The city's vocational high school basketball teams have more to do than worry about winning games; they are also battling to erase the image that they don't take their sports seriously.
However, the winning records of two of the District's vocational institutions have helped ease their task.
Chamberlain Vocational, for example, lost all 21 of its games three seasons ago, but through a gradual building program, it was a contender for one of eight playoff spots in the Inter-high tournament this year up until the final week of the season. With Tuesday's closing battle with Anacostia not included, Chamberlain's record was 6-7 in league and 8-11 overall.
"The stigma behind the vocational athelete is something we're trying to get rid of - that they have bad attitudes, that they don't care about losing," said William Pinkney, who took over at Chamberlain after the 0-21 debacle. "You have to be a special kind of thinking person to come to a vocational school . . . It takes a special kind of kid to want to come in to an 0-21 team and turn it around to 21-0.
"We try to develop a positive attitude about oneself - believing in oneself is something we try to do here, developing discipline, just encouraging kids to go to class and go to school (college) after this," Pinkney said.
Phelps Vocational, which is located at 24th Street and Benning Road NE only won six of its first 19 contests this season, but five triumphs were in Interhigh play to keep the Panthers in contention for a playoff berth until the last week of the season. Six wins marked wholesale improvement for Phelps, which managed only two victories (one in league) in 15 tries a season ago.
Even Bell, the remaining city vocational school, has shown signs of a bright future while suffering through a 3-19 campaign (1-12 in league).
Moreencouraging for Phelps and Chamberlain is the absence of upper-classmen on their teams. Chamberlain, a small school of about 100 boys (and approximately 380 girls), has only two seniors among its top seven players; Phelps has no seniors among its enrollment of about 600 boys.
"Winning five (league) games is a plus for the high school - and we've got all our sophomores and juniors coming back," said Phelps coach Moe Warren while preparing for the team's stretch run. Warren, now in his second year at Phelps, added, "I already told my kids it's already a successful season, even if we don't make the playoffs. I don't want the kids to think it's a waste just because we didn't make the playoffs. I told them they have next year to look forward to.
"Each school has standout players who will return next season. Chamberlain will have 6-foot-3 forward Dave Brown, who is averaging 15.8 points per game, and 5-11 guard Lavelle Miller, who has added 14 points per contest, coming back to start for their third seasons. Phelps will bring back guard Keith Sampler, who has been among the Interhigh scoring leaders this season with a 17.6 points per game average.
Pinkney said it is necessary for vocational schools to look in different places than the traditional powers for their players.Because of the different curriculum offered by these schools, they are allowed more leeway in recruiting players from around the city, Pinkney noted. Chamberlain emphasizes business training; Phelps specializes in craft skills.
"We're not going to get the blue-chippers. We're not going to get the junior high school all-stars," Pinkney conceded. "We have to get the kids who are overlooking in junior high school."
Brown said he could have played for Dunbar of Nothwest Washington, which captured the Interhigh regular season crown and is ranked second in the city with a 21-1 overall mark. Miller said he might have gone to H. D. Woodson in Northeast Washington, an early season contender for first place, if he had not gone to Chamberlain. Both are happy with their decisions.
"I came over to Chamberlain because I had a better chance to get my head together and get to college. It gave me a better chance to place myself in perspective," Miller said. "It's a nice school, a nice system, nice people. You've got to go to the school that you'll enjoy. And if we get down to our system, we can beat any team in the city. We have the potential and the ability."