The Capitol Page School basketball team hasn't held a practice since its season started in November, but it isn't because the Pages think they don't need one. They just don't have the time or money.
The team's eight players are congressional pages: When the legislators work, so do the pages. The work doesn't leave much time for basketball.
Students at the school, which is administered by the District public school system, holds classes at the Library of Congress. Partly because of the pages' schedules, the basketball practice sessions are not as frequent as other teams.
"It wouldn't be fair to make them practice five days a week like the other schools," said the Pages' new head coach Joe McGrath, 50, a lifetime area resident and veteran D.C. teacher. "This is a unique school where its primary purpose is to serve Congress . . . The job is first and school is second. Basketball comes third."
Another problem is that the students are not allowed to use gym facilities on the Hill and must rent a nearby high school gymnasium for practice and for games.
In October and November, for instance, the Pages worked out twice a week at nearby St. Cecilia's High School, 601 E. Capitol St. But the rental of $15 an hour for each practice session and $22.50 for every game, stretched the team's $500 budget too far. (In addition, the team receives $550 to pay for officials at 10 "home" games.)
McGrath said lack of practice time is the greatest problem for his team, which now has a 5-5 record and plays a 21-game schedule against the area's smaller private schools. They do not compete in league play against other D.C. public school teams.
The rigid schedule for congressional pages precludes many activities, such as basketball practice. The 94 pages (68 boys, 26 girls in the three high school grades) start classes each morning at 6 a.m. and cross the street to the Capitol after school ends at 10:30 a.m. The pages, depending on their responsibilities, earn $7,100 to $9,500 a year.
"There is no emphasis on success (on the basketball team)," McGrath said. But we give the boys a chance to experience success."
He said if someone watched his team play, "you'd probably think a couple of them have a lot of natural ability and it's too bad they miss a couple of layups or lose a dribble. But it's easily understood if you realize they have no time to practice."
The team also is hurt by a large turnover of pages during the Christmas vacation. While John Beasley, a 6-foot-1 starting guard who scored 14 points per game, went home to South Carolina and will miss the remainder of the season, McGrath, a social studies teacher, can still hope to find talent to replace him among the new pages who have just arrived.
"It's a lot better than last year," said Chris Clark, 17, a 6-3 junior forward from the Austin, Tex., area who has been living at 504 E. Capitol St. while in Washington.
"Last year, they lost two or three of their best people with the flood going out (with terms ending in December). I came in with the flood coming in January (1977)," he said.
Clark said he preferred to play football, but that he is pleased with the opportunity to compete in basketball with the Pages.
Basketball is the only sport offered at Capitol Page.
"I'm just basically doing it to stay in shape," he said. "Congress has gyms all through these buildings, but they don't let the pages use them."
Justin Beidleman, a 6-foot forward and Washington native, is also playing basketball to stay in shape. But he also enjoys playing the game.
"I have aspirations to play," said Beidleman, a senior who resides at 21st and Varnum Sts. Ne. "I came here for academic reasons. But afterwards in college, I'd like to improve my game.
"Just because you play here, doesn't mean you don't have any aspirations to be great."