The first time Wanda Oates applied for the athletic director's job at Ballou High School, she was turned down. The school principal didn't think she should be walking in the boys locker room.
Four years later, Oates applied again, and was told no again, for other reasons she now says involved "total sexism."
But Wanda Oates is a persistent person, and now, the most successful basketball coach in the Interhigh League with nine girls city or tournament championships, she finally has the job she wanted. She recently was appointed athletic director at Ballou, the first woman in the Interhigh League to hold that position.
The first time, the principal told me he couldn't accept my application because I was a female and I wouldn't be able to walk into the boys locker room," Oates said. "The second time (in 1973), I was just passed over. I felt it was because I was a woman and I filed a Title 9 suit. BECAUSE THE POSITION WAS A NON-PAYING JOB, THEY (HEW) felt I didn't have a cause to complain."
But Oates, a determined woman who usually gets in the last word in an argument or just a friendly conversation, reapplied and was rewarded for her persistence. She was selected over Herman Daves, Ballou's former boys basketball coach. Lemar Pearson is the current boys basketball coach.
"There is the statue of limitations, you know," Oates said with a laugh. "I tried for so long. The only reason I even applied again was because of the school budget cuts. We lost our original AD (Tom Hargrove) and only one other person applied for the job. I figured if I kept talking, someone would eventually listen."
Oates found a friendly ear in Ballou's principal. Dr. Dennis C. Johnson. A former Penn State track star, Johnson said the job would be given to the most qualified person.
Daves, a longtime coach and physical education teacher in the system, felt Johnson was a bit premature in his decision and has since filed a grievance against the principal through the Washington Teachers Union.
"I can't say much because we're still in the grievance procedure," said Daves. "I just don't feel Oates is qualified for the job.I think my credentials are much better. I'm not against her having the job because she's a female. Dr. Johnson said he didn't consider me for the job because I gave up coaching the basketball team. I had a problem at the time and felt it wouldn't be fair to the kids if I continued to coach."
Johnson said the "grievance would be impossible to win because Daves has absolutely no grounds at all."
"He (Daves) was the basketball coach and he said he didn't have time to coach. How can he have time to be the athletic director, a job that pays no salary and takes more time? I ask why does he want this job unless it's because Oates is a woman," Johnson said. "Oates has been a great coach and has every right to be considered for this job. She has seniority in this building and her credentials were impeccable."
Since she began coaching in 1967, her girls basketball teams have won six Interhigh titles and three city championships and her boys soccer team won the Interhigh title once.
"Already, she has made quite a few changes in our program," Johnson said. "She's interested in each team and has begun to build up a togetherness feeling among them. The guys will like anyone they feel knows what they're doing and Mrs. Oates knows what she's doing."
After fighting for so long equality, Oates is now dealing with the reality of the job. She is in charge of the equipment room, scheduling, raising funds, keeping track of new inventory and keeping peace with her fellow coaches. And it's not easy.
"It's one the hardest jobs I've ever had in my life," Oates said, "but it's a good experience and I'm beginning to enjoy it. Football is the roughest sport, just so much to keep track of. Of course, we have a good team and we're winning so it's not that bad. I haven't had any major problems yet."
Her biggest problem is time. There just are not enough hours in the day to teach four classes of physical education and handle the athletic director duties (for no additional pay). She also coaches three sports -- girls basketball, boys soccer and girls softball.
"I'm here early and leave late. But I think the routine will ease up after football season," Oates said. "At least, I hope so."
Many of the Ballou football players have taken a wait-and-see approach toward Oates.
"I have nothing against Oates or any woman being athletic director," said Gerald Merchant, captain of the football and track teams. "There are a lot of small problems here but being athletic director is a big job. Perhaps she needs some help. She's a good coach by maybe being a coach of several sports and an AD is too much for one person."
"There seems to be a little communication gap between us (players) and her," said fullback Mike Thompson.
Some minor problems have come up because players are not allowed to walk in and out of the equipment room at will. Oates has established a certain period in the afternoon when coaches and players may obtain equipment and the adjustment period has not gone smoothly.
"Yes, we have had problems getting equipment," said another football captain, Wayne White. "The coaches not having keys to the room is a problem. At times, we haven't been able to find her when we need her."
Oates, who earned her teaching degrees at Howard and George Washington , is becoming an expert at record keeping. Ballou, located in Southeast Washington, has more than 2,200 students. Approximately one-fourth of the students participate in at least one of the 16 varsity sports.
"We offer a lot for the kids. The one thing I do know is that we're about $1,000 in the red and the figure is rising," said Oates.
"We didn't have a banquet last year and the kids didn't get varsity letters.
This year they will," she said.
Oates spends a lot of time sitting in the stands watching the 3-0 Knights go through football practice.
"I have help with the soccer team so I can do a few other things," said Oates. "My assistant soccer coach, Wensworth Lovelle, was a teacher here and is still helping out."
Oates also has the support of Vinna Freeman, the school system's acting director of health, physical education, athletics and safety.
"I don't consider this a major break-through by any means," Freeman said. "I have always believed the best qualified person should have the jobs -- period. I feel Wanda is very capable of assuming the job and meeting the challenge of the position. Of course, the role of the coach and the AD is similiar but the demands of doing both can be tough. She has enough experience to handle the position."
Oates said the experience will be extremely helpful in case she decides to move on to college.
"I might branch out and perhaps apply for a college AD job," Oates said.
"But right now, I have to learn a faster and more efficient way of keeping inventory. I didn't know a school had so much equipment. There's just so much to do. But don't worry. I'll do it, if it takes all night." CAPTION: Picture, Wanda Oates is the Interhigh's first woman athletic director. $1By Craig Herndon -- The Washington Post