In her quest to become a D.C. ski champion, Shawntice Jones must master the snowplow, the slalom course, and pre-algebra.

Photographs by Darrow Montgomery

Shawntice Jones is on the verge of crying. She is lying on a bed of wet, slushy, artificial snow at the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in late January. Around her stands a grove of skinny red poles that articulate a beginner-level slalom course. Shawntice had just come out of the starting gate and was rounding the second pole when she stumbled over an unexpected dip in the terrain. It wasn’t a bad fall. But now, she’s sprawled on the ground with rain pelting her face.

“What a waste,” she says later. “All that practice for nothin’.”

After struggling for a while, Shawntice snaps her skis off and stands up. Clutching her gear, she starts heading for the lodge. By walking away, she’s disqualifying herself.

Her coach, Kevin Fox, doesn’t waste any time catching up with Shawntice.

“You’ve got to go back,” Fox implores her.

Tears start to well in Shawntice’s eyes. “They need to smooth that thing up!” she wails. “That’s why people are fallin’.”

“Just try one more time,” Fox suggests gently. “You worked so hard. If you don’t do this, you’ll go home and you’ll regret it.”

Shawntice has two runs left. If she finishes among the six fastest skiers in her division, she advances to the championships. That’s a big deal, because it means a free return trip in March to the southwestern Pennsylvania retreat, “the fifth-best resort in the East,” complete with bowling alley and swimming pool.

Shawntice’s shoulders sink. She turns around and trudges back up the hill and back into line. At first, she thought it would be like the Olympics, with stands of people lining the sides, cheering her on. Instead, there’s a coach at the starting gate, a couple more at the finish line, another on the side to help fallen skiers. There are no spectators, except her competitors. She says, initially, she was a little disappointed that no one was here to watch, but now that she and several of the competitors have fallen, she says she’s glad the fewest people possible are around to see it.

A 16-year-old sophomore at Cardozo Senior High, Shawntice skied for the first time only a couple weeks ago, on a one-day trip in early January to Liberty Mountain Resort in Carroll Valley, Pa. The closest she had come to skiing before that was when she was little and used to play on her mother’s “body slide” exercise machine.

On the slopes of Seven Springs, Shawntice is performing her own body slides as part of a D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) program started in 1973 by Harold Plummer, then a teacher at Evans Middle School. Plummer, now 60, designed the program to help District athletes stay in Division I colleges beyond the first winter break. One of the problems that brought them home? “Difficulty being around white people all the time,” according to Plummer’s official history of the program.

The program also aims to impart more conventional skills, such as sharing quarters with others and managing money. Plummer has even instituted a journal-keeping requirement, which in Shawntice’s case has produced something of a log on ski-lodge victuals: “The food was okay, but I had a taste for ribs.”

Life skills, though, seem a bit of a luxury right now for a beginner like Shawntice, who is struggling just to stop and turn on a mild slope. That’s all she’s hoping to do as she poles to the starting gate for her second run.

“Three, two, one!”

On the sidelines, halfway down the slope, Fox watches her push off. “Stay cool, Shawntice,” he mutters.

Shawntice begins to weave her way around the poles. She clears the troublesome second gate. Then the third.

“Keep it cool. All right,” says Fox. “Keep it cool. Midway. Nice and easy.”

Shawntice looks a little lopsided heading around the fourth pole, but her legs stay locked in a wedge and she doesn’t roll over. Each turn after that is smoother than the last.

When Shawntice clears the final gate still upright, she looks incredulous, as if she had just flapped her arms and lifted into the air. She pulls over to the side. Fox bounds over and wraps her in a hug. “You didn’t think you could do it! You did it!” he says, patting her on the back. But she’s having trouble walking to the tow lift. Fox instructs her to take off her skis. “Can you undo me?” she asks.

“One turn I was like, ‘Whoa,’ but you kept it,” Fox says as he releases her ski boots.

Shawntice giggles. She’s still smiling as she plops her skis on the ground, snaps them back on, and grabs a handle on the tow lift.

