Waterlogged, Left Wondering
T. Roosevelt's Damaged Gym Floor Poses Problems for Teams

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 1, 2006

When Syracuse women's basketball coach Quentin Hillsman asked to come to Theodore Roosevelt High last week to watch Rough Riders senior Brittany Hilliard work out -- and likely offer a scholarship -- Roosevelt Coach Tyrone Pittman felt forced to make an uncomfortable reply: No, don't bother.

Nothing was wrong with Hilliard. But the Roosevelt gym floor was another matter. In one corner, a leaky roof has caused the court to buckle. In all, about 500 square feet of hardwood at the Northwest school are warped, with some broken floorboards sticking up.

"It's embarrassing," Pittman said, "but the [condition of the] facilities told me to tell [Hillsman] not to come. I knew we couldn't get the full effect on that floor. College coaches aren't going to come see you play half-court."

More students will feel the pinch this afternoon, when basketball tryouts begin at D.C. public high schools. And two of the Washington area's best teams will be affected if the floor is not fixed before the regular season begins.

"I don't know what we're going to do," first-year Roosevelt boys' coach Rob Nickens said. "Might go to a rec center. Might just have to go half-court."

Roosevelt Principal Benjamin Hosch said he notified the D.C. Public Schools Office of Facilities Management about the problem in July, but Cornell Brown, the executive director of facilities management, said yesterday that his staff learned of the problem "a couple weeks ago." Brown said he expects the roof to be repaired "in the next week or so," and said his office hopes to contract out the work to replace the damaged floor "in the next couple of days." But he said he could not estimate how long it will take to repair the floor.

Until it is fixed, four varsity basketball programs will be affected, because nearby Cardozo High plays its games there (the basketball court at Cardozo is not regulation length). Two of the teams are among the area's elite: the Theodore Roosevelt girls have played in each of the past four D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association finals, while the Cardozo boys are three-time defending DCIAA champions.

The regular season is scheduled to begin on Dec. 1. Allen Chin, executive director of the DCIAA, said he is still working on the basketball schedule for the upcoming season, and will have to take the status of Roosevelt's gym into consideration.

"Four programs are going to be shut down if you don't get a corner of the floor fixed," Pittman said. "Every time it rains, it's going to get worse. . . . I was really shocked when I went up there last week. I didn't realize how bad it'd gotten.

"Of course, it's not safe. I can't have them running on that floor."

The floor has a horror-movie feel -- on about half the surface, the boards creak with each step. On close inspection, the wood is wavy. And the water lurks just beneath.

"We don't know what it's doing down below under the floor," Hosch said. "That water has got to be going somewhere. It's not getting mopped up."

A makeshift barrier of two floor hockey goals, a volleyball referee's stand, and a basketball rack cordons off the worst area of flooring. In the southeast corner, the brick wall along the baseline shows residue from the water that seeps in through the roof. On a rainy day, water leaks in from anywhere along a 25-foot stretch. The flow is so steady that many at Roosevelt refer to the wall as "the waterfall."

The floor has deteriorated noticeably from last school year, Hilliard said -- and even then, she said she was worried during games.

"When I was going for a layup or a fast break [on the damaged end], I was worried about if I came down wrong," Hilliard said. "I could have broken my leg or hurt my ankle real bad or something like that."

As it rained on the morning of Oct. 6, water flowed continuously down the wall behind one baseline. There is another leak on the opposite side of the gym, but there the water pours into an adjacent hallway, which lets into three classrooms. It created a puddle that covered the width of the hallway for about 15 feet. Athletic Director Daryl Tilghman said the school's custodial staff has to vacuum up the water after heavy rains.

Tilghman, who graduated from Roosevelt in 1984, and has been working there for more than a decade, said the problems have been reported to Facilities Management several times, but the repairs have always been stopgap.

For example, next to the exit doors in the southeast corner, there is a section of flooring that measures about 3x10 feet that was replaced two years ago, Tilghman said. It is now more warped than any other section of the floor.

"The past 10 years have been a battle to keep the floor preserved," Tilghman said. "We can't play here if they don't do something. It's like everyone just puts bubble gum on it until it wears out. We're reactive instead of proactive. We don't do something until someone gets hurt."

Physical education classes at Roosevelt have had to be altered considerably this fall, Hosch said, with most class time spent either outside or in classrooms. Hosch says he will not let basketball teams play games on the court until it is fixed. If Roosevelt cannot host games, they likely will be played at another D.C. public school.

Pittman, for one, says he will not be happy until his team can play in its home gym again.

"We're already hurting because we're going to have to move the game to another school, and then we're going to lose revenue," Pittman said. "We can't do anything right now. Come the first day of practice, we have nowhere to go. It's just a bad situation altogether."

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