How a Fifth-Year Athlete Is Still Playing Ball for Chavez The charter school left the league to keep its best player.

Conference Call: Cole decided not to allow a 13th-grader in the charter league.
Darrow Montgomery

On Monday, the boys basketball team from Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School lost, 79-71, at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington. But Chavez is still having a fine season, its first as an independent, with a 15–11 record playing against some of the area’s strongest programs.

Markee Mazyck had a team-high 15 points for Chavez in the loss. Last year, in its winter sports roundup, the Washington Post named Mazyck as the player of the year in the Washington Charter School Athletic Association (WCSSA) and identified Mazyck as a senior. Eligibility-wise, just as the Post indicated, he was a senior in the 2008–09 season. But Mazyck is still playing at Chavez this year, and he’s playing well enough to win the league-best award all over again. If, that is, his school hadn’t abandoned the conference just so he could play ball there for one more year.

The Chavez basketball story is an odd one. Anybody who views the District’s charter schools­—which are public schools run independently of the D.C. Public Schools bureaucracy—as the Wild West of the education realm could find some fodder here. But it’s also easy to put a sweet spin on the situation, to view this as school officials throwing out the rule book just to help a kid out.

Folks from Chavez prefer the latter version.

“We’re trying to do the right thing,” says Chavez athletic director Ernesto Natera. “This is a one-time deal.”

You can’t blame a student for wanting to keep his high school career going. Mazyck’s still attending Chavez and finishing up his diploma after some stumbles early on, says Natera. And, everybody agrees, he’s real good at basketball. So why wouldn’t he want to play on the basketball team again, and get an extra year of looks from college coaches? And to point out the obvious: He’s a kid.

You can blame the school for the situation, however, because the Chavez administrators—all adults—knew that the WCSSA rulebook forbade fifth-year athletes and, one could argue, shouldn’t have forced the matter just for one student, especially a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder whose athletic talents gave him options not available to lesser ballers. If they just wanted to go the extra mile for the player, the school’s coaches could have, for example, worked to get him into a prep school where “redshirt seniors” are the norm. Or, if getting a college scholarship is the ultimate goal, they could have shopped his highlight reel from last year’s player-of-the-year season a lot harder and longer.

And even though the Chavez contingent insists that everything they did was for Mazyck, the school’s interests are conflicted: Having a great player and a good basketball program can be used to give Chavez a bigger name in the community and make the place more attractive to prospective students, and athletes, who have a lot of charter schools to choose from.

But if Chavez did indeed decide to let the kid keep playing for the noblest of reasons, they did it the right way. Natera didn’t try to hide Mazyck’s fifth-year status from league brass (though that might have been pretty hard to do given his status as the WCSSA’s reigning player of the year). Before the season, Natera went to Don Cole, commissioner of the WCSSA, and told him that Chavez wanted to give Mazyck an extra year of basketball eligibility. Natera says he pointed out to Cole that Mazyck played very little basketball his freshman year of high school, and that the kid’s birthday—he turned 18 in late summer, according to school records—puts him well within the age limitations for D.C. athletics.

Cole told Natera that the league couldn’t allow that situation. Cole still feels burned by the way things were with the Marriott Hospitality Charter School’s basketball program, which was exposed as an anything-goes sham by the Post a few years back.

“It’s a mentality that shouldn’t even be here,” says Cole. “We’re trying to clean up the image, and a lot of people look at charter school athletics as some sort of semi-pro setup where anybody can play. We don’t want that.”

So Natera took the Chavez boys team out of the league but left the girls basketball team and all other Chavez sports programs in WCSSA. Natera says he intends to apply for readmission of the boys team to the league next season.

But after getting pooh-poohed by WCSSA, Chavez went to get the blessing of Marcus Ellis, the new D.C. Public Schools athletic director. If Ellis gave thumbs-down to Natera’s request to sanction its roster, fifth-year player and all, Chavez would have had a very hard time putting together a full schedule. Chavez, for example, wouldn’t have been allowed to play traditional DCPS teams including Cardozo or H.D. Woodson—both of which Chavez beat this season.

Though DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee briefly touted fifth-year eligibility early in her tenure here, she backed off putting such an allowance in place after learning that athletic officials in most jurisdictions (including public school leagues in Maryland and Virginia and the powerful confederation of Washington-area Catholic high schools) not only don’t allow fifth-year students to play sports but also prohibit their schools from even playing teams from jurisdictions where fifth-year players are allowed.

Despite WCSSA’s objection and the DCPS’s own rules against fifth-year players, Ellis sanctioned Chavez’s boys basketball team.