Down at the finish line, the man holding the stopwatch calls out the time for her second run: 33.75 seconds.

Shawntice isn’t sure if her time is good enough to get her into the championships. For the rest of the trip, she tries not to think about it too much.

Shawntice didn’t participate in any school sports before this year. She was a cheerleader for a year in middle school. When she was small, she took swimming and ballet lessons. One reason she suddenly decided to take up skiing was because, she says, “my mom was like, ‘Do something so I can brag to my friends about it.’

“I don’t mind the cold,” she adds. “It’s fun to get away and do something different, something you never did before, something your friends never did. Some people didn’t go because they thought it was stupid. When those colleges start looking at your stuff, then you see if it’s stupid or not. They look at everything.”

Shawntice says she wants to go to college as far away from D.C. as possible and become a nurse or an emergency medical technician. Sometimes she throws “singer” and “actress” on the list too, causing her mom, Debbie Jones, to groan and say, “Oh lord. Pick one.”

Shawntice lives with her mother and her 21-year-old brother, Lewis, in a three-story brown brick apartment building in Columbia Heights, a few blocks away from Shawntice’s school. Her mom has rented the apartment for 14 years. The living room is furnished simply with a couple of couches and a television. One wall is bare except for a photo of Shawntice as an infant with her mom and Lewis. On another wall are her brother’s prom pictures.

Debbie Jones is a DCPS bus attendant. She helps take special-needs kids to school each day. Shawntice’s brother is living with them while he attends Montgomery College. Jones says she raised her two kids mostly by herself, “with God’s help.” Shawntice’s father lives in North Carolina; Shawntice says she hasn’t seen him since she was 14.

Shawntice says she also wanted to join the ski team because of Fox. His geography class was one of the few highlights of her first year at Cardozo.

Just talking about school sends her off on one of her favorite topics: the sorry state of public education in D.C. She complains that kids take too many classes they don’t need, such as gym. “If I’m gonna be fat and overweight and die of a heart attack,” she says, “let me be fat and overweight and die of a heart attack.”

More practical, Shawntice argues, is a seminar from H&R Block: “I ask kids, ‘Can you file taxes?’ and they look at you like, ‘What?’”

Last December, Shawntice started taking boxing lessons at the Midtown Youth Academy on 14th Street. For an hour or two after school, she does push-ups and sit-ups, and punches the heavy bag or the speed bag.

She explains that she wanted to learn how to box after she got into a fight with another girl around Thanksgiving. The girl scratched her face. Shawntice lost control. Before she knew it, she was banging the girl’s head on the cement. Afterward, she went home and cried. “I felt so stupid. I wish I never did it. I said I’d never do that again.”

“I want to control my anger,” Shawntice says. “I used to have a real bad temper. A couple years ago, if you look at me wrong, I’m gonna fight you. Now, I’m like, ‘What’s the point?’ It’s stupid. I never fight for something stupid. You get a real bad reputation that way. People hate on you. You can’t beat up everybody. You can’t learn in life or keep a job if you get attitude on everybody.”

The evening after the qualifying races, Shawntice sits on a bed in the room of her teammate, David Larmore. Shawntice and David, a 17-year-old senior, are the entire roster of Cardozo’s 2002 Alpine Ski Team. Tonight, they’re preoccupied by a pair of used Fubu underwear.

The underwear overshadows the other items strewn about the room: luggage, long johns, and empty carryout containers. And the Fubus are distracting Shawntice from her pre-algebra homework assignment.

Just as she glances at them, Cory, a roommate, walks in.

“Can you take care of that?” Shawntice asks Cory, motioning her foot toward the offending heap. Cory leans down just enough to catch sight of the Fubus. He recoils, spins around, and walks out.

Tim, another roommate, wags a shoe at the drawers, the property of the absent fourth roommate, Wolfgang. “I told Wolfgang to move them joints,” he says, his voice dripping with outrage and disgust. “Them joints be there since we got here.”

No one makes a move to touch the tightie-whities.

“It smells like boy in here,” Shawntice finally says, wrinkling her nose. She endures the eau de boy a few minutes longer, then leaves to find Fox and a more suitable study space.

