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For charter schools head Don Cole, a bumpy ride

Don Cole started the Washington Charter Schools Athletic Association with the best intentions in 2002, but the league's oversight powers are limitedl.
Don Cole started the Washington Charter Schools Athletic Association with the best intentions in 2002, but the league's oversight powers are limitedl. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

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By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2010; 8:30 PM

Twelve years ago, Don Cole saw a need, and thought he could fill it. How tough, he figured, would be it to start a charter schools athletic league at programs where kids wanted to play ball?

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Yet, more than seven years after founding the Washington Charter School Athletic Association, the first and only attempt at organizing interscholastic sports in the District's charter schools, Cole cannot believe how difficult is was . . . and still is.

"When this started out, we had a lot of fun doing it," Cole said. "It was great for a long time until the coaches came in, only a few, who have their own personal agendas."

Cole, 44, may be the most unlikely scholastic athletic league commissioner in the area. He spent nearly a decade at three different colleges. He worked for an educational nonprofit, a headstart program, and a summer camp. He served as a substitute teacher, sold residential real estate, and now has moved to the commercial side.

But in 1998, as a substitute physical education teacher at Options, the city's first charter school, Cole tried to field a middle-school basketball team. He said he called several of DCPS middle schools, but only one -- Lincoln Junior High -- gave Cole's team a game.

Then, in November 2002, Cole reached out to every charter school principal to gauge interest in forming a league. The turnout, he said, was incredible, and that winter, the WCSAA, which touts itself on its web site as, "D.C.'s Premier Athletic League" -- was off and running.

"Things went extremely well," Cole said. "The gym was packed all day."

With Cole and his wife Pam as the league's only employees, they schedule games, secure field and court space, hire officials, obtain insurance, and determine eligibility for all athletes at league schools.

Since he does not work for any school or the D.C. Public Charter School Board, Cole charges each school for its participation in the league, depending upon which sports in which it wants to participate. For example, the WCSAA's fall season features flag football, volleyball and boys' and girls' soccer. Membership is $2,800 for the season per school. In the winter, Cole charges schools $1,800 per basketball team. The league offers no sports in the spring season.

"We just want our kids to be recognized in the same manner that DCPS children are recognized," Cole said.


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