“You lose good men, that’s going to have an impact,” says Troy Mathieu, a former DCPS athletic director.
Bradley, of dcsportsfan.com, sees the advent of Friendship as the shape of things to come.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see charter schools surpass DCIAA schools on the football field in the near future,” he says. “It kind of feels like college football right now with all the realignment talk. As bad as people want the league to succeed, the DCIAA will never be the same. Those days are over.”
The traditional public school league, Bradley says, has rotted from the top down.
“You wonder who is in charge,” he says. “How can the administration consistently let down high school athletes?”
DCPS lost Troy Mathieu after just 10 months.
Mathieu, who’d been athletic director for the Dallas Independent School District and Grambling University, knew things were a mess when Michelle Rhee hired him as DCPS athletic director in 2008. He thought he could fix the system. “I tried,” he says.
Mathieu is now athletic director for the Grand Prairie Independent School District in Texas. He says he’s been following DCIAA’s recent debacles. “You’re in this business to find ways to get kids to play,” he says. “That’s not happening” in D.C.
Mathieu says he studied DCPS’ athletic woes before taking the job, and came up with a plan of attack. But during his days here, he says, Rhee never took school sports seriously. In 2009, she didn’t show up for the biggest basketball event her constituents put on each year, the DCIAA championship. (She was seen that same night at a Cal–UCLA basketball game in Berkeley, alongside her NBA veteran boyfriend, Kevin Johnson.)
Rhee spokesman Hari Sevugan denies Rhee cold-shouldered Mathieu, and adds that his boss “gave [Mathieu] the support he needed.”
“As chancellor, Michelle Rhee took meetings with any staff member, parent or student who requested one, including Mr. Mathieu even though he didn’t report to her directly,” Sevugan says.
One Mathieu friend tells a tale of the city’s athletic director begging the chancellor for a meeting. “After months of this, when they finally got together for their one meeting,” says the friend, “Rhee just looked at her BlackBerries—yes, BlackBerries—for 10 minutes and didn’t even look at him. Troy wanted to quit right there.”
Asked about the accuracy of the tale, Mathieu just laughs. “I want to stay positive,” he says.
But in an interview, he did share some of the ideas he’d tried to pitch:
- Assign school principals the responsibility for eligibility issues—the single biggest cause of DCIAA’s image woes. “In that situation, the reputation and trust is put on the principal at each school, and they’re accountable and their jobs are on the line. In D.C., all that responsibility is put on the central office. The schools just drop hundreds and hundreds of folders off and the [DCPS athletic director] is responsible for checking them. It’s nasty. When the first stack lands in the office, you want to run out and scream. The highest-ranked folks in the central office spend all their time doing clerical work, checking birth certificates, checking physicals, even checking report cards and getting out their calculators to figure out grade point averages….I’m not aware of any place that does it in such a manual fashion as D.C.”
- Pay assistant coaches. During a 1970s budget crunch, the school board stopped paying junior varsity coaches, and slashed pay for varsity deputies. “When I was there they paid for the head coach and two assistants,” Mathieu says. “And the stipend for the two assistants was just $1,200 to $1,500 for a whole season…I know several schools where they would take that stipend and try to get four or five people to share that, just to cover gas money.” Mathieu says by reinstituting stipends for assistants, schools would have an easier time getting teachers involved in coaching. More teachers coaching would mean fewer ineligible players sneaking in, and fewer forfeits.
- Drop the rule that a doctor has to be on the sidelines. “It looks good on paper, but in the real world it causes too many problems,” Mathieu says. “You just can’t get doctors for every game. When I was there, every time there was a schedule change for a game or an emergency at the hospital, we didn’t have a doctor. When I was there, doctors’ groups were telling their members not to work the games for liability concerns. A licensed athletic trainer is good enough in most areas.” Anything that will result in fewer cancellations is a step up.
- Get rid of the fifth-year student athlete rule. In 2007, Rhee permitted fifth-year high schoolers an extra year of athletic eligibility. For safety and fairness, every state in the country bans them from sports, and won’t play schools who do otherwise. Ditto most private schools. After getting bad press, Rhee said that the rule would be removed, so the Catholic league continued to schedule games with DCIAA. But DCPS quietly continued the policy. Henderson also said the ban would be reinstated. But in August, Jackson reversed that decision for 2011.