Dancing around a pair of dropped trou may not resound in the memories of the youth skiers. But it’s not too far off from what Plummer had in mind when he came up with the program, which more than 100 kids, from elementary school to high school, now participate in each year.

“Part of this program is to learn to live in a group,” Plummer explains to the kids one day. “If you go to college and live in a dorm, everyone can’t take a shower [at once]. Everyone can’t use the bathroom. [This trip] is not just about skiing. It’s all about socialization and learning skills to socialize.”

Plummer, now the coordinator of athletics for DCPS, started the ski program after he saw kids he had coached in basketball at Evans Middle School coming home from Division I schools without finishing a year in their sport.

At the time, Plummer had just taken up downhill skiing: He thought that taking kids skiing would be a good way to teach them to cope in a strange environment and to mingle with people of other races and ethnicities.

Not all the territory he exposes them to is unfamiliar. When the three busloads of D.C. kids pour into the McDonald’s in Breezewood, Pa.—about halfway on the four-hour drive to Seven Springs—Shawntice notes that she made the very same stop last sum-

mer, when she went to visit a cousin in jail in


At Seven Springs, the kids adapt quickly to their new surroundings. They share the bowling alley, the swimming pool, and the slopes with tipsy middle managers attending conferences and cranky children vacationing with their parents. They get a little rowdy at times, but for the most part they’re on their best behavior. Plummer keeps the nearly 100 kids on the trip in line by making them do push-ups if they’re late or violate any rules.

Shawntice says the trip is “a cool way to get out of school” and is apparently oblivious to its subtle academic benefits. Plummer lists the skills the kids acquire on the trip in the back of the program’s history. For example, they’re receiving a discreet math lesson when grasping “the cost of lift tickets for skiing,” or “the angle of descent of a slope or hill to control speed.” In the Seven Springs arcade, Shawntice herself performs addition as she counts up how many tickets can get her a necklace at the prize counter.

Plummer explains the journal requirement as practice for telecommuting: “These budgets and logs are vital for you to learn, because when you get out of school, a great deal of work will be done at home or away from the office, so you must keep track of things that you do in order to get paid,” he tells the kids one day.

Shawntice’s journal habits suggest that she may not be cut out for a career in billable hours. Her entries are terse. One day, she writes, “I kinda miss my family,” and puts down her pen, saying, “That’s all I really feel.” She prefers talking to writing, socializing

to socialization.

In fact, before long, Shawntice becomes kind of an honorary member of the Eastern High School ski team. Over the first couple days of the trip, the trials of the bunny slope foster a sense of camaraderie between her and the beleaguered Eastern beginners. The morning of the qualifying race, she walks down to breakfast with a gaggle of them, including Christina Stewart and Arvey Simmons.

“I’m ready to take a nap,” says Christina.

“We have to practice,” Shawntice says, rolling her eyes. “Oh gosh, I just hope if I have to turn, I turn.”

“I’m with you,” says Arvey.

“I’m dreading it,” says Christina.

“I asked Mr. Fox, ‘What if you fall?’” says Shawntice. “Mr. Fox says, ‘You a goner.’”

The day before the qualifying races, Shawntice gets her first chance to practice going through the gates. Her first run, she doesn’t go around the poles, but straight in between them, stopping short of a fence at the bottom of the slope. Afterward, she tells Fox, “I’m not getting into the championships.”

Fox is ever equipped with comebacks to the defeatism of his charges.

“It’s about making your own championships,” he exclaims. Shawntice just stares at him.

For the ski coaches, the four days at Seven Springs boil down to a forensic challenge of sorts: convincing kids that effort is all that matters, that perseverance will pay off in other arenas, and all the other locker-room cliches.

But trying to convince kids that winning and losing don’t matter is itself a losing proposition. They know that winning always feels better.

The winning-isn’t-everything mentality is an especially hard sell to Tierra Graves, an Eastern junior. After she and four teammates fall on their first run at the qualifiers, she breaks out crying. “Everybody messed up,” she sobs. Eastern has a dynasty to reclaim, after all, having won the championships nine times in a row, until Wilson toppled the school from the top spot two years ago with the help of a Swiss exchange student.

