Despite all-out efforts by the Washington Diplomats, who have sponsored countless clinics and camps and given away hundreds of free tickets to games at RFK Stadium soccer has been mostly ignored by the black youngsters of the city.
"The kids just don't identify with the sport," said Eloise Smith, director of Edgewood Playground in Northwest Washington. "They have no heroes to emulate in soccer. Kids cater to sports they see all the time, and in this city, it's basketball. Nothing can replace basketball."
At Kalorama Playground, director Joan Ginyard has soccer games on the basketball hardtop because there is no grass playground. But only the foreign childredn play the game.
"Black kids won't even watch it," Ginyard said. "They don't argue when we play soccer on Tuesday and Thursday but they don't want to play it, either. They go off and do something else."
Recreation directors and coaches all over the city echoed Smith and Ginyard when asked why soccer has failed to catch on in the inner city.
With the exception of a few areas, heavily populated with whites and clusters of ethnic groups, soccer is rarely mentioned, much less played. The basketball vise that grips the District of Columbia has literally squeezed out the world's most popular sport.
"We did a big thing with the Police Boys Club last year," said Dips' General Manager John Carbray. "We went to meeting after meeting, gave clinics and giveaways. The program never got off off the ground. The biggest problem was getting the kids to come out.
"We can't run the program for them. This year, we plan to work with the D.C. Recreation Department. We'll use our players to teach, coach," added Carbray. "We'll do whatever they want."
Officer Keith McGregor, who heads up the Police Boys Club soccer program, said the kids are beginning to respond but "it's going to take more time.
"Our major headache is finding some help," McGregor said. "Basically, this has been a one-man operation. I think the kids will come out and play if exposed a bit more. They have to be taught the game."
Dips team captain Gary Darrell agrees.
"The interest is there. It just has to be taught to the kids," said Darrell, who for six seasons has worked with children all over the metropolitan area. "Right now, the kids in the city are limited by the lack of teachers and coaches. During the season, we can't do much to help them."
Darrell, recovering from knee surgery, said he and other members of the Dips will continue to work with youth, especially in the city, in the hope the response gets better.
The majority of the city children are exposed to the game in elementary and junior high physical education classes. But unlike in the suburbs, where soccer programs have blossemed there are very few club teams in the city to join.
The high school soccer program, which began four years ago, fizzled out this past year because the D.C. School Board eliminated salaries for coaches. Even then only half of the city's 15 public schools fielded teams.
In a fan survey done by the Market Search Report at one of the Dips' games at RKF Stadium this year it was discovered that 47.4 percent of the fans in attendance were from Northern Virginia, 35.5 from Montgomery and Prince George's counties, 11.6 were from other parts of Maryland and Virginia and only 5.5 were District residents.
Of 540 persons interviewed, 92.5 percent were white, 64.6 were male and 51.0 were under 24 years old.
Carbray and several of the playground directors frown on the notion the Dips would draw better from the inner city if they had more black players (they have three), or signed a black superstar.
"It wouldn't make one bit of difference," said Horace (Scoop) Kenner, the assistant director at Edgewood Playground. "Kids play the sport they like and feel they might make money playing in the future. These kids see dollar signs in football and basketball. I can't even tell you who makes a lot of money in soccer. What black makes any money playing soccer?
"Howard University has one of the top college soccer teams in the country every year, but the players are foreign. They've been here to give clinics and the kids enjoyed them," said Kenner. "But as soon as we tried to get the program rolling, they went back to the basketball court."
Carbray said he didn't think signing a superstar would help because kids are "far more color blind than adults are.
"Kids talk aboul how great a player is," said Carbray, "Not what color he is."
Larry Pizza, the recreation manager in Ward 3 and the man responsible for running the city's recreation soccer program, said "all 137 playgrounds have been asked to field soccer teams."
"We know we can't compete with basketball. You put a soccer ball and a basketball on the ground and you know which one the kids will pick up. We're only asking each playground to try to promote the game, motivate the kids."
Pizza said the program has not been overly successful with children over 13, but the 12-and-under group has responded very well.
The Recreation Department will sponsor a city-wide soccer tournament this month. "I know the Hearst, Tilden and Benning-Stoddard centers will be here," Pizza commented. "They have between 140 to 200 kids involved in soccer."
On a recent tour of several of the more heavily-populated city playgrounds, the games of the day were basketball, tennis, touch football and softball. Two of the 15 playgrounds did not have a soccer ball in their equipment closets.
About 90 percent of the children knew the Diplomats were a soccer team. But many didn't know where or when they played. One youngster thought the Dips were a hockey team while another, after thinking for several seconds, said they were the White House softball team.
Most of the youngsters interviewed said they disliked the sport.
"I've played soccer at camps and been to a couple of clinics the team (Dips) had," said 14-year-old Anthony Jones of Langley Junior High. "I went to one soccer game but I prefer basketball.It's more interesting to me."
Several of the older youngsters sitting on the asphalt surface at Turkey Thicket Playground waiting to "get a down on the court" said the game was too rough."
"Too much kicking for me. My legs are bad enough," said Howie Rose, McKinley High Senior and a basketball player. "Soccer's just not my game. The only soccer player I've ever heard of is Pele and he doesn't play anymore."
If more American blacks played soccer in the college and pro ranks, would Rose like the sport more? he was asked.
"I doubt it," Rose said, "I just don't dig the game."