The District high schools' athletics program is in "deplorable condition," serving ever fewer students with dangerous equipment and incompetent coaches in "grossly inadequate and condemned" facilities, a 26-member task force has concluded.
The panel's report, commissioned by D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie, calls for the school system to spend $4.3 million to revamp the sports program's administration, equipment and coach training.
But the school board, which yesterday approved a $482 million budget for next year, voted against the full overhaul as well as a more gradual $1.2 million expansion of athletics. Instead, the board approved spending $300,000 on sports equipment and $373,000 for additional personnel next year. Athletics currently gets $320,000 a year, not including personnel.
"A few years ago, we doubled the budget of athletics," said board member Nate Bush (Ward 7). "And we did not have the kind of results we wanted. My emotions say vote for it, a million dollars for athletics, maybe they'll even name a stadium for me. But I really have reservations about putting more money into an administration that cannot make the improvements."
Kent Amos, panel chairman and a management consultant, said the board's action is "quite disappointing. In a half-billion-dollar budget, a million dollars is not an inappropriate request. Athletics requires much more money."
McKenzie said yesterday that she has removed athletics director Otto Jordan, making him chief of the system's physical education program. Jordan's successor has not been named. Amos applauded the move, saying "the system asked too much from him for too long."
"Before we are ready to spend more money on athletics, the board wants people of good ability in a position to make a good program out of something that often causes us embarrassment," Bush said.
In recent years, the D.C. athletics program has suffered from dwindling attendance at football games and increasing difficulty in attracting players. Several city schools have had trouble fielding football teams for two years.
The city's troubles come as suburban and Catholic schools are expanding athletics programs to new heights, adding junior varsity teams and new sports while quickly increasing resources for girls' teams.
Although the District also improved offerings for girls in the 1970s, the city -- then beginning a massive push to improve academics -- has decreased the number of sports available to students. Football, baseball, golf, soccer, tennis and swimming programs have weakened dramatically; only basketball remains popular among players and spectators.
Athletics funding "represents years of neglect," the report said. The D.C. school system has no separate athletics budget; instead, athletics is part of the health, physical education and safety department.
The panel, which included business people, sports journalists, parents, students and school coaches and administrators, said the D.C. athletics program suffers from dangerous fields, tracks and gymnasiums, "substandard and insufficient amounts of equipment, dangerously ineffective security and safety measures, underpaid and poorly trained personnel and a drastic shortage of qualified coaches."
"As a consequence of these alarming conditions," the report said, "participation in athletics has dramatically suffered . . . and top athletes have opted to enroll in suburban and private schools with better athletic programs."
The task force recommended:
Creating an assistant superintendent position with a staff of 14 to supervise athletics programs and improve selection and training of coaches. Amos said the task force was unable to get even simple statistics, such as the number of students on sports teams.
A more substantial budget. The $320,000 a year currently allocated is far less than is allocated in suburban school districts.
The extra money would pay for more teams, more sports, more modern equipment, improved facilities and vans to transport players to games.
Better safety precautions, including assigning a doctor and ambulance to all football games, a nearly universal practice among suburban school systems. Recruiting better coaches by stiffening requirements, paying higher stipends and toughening punishment of coaches who break the rules.
"We've had problems with questionable conduct on the part of some of our coaches," Bush said. "We've had scandals with coaches playing ineligible players. Our coaches should be role models for students. We are not here to train athletes, but to train responsible citizens."
The task force suggested tighter ethics and evaluations for city coaches.
District schools provide teams with fewer coaches than Virginia or Maryland school systems do. For example, a football team in Montgomery County has a head coach who gets a $3,258 stipend and four assistants, each of whom is paid $2,799. By contrast, a District football team has a head coach who gets a $1,500 stipend and two assistants, who get $700 each.
School board member Bob Boyd (Ward 6) said he supports improving athletic offerings but will not back massive increases in funding until new administrators show they can build a better program.
"I'm unpersuaded that new jobs and big salaries will come to grips with our problems," he said.