Shawntice doesn’t feel so much pressure. She and David are the first team Cardozo has produced in five years. And the team of two has no shot at winning the championships. The other schools have more advanced skiers. They have more skiers in general.

During the trip, hardly anyone can remember what school Shawntice and David are with. They’re easily lost in a crowd like the one that assembles after the qualifiers in the Sunburst Room, a classroomlike meeting space in the bowels of Seven Springs. The kids are here for the awards ceremony. As befits a competition, they split up by school and roughly by quadrant. Shawntice and David sit in the second to last row on the far right, the side occupied by high schools from the western half of D.C. The eastern schools sit on the far left.

Besides being low-visibility, the Cardozo kids are low-key. While the other students mob the time sheets that are posted up front, David stays in his seat. (He says that that way he’ll be more excited when he hears his name called.) Shawntice doesn’t try to elbow into the crowd, either, standing on the periphery for a few seconds chewing on ice from a cup. When she can’t see over the squirming mass in front of her, she goes and sits down with David and Fox.

Winning or losing isn’t really on her mind. Before the ceremony begins, she asks for a piece of paper and a pen. She scribbles a note and delivers it to a pleasant-looking boy from Eastern who is sitting with his team on the other side of the room. Earlier in the day, the boy, Nathan Moore, helped her make it to the bottom of the beginner mountain, and the two returned their skis together.

When she sits back down, Fox pats her hand: “Even if you don’t go to the championship, you get a certificate.”

Plummer announces that this year, the top eight finishers in the beginner category—instead of six, as originally stipulated—will go to the championship round. With that said, he proceeds to bellow out the names: “Tierra Graves. Eastern. Shawntice Jones. Cardozo.”

Fox grabs Shawntice’s hand: “That’s you!”

Shawntice, it turns out, has come in seventh. She’s stunned. She puts her hands over her mouth the way actors who win at the Oscars do. She walks slowly to the podium and falls into Tierra’s arms. David snaps pictures of Fox, who has come to the podium to slip the medal over Shawntice’s head. Fox gives Shawntice a kiss on the cheek. She keeps fanning her face with one hand in disbelief. When she sits down, she twirls her medal and stares at it.

Just before the ceremony ends, Nathan comes sauntering over. But instead of congratulations, he bears a small, folded-up piece of paper, which he drops in Shawntice’s lap.

Debbie Jones says later that when Shawntice came home with the news that she’d made it to the championships, she was amazed. “I said, ‘Oh my God. You got some skills,’” Jones says. She adds that she got on the phone to her friends immediately to brag.

David has made it as well, taking first place in the novice category—a minor miracle given that he fell during his second run, reinjuring a leg he had hurt a few days earlier when he crashed into a light pole. His leg hurt so badly he didn’t complete his third run.

A couple of days after Shawntice returns to D.C., she calls Nathan—the two traded phone numbers—but discovers that things between them have cooled. “He’s more friend material than boyfriend material,” she says. She’s not concerned, though. Within weeks, she has a new boyfriend.

Shawntice talks about him as she sits in a Burger King on Georgia Avenue after school one day at the end of February. Usually she spends her afternoons chilling with friends or talking with them on the phone. Sometimes, they go to City Place Mall in Silver Spring, Md., or Union Station. But today, her friends have gone home already. Some of them had to be home at a certain time, she explains. Others just went home because “it’s jack cold.”

Shawntice says she can’t reveal her boyfriend’s name because he doesn’t want to be in the newspaper. “I really love this one,” she says, shoving fries between the bun and patty of her Whopper with bacon. “I want to keep him for a long time.”

Shawntice describes her boyfriend as having a medium build with lots of muscles. He’s older. He doesn’t go to school. He just works. Her boyfriend is also a vegetarian. He doesn’t eat beef and he doesn’t eat pork—which is fine with her because that way, “I don’t have to share my pork chops.”