“I can’t figure out why [Ellis is sanctioning] schools for DCPS,” says Cole. “I don’t know if he looked at everybody’s transcript and said he doesn’t care, or if it’s just laziness, or if he’s just saying, ‘Hey, they’re charter schools! Let’s let them do whatever they want!’ I don’t understand that outlook, to tell you the truth.”

Natera says he’s done nothing wrong. Going by school years alone, as Natera points out, there are a lot of games being played with players’ eligibility in prep sports. For example, one of the top players on the local scene—North Carolina Tar Heel to-be Kendall Marshall, now a senior at Arlington’s Bishop O’Connell—was in sixth grade when I first wrote about him.

That was seven years ago, for a story titled “The Class of 2009.” He’s not in the Class of 2009 anymore.

“Do the math, that’s what people say to me all the time about kids [and eligibility],” Natera says. “People reclassify kids for sports all over, that’s been going on for so long around here. You do it in eighth grade, it’s fine—but ninth grade, it’s not? It’s something different? I can tell you this: We don’t reclassify students [for athletic reasons] at this school. Never. Nobody. We don’t want any stigma. And my kid is the right age. Other kids are older than he is and still playing. This is a hardship case, a special case. And if the kid sucked, nobody would care, and we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

So why did DCPS sanction the Chavez team this season? Ellis did not respond, but DCPS explains in a statement that the charter schools it sanctions “must agree to fully comply” with its eligibility rules, which currently permit students “to play a fifth season if they have not participated all 5 years.”

Natera, who says he made DCPS fully aware of Mazyck’s situation, says he’d do it all again.

“We did it right, and we did it for the right reasons,” he says. “I got sanctioned. We put it out there. Everybody knew it.”

Not everybody.

“I found out a couple days before we played them about the fifth-year player, when people in the local community told me,” says Martin Keithline, head basketball coach and assistant athletic director at Bishop McNamara, a Forestville school whose squad faced Chavez early this season. “They were sanctioned by D.C., so, at that time, there wasn’t much we could do, with the game already scheduled. But if we knew, we wouldn’t have scheduled them. What could we do?”

McNamara was defeated by Chavez, 67–57. Mazyck had 32 points.


Our Readers Say

At one time there were High School Federation rules and policies. If I recall, they had jurisdiction over high school sports with regards to eligibility and other issues related to high school sports competition. The Federation at least provided some order with respect to fair play and competition.

Now there is no structure and regard for rules and policy. Kids in DC go wherever they want, whenever they want without any regard or consideration for their schools or teammates. Mr. Ellis should have taken a stand because if he does it for one, he will, or has to do it for everyone. I don't know if there were extenuating circumstances, but a 5th year player needs to move on to either a prep school or community college if he isn't eligible to compete at a four-year school. Mr. Ellis needs to take the initiative to bring some order and structure to the DCIAA eligibility rules for its student/athletes. Otherwise, the DCIAA will continue to operate inefficiently and not as an asset for our student/athletes.
This decision was based soley on this young man being LATIN and that being the 'IN' ethnicity at the moment not just in DC but the entire country!
Marcus Ellis comes from rec and parks armed with a degree, no integrity and absolutely no CAHOONAS' whatsoever! His decision to enable this young man to compete at such an advantage is reflective of Ellis' lacking thereof!
His 5 year advantage is no more than the exploitation of his talent as well as the showcasing of his 'latin' bball swag in hopes of gaining a more lucrative scholarship, something you can't be mad about but if you do it for him then you'll have to do it for everyone else.....what do you expect, college degree does not equate to common sense!
On a much smaller level this so reminds of what President Obama is going through. He inherited a mess that had been created for years and ignorant people expect for him to clean it up yesterday! Ellis has been on the job since what, August? The system he is attempting to correct has been flawed for many years. Now the charter schools want him to clean up their house as well. I have seen his work at the dept of rec. This guy saved lives of our youth in one of the toughest hoods in the city and was one of the respected managers in that agency. People wth no CAHOONAS make comments on blog sites....walk through southwest dc at night and ask if he has CAHOONAS......
Son, Ellis hasn't saved shit but face! I have been in the Farms, Stanton Terrace, Potomac Gardens, Friendship (P.R. Harris) and Bald Eagle and that shit you just wrote is just that, SHIT!
I won't debate you about another man because the proof is in the pudding and for you to compare Obama to Ellis speaks for itself! Don't make excuses for him, this decision was childish, unprofessional and UNPRECEDENTED!
Ellis ain't never walked through no damn hood, stop with the lies!
Wow slim, you're real angry. Internet thugs, I swear. Lol! Ellis better be careful, looks like he also has to worry about groupies....Type dudes that be on facebook posing with their shirts off ! Lmao! All those hoods you mentioned. You sure sound like this Rosedale dude. That's my government name behind beside my comments. I see you're sticking with the alias.
You trying too hard champ! No anger and mos def not a internet thug, I stand behind my statement, I see you on joke time considering you haven't typed 1 fact justifying this clown's decision, other than that you got it, I'm out here and ain't goin' nowhere. Last time I checked ROSEDALE was in NE; you sound like a groupie ho' waitin on da hookup and BTW that's my tagname beside my comments, take it or leave it!
So look her single white female. The facts are I here dude has only been here since august and is about to change the 4 to play 5 all together. Ask around the dciaa. Change you can believe in. ...lmao! This is too easy.
Spell check...look (here)...
And still no government. Tag name...what is this, Colors?
Clearly fukkboy you don't know who your father is, hence your jokes, so I suggest that you handle that and get a hug from him or get him to play catch with your clown ass. You got me mixed up champ
Rah rah rah cheerleader. Still no government. U like the middle of a twinky.....soft and full of cream! Lmao! Come on, at least make up a name single white female.
U didn't even address the facts as you suggested. Dude must have hit your girl! Angry guy! Lol
You are a funny individual! What were you rollin' off da E' last night? You emotional ass flunky! Facts, what I previously wrote about Ellis and FACT what I'm writing about you!
*You are a mommasboy
*You don't know your father
*You are a flunky
*You are a clown
*You are awaiting da 'hookup' from jellyfish ELLIS
*You are just as emotional as any female in DC
*You are a syncophant
Why you so obsessed with me Mariah? Lol

