Wilson High Schools athletic fields athletic field
Wilson High Schools athletic fields athletic field Credit: Max Wix

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Lately, Wilson High School’s successful athletic program has had to make do with less. At the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, the school was no longer able to access facility rental funds that have brought in tens of thousands of dollars each year.

The fund, which was the only of its kind within D.C. Public Schools, used to support more than 45 teams, a larger group than any other school in the city. Wilson earned an average of $185,000 each year from facility rentals, according to Brandon Hall, the school’s director of strategy and logistics.

The Wilson Management Corporation, a now defunct group that led efforts to modernize and fund building developments at Wilson, pushed for the arrangement in 2010. When the Wilson Management Corporation wrapped up in 2012, it made an agreement with DCPS to direct the money into a Student Activity Fund. That agreement lasted until the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.

The D.C. Office of Inspector General issued a report ending the arrangement after Wilson principal Kim Martin sought guidance on how to use facility rental funds that had been used to support student activities and athletics.

“Not being able to use that has been a big setback,” Martin says.

The District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA), DCPS’ athletic league, funds teams individually by sport, but not all sports are recognized by DCIAA. Crew, among other varsity sports, is not a DCIAA sport, so those teams, in concert with the school’s booster club, are responsible for raising all funds for their sport or activity. 

According to the Deputy Mayor of Education’s office, DCPS gives the Wilson athletic program “more than $294,000 [for] equipment, uniforms, buses, and other expenses. The figure does not include game security costs.” 

“I think ideally we would like to have around half a million dollars to properly fund the athletic program,” says Maria Emanuel, co-president of the Wilson Tiger Boosters. 

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced a bill on Dec. 5, 2017, which has been effective since Feb. 19, 2019, that allows DCPS schools to recoup some of the money made through facility rentals. Martin says that Wilson has not received any money from facility rentals this school year.

Those in the Wilson community also recognize that this was a luxury not all school communities could provide. Ruth Wattenberg, the president and Ward 3 representative of the DC State Board of Education, thought a new plan was slowly going into effect to allow for the city-wide facility funding but was unsure of details. 

“What bothers me … is that every high school has much sought after facilities,” Martin says. “Schools could continue to lease their buildings and keep that money, and use that money for anything they wanted to, but we don’t have a method to do that … Whatever our solution is has got to be a solution that benefits Ballou or Anacostia. There is a reason why we have over 40 sports and a school like Eastern has maybe 19.” 

The Deputy Mayor of Education’s office stated that in fiscal year 2019, DCPS earned $1,320,351 for full facility rental fees from sports programs and community groups across the city. The money goes back to the Department of General Services.

“We wanted to see the model used at Wilson used in other places,” says Matt Frumin, a Wilson parent and the last chair of the Wilson Management Corporation. “We should take advantage of this opportunity. We want to open up these spaces, and schools should have some of the benefits that flow from these spaces, and if you do that at all of the schools you can strengthen the offerings we have for our kids.” 

The value of a vibrant athletic program is central to the drive of the Tiger Boosters. The two co-presidents of the Tiger Boosters Club, Emanuel and Natalie Cooper-Berthe, are volunteers with consulting backgrounds who use their expertise and time to support the athletic program.

“We’re trying to get our sea legs,” Emanuel says on the new push for funds. “This takes a lot of time and effort.”

Both women describe working nearly 30 hours a week supporting the school’s athletic program and have had several children play sports at Wilson. 

“Kids feel like they are part of a community, it keeps them out of trouble, and the payoffs extend well beyond high school, says Cooper-Berthe. 

According to Wilson’s athletic director, Mitch Gore, the Boosters are critical in helping each team continue to have the seasons and experiences Wilson has had in the past. Gore adds that a third of Wilson students play a sport and 75 percent of athletes are on the honor roll. 

“This is formational. I think 90 percent of the staff at Wilson has been on sports teams,” says Gore, using his colleagues as an example. “These teams help shape and form and move people towards their life passions.” 

Athletes like baseball player Collin Bosley-Smith have benefited from Wilson’s robust athletic program. The senior pitcher was named the 2019 D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year and has committed to play for Duke University

“This kid is special,” says Antoine Williams, a Wilson alumnus, Maret coach, and the 1991 D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year for baseball.

Emmanuel Burris also won the award in 2003 and went on to play on a field across town in 2015 for the Washington Nationals. He was the most recent DCPS player to reach the majors, and the only one to do so since Maury Wills played for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1959. 

According to the Wilson Athletics Boosters, more than 10 percent of each Wilson graduating class will play sports at the collegiate level, a higher percentage than the national average of 1 to 1.5 percent. 

Cheh’s office declined to comment for this article, but after publication, directed City Paper to the bill that the councilmember introduced in 2017. 

“It’s a tremendous priority. It’s about sports but it’s also about access, it’s about what kids do when they are not in school … It’s about the intangible qualities that we give to kids that allows them to be well rounded adults,” Martin says. “And I think we would be hard pressed to find an adult that thinks a kid in Northwest should have 40 opportunities and kids furthest from opportunity should only have ten.” 

Martin explains that an “O-type” funding model could be used. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer defines that as program revenues generated from fees, fines, special assessments, charges for services, and reimbursements set aside for a specific purpose for the District agency that collects the revenues to cover the cost of performing the related function. Martin adds that she did not think there is a significant effort to create that funding model.

This article has been updated with information of the bill Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced in 2017, corrected comments from Kim Martin, and details about the timeline of the Wilson Management Corporation.