This time of year has long been a happy one for Eddie Saah. It’s DCIAA baseball tournament time.
But things are different now. When Wilson Senior High School plays for its 17th straight D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association title this week, it will be playing without Saah, who coached the team to the first 16 championships. The program Saah built at Wilson, his alma mater, is doubtless the greatest dynasty in the city’s schoolboy sports history.
But Saah resigned as Wilson’s athletic director and baseball coach after the last school year. He says the departure came after a deal with new Wilson principal Peter Cahall fell apart.
“I thought we had a deal, and that I was going to stay on [as athletic director], but things changed,” Saah says. (Calls to Cahall were referred to new Wilson athetic director Michael Burnell, who did not return them by press time.)
After the AD job went away, Saah gave up coaching baseball, too. He says he spent his first baseball season off tending to family matters. He also kept his hand in the sporting world by refereeing and umpiring in various youth leagues.
But Saah, 61, got sucked back into the past by the recent resignation of Troy Mathieu, who lasted less than a year running the sports programs for D.C. Public Schools.
Saah had applied for that same citywide athletic director position a year ago, after Chancellor Michelle Rhee dropped the former AD, Allen Chin.
Rhee all but ignored his application, Saah says.
“Rhee didn’t call me. She had an assistant call asking if I would like to talk about the job,” Saah says. “So I say, ‘Sure. Would you like me to come down to hear my ideas?’ And she tells me, ‘No, don’t bother. Let’s just do it on the phone now.’ Then I never heard back from them again. I couldn’t believe it.”
Saah says he isn’t surprised Mathieu bailed so quickly.
And he’s not sure the next guy or gal, whoever that is, will last any longer. Not unless Rhee starts showing more ability or desire to improve the lot of athletes in the city schools.
“You can’t reform schools in this city without reforming athletics,” he says. “Sports are an integral part of growing up, an integral part of high school life. Sports is about socialization with other kids, man! It’s about learning winning and losing and how to accept it! She thinks it’s hard to find a good teacher? Well, it’s 10 times harder to find a good coach. If she doesn’t see that, she’s not an educator.”
Saah grew up near the National Cathedral and played sports at Wilson as a student in the mid-’60s. Before taking over as AD there, Saah served as boys and girls basketball coach. But it’s in baseball where he left records that will never be touched. Wilson lost just one game to a DCIAA opponent since 1992, as his teams won 210 of his last 211 games against league foes. (The lone loss came by a single run to Dunbar in 1999.) Wilson’s 1997 team won every league game by the slaughter rule, meaning the game was called early because Wilson had at least a 10-run lead after four innings. Last year, Wilson outscored DCIAA opponents 146–10.
But Saah’s not dwelling much lately on all the thrills of victory. He’s been harking back instead to the crap he and other DCIAA coaches and their kids had to deal with that their peers in surrounding jurisdictions didn’t. Like when, in the fall of 1996, all DCIAA games were put on hold because no umpires, referees, or game officials had been paid in a year.
And how, for the fall of 1997, DCIAA coaches didn’t receive their stipends and found out months into the school year that their pay had been cut out of the school budget. In a Washington Post story about the nonpayment of coaches, DCPS spokesman Doug Rogers blamed the deadbeat situation on “some slippage.”
Saah saw some actual slippage in his time, too.
He brings up a story of the last indoor track meet he attended in the city, a DCIAA championship meet held at the D.C. Armory. The track there was wooden and ancient, and kids started slipping on the boards.
“Then I see these guys going into the turns with buckets and mops and they start wet-mopping the track,” he says. “They tell me it’s Coca-Cola in the buckets. They thought that would make the track sticky. So the kids are running on Coke! That’s what kids in this city have to put up with! Can you believe that?”
There is no longer any indoor track for DCIAA athletes to run on in D.C., so city championship meets are held in Maryland.
And Saah likes to tell the tale of one of the baseball championship games Wilson played at Banneker. “We show up there and see this huge puddle on the field. It’s not raining, there’s just a huge puddle,” he says, with a disgusted chuckle. “I couldn’t believe it. I mean, this is the championship game! And nobody even got the field ready at all? Can you believe that?”
And the one about how visiting Wilson won a game because the whole Bell team couldn’t find a ball hit into the three-foot-high outfield grass of its home field.
Saah didn’t have to leave the Wilson campus to find rough diamonds. His teams played home games on a converted football field that had a set of ground rules more bush-league than those from a typical backyard wiffle ball game.
The right-field fence at Wilson was only 200 feet from the plate, so any ball that cleared that barrier was just a ground rule single. A shot over the fence in right center was an automatic double.
Saah says Rhee’s next AD has to do more to increase opportunities in “non-premier” sports. “Downtown, they think there’s only football and basketball,” he says.
Saah also says Mathieu’s replacement should increase participation in public–private competitions. As Wilson’s baseball coach, Saah always scheduled baseball games against the area’s toughest private programs. As Wilson’s AD, he founded the John W. Warring Jr. Invitational Soccer Tournament in 2003, inviting top private school programs to his school.
Most of all, Saah wants to see the restoration of the city championship football game, in which the public schools’ champ plays the Catholic schools’ champ. The game used to be held every Thanksgiving and was once the biggest sporting event on D.C.’s sporting calendar but went away after a race riot at D.C. Stadium in 1963.
“If it were up to me, the first thing I’d do is tell everybody we’re getting the city title game back,” he says.
If it were up to him?
Hmm. Does that mean Saah’s interested in coming out of retirement and getting another job interview from Rhee’s office? Or maybe even Rhee this time?
“A lot of people are asking me that. But I already wanted the job once,” he says. “They didn’t want me. They don’t know what they want.”
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