“My boyfriend’s always telling me, ‘You should be on honor roll,’ but I’m not gonna do that,” she says, twirling one of her new long braids. Shawntice says she and her boyfriend and his aunt are planning to go on a cruise this summer in the Caribbean. She says she doesn’t want to go any later than July because it’s hurricane season. She can’t wait though. She flutters her eyes and her voice gets all dreamy. “It’ll be so romantic,” she says. “I mean, I get to see him a lot. But you know, when I’m at home I gotta go to school, and he has to work. But when you’re on vacation, you can be together all the time.”

Shawntice is supposed to go to summer school for English. If she takes summer school, she says, she can be a junior next year. But she’s not sure if she wants to go to summer school now. She might want to work. Then there’s the cruise.

She says she stopped boxing recently to focus more on school. Her second advisory period grades are coming in soon. She has recently been written up by one of her teachers, who thought she had been skipping class. She says she wasn’t skipping class; she just forgot what lunch period she had.

Shawntice says she’s really looking forward to the upcoming ski championships. “I hope I can still go. I hope nothing comes up to keep me from going.”

The day before the championship races, the mercury hits the 60s at Seven Springs. The snow is so wet and slow that it’s almost impossible to fall. The conditions embolden the beginners, especially the girls from Eastern who cried through the beginner qualifiers. Eyeing the terrain during practice, Tierra declares, “We got this.”

Even the middle-school kids are acting a little more brazen this trip. “Mr. Plummer should do push-ups. He’s always late to his own meetings,” one of them quips. “Everybody’s afraid of Mr. Plummer. I could go to Kmart and get my own trophy. Sheeet.”

Shawntice would chuckle if she heard this. But she isn’t around. Not for the races, not for the awards ceremony. She needed a 2.0 grade-point average to stay on the ski team, but she got F’s in math and world history for the school’s second advisory period.

She knows what she’s missing: She could be bowling with Fox until curfew. Or going snow tubing with the kids from Eastern and gaping at topless tubers. She would get a kick out of the elementary-school kids crashing a party in the Dunbar boys’ room. Or she could cheer David up after he wipes out on all three of his runs. Cardozo reaps not a single point in the competition.

“There’s always next year,” Shawntice tells herself.

While the kids are loading onto the buses to return home, trophies and medals in tow, Shawntice is standing in a line outside the Lincoln Ballroom of the Holiday Inn in Silver Spring. She’s come to audition for Model Search America, a model scouting company. Around her, skinny teenage and tweenage girls lean up against the wall, nervously fixing their hair or tugging at what little clothes they wear: Bellies are exposed; bosoms are shrink-wrapped. By comparison, Shawntice looks chaste in a denim skirt that nearly brushes the floor, a long-sleeved jacket, and a coffee-colored turtleneck.

As she stands in line, Shawntice jokes that she will refuse to sign autographs from former acquaintances. She reckons she’ll have to fend them off after they see her on television, after the talent scouts from Model Search America give her her big break.

Shawntice saw the signs for the open call at school. Just a couple days ago, she says, she was praying to God to make her an actress. “I just want to be famous,” she says. “I’ve wanted to be famous my entire life.” Praying is part of the new leaf she’s turning over. “I need to make some changes in my life,” she notes. She says she’s going to go to church more regularly this summer and attend summer school.

She decided on her makeover after she found out that she wasn’t going to the championships. Aside from receiving failing grades, she served an in-school suspension for being late to school too many times. She says when she’s not in class, she’s at home or with friends who plead with her to hang out with them. “My friends have been keeping me off-track,” she says.

On top of everything else, Shawntice and her boyfriend broke up over the weekend. He told her that she acted like a little girl too much and threw her out of his house. She’s been crying a lot ever since. “What does that mean?” she says, still irate. “Because I’m goofy sometimes? A lot of people act goofy.”

Everything will be different when she’s a star. “As soon as he sees me on TV, my father will be in my life again,” she says, waiting to be seen by a model scout. “And I’ll say, ‘Where have you been all these years? No birthday cards. No money.’”

