Varsity Letter

In the DCIAA, coaches matter more than the school

By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Only in the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association could a public high school girls' basketball program that had won 120 games during a recent six-year stretch just disappear. Gone. Because only in the DCIAA are high school sports programs built around influential coaches and not the, um, high schools, as the Theodore Roosevelt High girls learned last week.

Some quick background: Students in D.C. Public Schools can seek transfers for any reason. It's not exactly open enrollment, but you can see it from here. So the varsity coach who works the middle school circuit can recruit the top young athletes in town to his program, even if they don't live in the school's geographical boundaries for attendance. And the best players, generally, want to play for the most successful teams. So the good teams can stay good for a long time, particularly if the coach sticks around.

When that resourceful coach leaves, however, the result can be what happened at Roosevelt. The program collapses. Roosevelt canceled its girls' basketball season for lack of interest.

Coach Tyrone Pittman, who in his eight years as coach had turned around a losing program and led the Rough Riders to six consecutive DCIAA championship appearances from the 2002-03 season through 2007-08, stepped down in September. The school scrambled to keep the program afloat after his departure but shut it down after one game, when the team was down to three healthy, eligible players.

Roosevelt Athletic Director Daryl Tilghman and last year's assistant coach, Wayne Benson, cite Pittman's late departure and lack of new recruits as reasons for the program's demise. Pittman said that four of five starters were set to return, and that his leaving in September should not have quashed a team whose season does not start until November. "It's just one of those things where we got caught with our pants down," said Tilghman, in his 14th year as athletic director at the Northwest school. "It wasn't something we saw coming. It's one of those things that just happened. You never want to say you couldn't field a program.

"We have a different kind of culture, where the coach usually brought in kids he had. [Pittman] was a perfectionist with his team, so the run-of-the-mill girls he had in school weren't really athletically inclined. So he ended up usually going to different AAU programs and picking up kids to put on his team."

Who knew for all these years that the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Riders, who won the school's first City Title Game in 2004 when they went 26-1, were really the Tyrone Pittman Rough Riders?

"Players play for the coach, they don't play for the school," Tilghman said. "If the coach who got them there or somebody they respond to isn't there, it's kind of hard to get them there."

When Coolidge football assistant Moe Ware was named the head football coach at Ballou a few years ago, almost a dozen players, including four eventual Division I signees, left Coolidge to join him at Ballou. When boys' basketball coach Vaughn Jones left M.M. Washington for Coolidge, so did his starting five.

"It boils down to really the coach," said Pittman who cited a variety of reasons for his resignation, including administration changes and the desire to watch his niece, Shanae Baker-Brice, finish her senior season at Towson. "How hungry a coach is and how much the administration wants to back the sports program."

So in D.C., a coach's most pressing responsibility isn't teaching and inspiring his players, it's reeling in talent from around town. The DCIAA's main criterion for a coach is sweet talker, not sweet teacher.

There are 296 girls at Roosevelt. Surely, many are familiar with the success of the girls' basketball team, including DCIAA titles in 2004 and 2005. They might be familiar with the school's three recent All-Mets, one of whom, Baker-Brice, is 31 points shy of setting the Towson University career scoring record. Katrina Wheeler signed with Georgetown and now plays at Towson. Brittany Hilliard was a Syracuse commit (now playing in junior college).

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company