Since you won't give up the government I'm naming you Mariah Carey.
It is comments like the one's above that make this paper and this article, full of little substance. I agree, that Mr. Ellis has al lot of work to do to ensure "great" athletic programs. However, it is not an unseemingly task. Pointing fingers is something that I believe to be unprofessional, more over, the the idea of publicly naming a student is classless. Yes, it was not a secret, nor did it have to be something that needed to be publicly announced in terms of identiflying a student by name. I have no gripes with sheding light on a program, however, that light needs to shed across the country... not in isolation.

This particular article is simply reminces of blogs that state a one-sided perspective... unfortuante, but true
This article is crap. Whomever Cole is a fool. The kid is 18, not 19 like Fifth year players. For example, Durant, Beasley, Thomas, Carmelo Anthony etc. still played HS basketball @ 19. All these kids have bounce around for eligibility purpose because of their pro potential. Nobody says anything!!!! It is kids in the DCPS, WCAC, IAC, etc that are 18 turning 19 right now playing and competing! They were "reclassified". That is not the same as a kid who didn't play but a few mins. his freshman year? So why this article even published? To accomplish what? AAU does it. A kid that is 12 and in the 5th grade can play both 12 & under and 11 & under. McNarma Coach is a lie as well. He played in a summer league with Chavez this summer so he was fully aware of the situation. He is upset with the L he took! We need to stop the nonsense. Schools like Montrose, National Christian, Riverdale Baptist, Oak Hill, etc. are ranked nationally and locally with 19 year olds on there squads. How the hell do you explain that?
@DC, Durrant wasn't 19 in high school, he was on the younger side of things for his grade. kid graduated when he was 17, turning 18 sept of 06 when he started college. Melo wasn't 19, kid turned 18 may of 02, right before his graduation. You can't just throw names out. There are plenty of dudes that do it big within their own time, without the advantages of being older or having an extra year.
Beasley yes, don't know which Thomas your taking about, but Josh Selby yes. Inner High ball has always had older kids, but for a director to allow this for one player, sounds pretty crazy to me. either you have rules, or you don't.
@ tank
I agree and that is the bottom line!
@ dc
Dude you're talking apples and oranges, aau and summer league has absolutely nothing to do with SANCTIONED high school 'regular' season ball!
Older, ineligible and/or underexposed players have historically exercised two options, juco....larry johnson, dave butler, jr rider or prep school....coolidge's s. wright harker prep, flint hill, a. bain, g. lynch and mackin's p. carter......all of which except for 1 went on to either stellar college and/or nba careers and if Ellis had any inkling of dc bball knowledge he would not have stamped this....
James tilman
How about you learn to ARTICULATE and FORM better sentences before you call out papers, people and things.....SPEAK ENGLISH WHY DON'T YOU and furthermore your point is senseless, jibberish and juvenile!
Dialogue and opinions are what make the world go round and facts keep it honest, this type of forum kills 2 birds with 1 stone...

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