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The D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association boys’ basketball championship, which decides the public schools titlist—the people’s champion—is, year in and year out, the most exciting sporting event on the local prep calendar.

This year’s final, featuring the 24-5 Dunbar Crimson Tide vs. the 15-7 Cardozo Clerks in the Coolidge gym, had its ups. The biggest up was the for-the-ages performance turned in by Cardozo’s Roland Williams. The junior guard kept his greatly undersized squad in the game by hitting his first nine 3-point attempts, some of which were launched as close to midcourt as they were to the arc, and with Dunbar double-teaming him. But by game’s end, Williams’ smart bombs weren’t enough to keep the bigger, stronger Tide from rolling to a 75-62 win.

Williams’ heroics aside, the title game could have been better. But administrative decisions earlier in the week had made it impossible for the final to match the city’s top two teams. On the court, Spingarn finished the 2002-2003 regular season atop the DCIAA’s East Division with a 19-4 record, or good enough to make the school’s Green Wave the top seed in the tournament. But just before the city tournament began, DCIAA officials took away one of Spingarn’s league wins, costing the Green Wave the division title and changing the seeding. That decision came after the league learned that Spingarn had violated a DCIAA rule by allowing a player who had been ejected from the team’s Feb. 14 game with Anacostia to sit on the bench during its next game, a 19-point blowout of M.M. Washington.

“Our player didn’t even play. Just sat there. We thought that would be enough, but it wasn’t,” says Spingarn Athletic Director Bruce Williams.

So the tournament’s expected Big Game—Champs of the East vs. Champs of the West, or Spingarn vs. Dunbar—took place in the semifinals. Dunbar won, 68-61.

The by-the-book attitude that cost Spingarn the regular-season title carried over into the tournament’s Dunbar/Cardozo final. Dunbar went on an early tear and led by 11 points halfway through the first quarter, and guard Tre Kelley’s outside shooting had the Crimson Tide’s fans screaming. But the team’s early momentum and the crowd’s excitement were dampened when referees halted play and ordered Kelley out of the game. The reason, according to the official scorekeeper: Kelley’s shirt wasn’t tucked in properly.

Kelley pushed his shirt deeper into his shorts and re-entered the game at the next timeout. But things got even stranger when referees invoked two more shirt-tuck infractions in the first half of the championship and ordered two other Crimson Tide players to the bench. Those ticky-tack rulings, coming in such a huge game for the kids, rivaled Williams’ 3-point barrage as the main topic of discussion in the bleachers.

This has been a season of adults hellbent on “going by the book.” There were the two much-publicized investigations of LeBron James, the first for the Hummer he somehow got for his birthday, the second a look-see into how he was getting his throwback jerseys. And last month, North Carolina school officials launched a statewide investigation of every student player’s attendance record, forcing several teams to forfeit games for suiting up kids who had missed too many classes.

This area has had its share of high-profile forfeitures. Over 20 games this season, no squad topped the record of Friendly High School in Fort Washington, at least not while the clock was running. Yet the official record books now indicate the team went 19-1.The undefeated season earned by the kids was taken away by Prince George’s County officials last week. Turns out that earlier this season, Coach Gerald Moore arranged for his kids to practice against some former local high-school players who had graduated. That violated a county rule prohibiting scrimmages against nonsanctioned teams. So Friendly’s 89-46 victory over DuVal was changed to a loss.

The Friendly players say they’ve ignored the adults’ ruling.

“Everybody knows that nobody beat us,” says Chris Howard, averaging 11 points a game. “We went 20-0. The way we’re looking at it, we only got beat in court, not on the court.”

Good girls also had their accomplishments slimed. Bishop McNamara, the top-ranked team in the Washington Post poll, was ordered to forfeit its game with Elizabeth Seton—a 50-point win for McNamara—after the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference determined that McNamara’s 30-game schedule was one game too many. McNamara Coach Mike Bozeman was suspended from the team for the playoffs.

So in some respects, the Dunbar/Cardozo game had a fitting ending. After the buzzer, referees called two technicals on a Dunbar player as his team was launching into a celebration. He was ordered out of the gym, meaning he wasn’t around when his teammates got their champions’ T-shirts and trophies and had their team picture taken. Coach Lorenzo Roach appealed the ejection, but DCIAA officials upheld it Tuesday. So the player, a senior guard, will not be able to play or even suit up for what would have been the last game of his high-school career: Friday’s match at the Smith Center between Dunbar and Gonzaga, the private-school champion.That’s the rule. —Dave McKenna