaments for soccer, volleyball, basketball, softball and baseball will be awarded to the winners of the league.

Football will not be a part of the league in its first year, but Bettencourt hopes the sport will be added for 2014. The league formed too late in the year to adjust existing schedules for football.

Schools will abide by the DCSAA rules and regulations. Charter athletic directors will be expected to monitor potential violations, with the PCSAA and DCSAA only stepping in should a resolution not be met within school administrations.

“We’re not going to be a rogue group,” Bettencourt said. “We’re going to play by a set of rules.”

Charters will pay $125 to compete in each sport, which will cover postseason facilities, officiating and awards expenses. That alone makes joining the league more enticing, according to Friendship Collegiate girls’ basketball Coach Tesha Cunningham, who said the school would pay “thousands of dollars” in fees to compete in the old WCSAA.

“Our administration wanted something new,” Cunningham said.

While the setup will be different, there will still be challenges for the new league in the months to come. The league is still searching for stable ground financially, hoping to find funds to build a Web site. And many schools are still dealing with a lack of facilities, Bettencourt said. Many schools are acquiring gyms, he said, but for outdoor sports particularly, the schools must work with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to gain permits and make scheduling work.

“We’re developing this organization from the ground up,” Bettencourt said. “We’re doing this for [kids] so they have a great experience in middle school and high school.”

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