Spingarn High School, four-time defending city soccer champions, didn't show up for its game Monday with Wilson High School. It's not that the Green Wave was ducking its date with the undefeated Tigers (4-0). Spingarn had not played any of its earlier games, either, because the school failed to obtain physical examinations for most of its players until last Tuesday.
This is just one of the many problems which confront the city's high school soccer teams.
Spingarn's problem derived from a change in the city system by which junior and senior high school athletes obtain physicals, which are required before they are allowed to compete. In the past, doctors visited the different schools to administer exams; now, athletes are given forms that must be filled out by a physician of the athlete's choosing.
Spingarn soccer coach Cecil McKenzie claimed an insufficient amount of forms were sent to the school - not enough for even the football team - and attempts to obtain more forms proved futile. He also said the cost of the examinations was prohibitive to many of his players who did not carry personal health insurance or Medicaid benefits that covered the expense, which McKenzie estimated to be $40-45.
Bette Clark, acting chief of the city school health service, said 100 forms were sent to each school, and arrangements were made at several sites to provide free or low-cost physicals. She did admit, however, there were no additional forms available if a school required them.
Clark said four health centers were open during the summer with at least one open each day for athletic physicals at no cost. Georgetown University Hospital was open for 12 hours weekdays and a half-day Saturday. Howard University Hospital was available three and one-half hours each weekday, and Children's Hospital offered exams eight hours on weekdays charging fees on a sliding scale with a $20-25 maximum, Clark added.
The hospitals remain open during the same hours in the fall, Clark said. Parkside, Southwest and Northwest health centers are open two days a week for physicals with a capacity of approximately 12 students per day.
McKenzie said the forms were received during the last week of school last spring, and he was unable to reach most of his team members in time to take advantage of summer facilities. Clark acknowledged the forms were sent late by mail because of printing delays.
McKenzie said he scheduled appointments for his 10 unexamined soccer players more than two weeks ago at the Shaw Community Health Center, a private clinic. But he canceled the date after a conversation with Frank Bolden, director of the city's physical education department, who indicated lower-cost checkups might be obtained through the D.C. Department of Human Resources.
When this possibility did not materialize, McKenzie tried to set up new exams at Shaw for last Friday, but the physicals were postponed, first to Monday, and then to Tuesday. The players, who finally received their physicals Tuesday, were allowed to use last year's form so Spingarn might have a chance to complete its entire schedule, including four make-up games.
McKenzie added that approximately five of the 10 athletes had insurance to pay for the exam. He wasn't sure whether or how the others might cover the cost.
"All we can do is hope for the best. Even if we win or lose, we just want to play," said Spingarn senior Thomas Midgette, 17. "All I know is I was contacted by a friend and told I needed a complete physical. So I picked up a form, and my mother called the clinics. They were all packed up. So, I called Children's Hospital at the end of August and couldn't get an appointment until Sept. 4. And I had to wait for the results for three weeks."
The new method for physicals was imposed in reaction to the deaths early last year of ex-University of Maryland basketball player Owen Brown, 22, and Maryland sophomore Chris Patton, 21, during pickup basketball games, Clark said.
Maryland initiated more stringent medical screening for its athletes after the deaths.
"The present athletic program was developed last spring and had full imput from the school system," Clark said. "We wanted to upgrade the quality (of physicals) for athletes in contact sports. I did anticipate there would be some problem with the system in its first year because it's a change in the system."
City soccer teams are used to adversity. They play on inferior fields at many schools, use patchwork uniforms, must provide their own shoes and receive literally no money.
"We get no funds. We have no money to pay the bus driver," said Thomas Jones, the Wilson coach, who noted that his team was $145 in debt. "It's the suburbs who get all the attention. I'm not frustrated, because my team gets me going. They're so enthusiastic."
Jones, an assistant principal at the Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street NW facility, said he received $600 for coaching during his first season at Wilson in 1975 and since has been reduced to a $500 stipend in 1976 and $400 this year.
From this money, Jones said, he pays an assistant coach, Jose Sueiro, an amount which will be decided upon at season's end.
Jones said he receives $100 per season to buy equipment for his team.
"As far as the city's support of soccer, I'm frustrated," McKenzie said. "I don't think the city does enough to develop soccer with the city kids. I think there should be more input from the local government."
McKenzie said he previously has spent $700-800 of his own money for such things as equipment for his players and for filming world-class matches to show his team.
"Basically, the highlight of the Interhigh season is basketball and football, and soccer takes place the same time as football," said Otto Jordan, the athletic director for the city's high schools. He said football, basketball, and track coaches receive $1,000 added salary per season.
Jordan said the recommended, but not required, stipend for a soccer coach is $750, the same as each school's two assistant football coaches, but coaches' salaries were left to the disretion of the individual schools.
Of the 14 teams which play Interhigh football and basketball, only nine have field soccer teams. Coolidge, Eastern, Bell, Chamberlain and Phelps have no soccer programs.
Eastern, for example, dropped the sport immediately after losing in the city championship game in 1972. "We don't have anybody on our staf competent to coach the sport," said Eastern athletic director Willie Stewart. "Every spring, we make it known to the faculty all vacancies on the coaching staff. No takers."