For coaches in the District's Elementary School Athletic League (ESAL), winning and losing is not confined to the field of play. Working strictly as volunteers, these instructors donate their time to helping youngsters to gain the most out of a physical education program.
"We have stiff requirements and we stick by them," said John C. Nickens, who teaches physical education at K.C. Lewis Elementary, 3rd and Bryant Streets NW. "We require students to produce, that there be no attendance problem, no behavior problem.
"When you see kids with potential juvenile problems, this is one way to prevent them," added Nickens, who has coached in the ESAL since its inception in 1969. "Some kids can't produce in the classroom, but they can produce in the classroom, but they can produce on the athletic field. It keeps them off the street. When we leave here, most of them go home."
The ESAL, which closed its eighth season early this month with its city track meet, offers track and gymnastics on a citywide basis with the schools broken down into the six school regions.
Additionally, there are four "mini-leagues" that were formed by the coaches and offer such sports as boys' and girls' basketball, boys' touch and flag football, girls' kickball, and girls' and coed volleyball.
Approximately 100 of the city's 125 elementary schools participate in at least one sport, Nickens estimated.
While the amount of after-school athletic programs varies from school to school, some coaches put in three or four afternoons and Saturdays to their sports programs.
"I think it's just dedication," said Paul Wright, another of the league's original coaches from Drew Elementary at 56th Street and Eads Road NE. "If you want a program to work, this is the beginning level and it helps them get ready for the next level.
"We are definitely concerned with the attitudes and academic achievement," he said. "You can see the difference in many cases."
Money seldom becomes an issue in the ESAL. "Most coaches have the feeling to improve the school, improve the kids," Nickens said. "The guys who feel they should make extra money, don't put in the extra time. These people do it to see something concrete . . . that's where it's at."
For Dennis Allen, 12, a sixth-grader at K.C. Lewis, playing sports has provided an education. "I got put out of K.C. Lewis for fighting every day," Allen said. "Sometimes people do things and they don't really mean it - it's an accident. Sports showed me that sometime there's no reason to fight because somebody does something to you."
Tony Dunn, 13, and also a sixth-grader at Lewis, plays football, basketball and track. "I just like to play sports," he said. "If I get good grades and pass, I get good education and a good job. When you go to college, you can play basketball."
The ESAL has received some opposition from the physical education department at the city school board because the league offers possible conflicts with classroom time. "We try to carry on these activities with the least amount of interference with regular classroom time," said Frank Bolden, superintendent of physical education. "The main thrust here is for a broad-based extramural program for a great number of students."
Still, Nickens and Wright said they hope all sports will be offered on a citywide level next year with a league in each of the city's six school regions.
And Bolden does have good words for the volunteer coaches. "I'm quite sure the programs have some effect on classroom improvement and that the youngsters show improvement in their academics," Bolden said. "Our coaches do a tremendous job since most of them receive no extra pay."
In the June 1 track meet at Coolidge High School, Bryan of 13th Street and Independence Avenue SE ended Drew's four-year dominance of the boys' division. Bryan Burroughs of 13th and Monroe Streets NE finished third with 28.
Powell of 14th and Upshur NW ran away with the girls' title with 69 points. Leckie of Chesapeake Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SW placed second with 38 and Brookland of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street NE was next with 35.