By Sam P. K. Collins
In the months preceding the pandemic, William Langford entered his role as the girls’ basketball coach at Bard High School Early College DC eager to shed light on the talented athletes coming out of the District’s public schools that don’t often catch the attention of recruiters from prominent college athletics programs.
Much to Langford’s chagrin, and that of other D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) coaches, doing so during a canceled season and the District-mandated shutter of schools’ athletics facilities has proven difficult.
Langford said the circumstances, and the lack of communication from the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA), have left many of his senior players discouraged about their prospects of college recruitment just weeks before graduation.
“I’m having to battle with seniors who are good ballplayers but have thrown in the towel. They don’t think they can get a scholarship in two months,” said Langford, who also coaches the Easy Street Family AAU basketball team where he focuses recruiting efforts within DCPS and works with student-athletes attending schools in the D.C. metropolitan area.
“Not only is that time window short but everyone is desperate for opportunities,” Langford continued. “Because of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility [for seniors], there are less scholarships, so the programs wouldn’t have them. It’s a two-way sewer. DCPS [facilities] have been on complete lockdown while [private] schools have had the privilege of having some semblance of a season.”
Athletics Programs React to Lifting of Restrictions
On Friday, upon D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s announcement that high-contact sports were no longer prohibited, the D.C. State Athletic Association (DCSAA), an organ of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education for public, charter and private schools, permitted high school student-athletes of all sports to engage in practice, drills and skills development.
The DCPS central office also expressed plans to conduct a competitive spring season for low-contact sports, including baseball, golf, outdoor track, tennis and softball.
Months earlier, at the start of the 2020-2021 academic year, COVID-19-related restrictions still had not been lifted. Per the DCSAA, student-athletes in the fall and winter sports wouldn’t be able to play or practice on campus until December.
Through the new schedule, the shortened basketball season, along with that for indoor track and field and cheerleading, started on Jan. 4 and ended on Feb. 28.
For two days in June, public school student-athletes will join their charter and private school peers on the courts at Sidwell Friends School for a series of scrimmages taking place in front of college recruiters.
However, in the months since the pandemic started, Langford said he and coaching colleagues didn’t receive information from DCSAA and DCIAA about a contingency plan for senior student-athletes, even as their counterparts in the local private schools and AAU leagues were practicing under covid-related safety protocols.
Programs, Locally and Nationally, Adjust to Changes
The Informer attempted to establish contact with DCSAA Executive Director Clark Ray to no avail.
Across the country, some school districts are meeting this dilemma head-on with the passage of special legislation. In Kentucky for instance, students could apply for what’s referred to as a “do-over” year — a mechanism through which student-athletes who didn’t get much playing time during the pandemic could extend their eligibility.
Even with these changes, there has still been some concern about the ripple effect, not only for high school athletes struggling to enter some of the fewer spaces at the collegiate level but the underclassmen behind them who may get fewer opportunities to play.
With few alternatives, some coaches soldiered on through the storm to get their seniors some semblance of recognition.
In the District, Roosevelt High School Boys Basketball Coach Robert Nickens said he used his rapport with college coaches and his school’s DCSAA contact to stay abreast of COVID-19-related athletics updates and get his players exposure during one of the most difficult recruiting seasons in recent history.
For Nickens, getting his five senior student-athletes into the best possible college or prep program under these circumstances required making a bevy of phone calls and, with his counterpart at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in Southeast, creating a youth team that competed against college and adult male players in Waldorf during scrimmages earlier this year that were recorded and sent to scouts.
All in all, Nickens prioritized student safety and remained indebted to DCSAA and DCIAA for keeping the athletics facilities closed throughout the pandemic. He said his creativity during this period yielded acceptances to college teams for two seniors, and that of two other seniors to prep programs.
“My job was to put my students in the best situation, even if it wasn’t the first or second [choice],” Nickens said. “It was about getting communication with college coaches [even] with guys we thought would’ve gotten offers. We still worked to put them in a college or prep situation. We gave our guys a platform to play to see if they could get some good footage. They wanted to get that footage.”