After a half-hour, she finally comes face to face with Model Search America founder and president David Mogull, a balding blond guy in a gray shirt and a gray suit. As he reads off her registration form between rapid chews of gum, she does her best to smile. “Shawntice Jones,” says Mogull. “Five-six, 170 pounds. What size do you wear?”

“Fourteen,” she replies.

“Excellent!” he says, marking her sheet with a flourish.

“He’s so cute,” Shawntice says of the gum-smacking Mogull as she takes a seat. “He knew my name, too! Most people call me Shante or Shawnice.”

In a few minutes, Mogull and his fellow scout will call out the names of everyone they decide they “can’t work with today” and ask them to leave.

“I hope I don’t get dismissed,” Shawntice says, wringing her hands. “Do you think he’ll dismiss me? He said, ‘Excellent.’” If she makes it, she says, the first thing she’ll do is go by her ex-boyfriend’s.

About 15 minutes later, Mogull begins reading the rejectees off a pile of white forms. The second one he calls is Shawntice Jones. When Shawntice hears her name shouted out so summarily, she slumps. Her eyes become watery, but she doesn’t cry. “I quit,” she says, walking out of the hotel. “I’m not going to try being famous anymore.”CP

SIDEBAR: Best in Snow

On a foggy day at Seven Springs, a gray figure weaves his way down one of the more advanced slopes. As he flies off the last mogul, he makes a short stop right in front of Heather Pultz, a coach with School Without Walls.

“Francois,” Pultz inquires, “can you help me with my moguls later?”

“Me help you?” he asks.

Pultz nods.

He shrugs. “OK.”

Francois De Wrangel, a Belgian exchange student at School Without Walls, has taken on a mythic standing of sorts at this year’s D.C. Public School (DCPS) ski championships. The reputation starts with skills: De Wrangel is the only student skier who has mastered moguls, and he schusses down the mountain with textbook form.

But the Brussels native also packs the intangibles. He speaks broken English with a French inflection, like ’60s Olympic champion Jean-Claude Killy. (When asked how slushy snow affects race conditions, he explains, “The snow is—how you say?—less fast.”) The Belgian has been the talk of coaches’ meetings leading up to the competition. Even at Seven Springs, Pultz never tires of reminding everyone that “Francois has skied the Alps, you know.”

Walls, a school of artsy brainiacs where Pilates counts as phys ed, will never be a competitor for the city’s football or basketball titles. Skiing, though, seems to fit. In addition to De Wrangel, Walls has:

* Sophomore Lillian Gerts, a recent arrival from Utah whom Pultz calls the “Stormin’ Mormon”;

* Freshman David Olmsted, last year’s top middle-school skier, who is on loan from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts;

* Dance and body-conditioning teacher Pultz, a new addition to the coaching staff, who grew up 40 minutes from Seven Springs and has skied there since age 4.

De Wrangel isn’t the first European talent to upset the balance of power in the DCPS ski program. Two years ago, a Swiss exchange student gave Wilson the edge it needed to defeat Eastern, which had monopolized the D.C. Interscholastic Athletics Association high school championship for the previous nine years. The Swiss graduated soon after, but Wilson managed to hold on to the championship title last year without him.

Although the coaches and kids take winning seriously, the competition isn’t exactly fierce. “There was more animosity between Wilson and Eastern last year,” says Eastern senior Monita DeWalt. “We had a lot of spirit. We had cheers. Everybody looked at us like, ‘Who do you think you are?’ The kids would be hating on us. They’d say things like, ‘Your shirt is sticking out, you got to do push-ups.’”

The Belgian ringer, though, glides over interscholastic rivalries. Despite his superior skills, he doesn’t brag or show off. The closest he comes is when asked how Seven Springs compares with the Alps. “At home, it take like 20 minutes to come down the mountain,” he replies. “Here it take like nine.”

The Belgian also doesn’t share the giddy delight of many of his fellow travelers over bubble-gum-flavored slush puppies or an 11:30 p.m. curfew. While others frolic, he prefers to stay in his room and smoke.

Back in Washington, at least one of his teachers has caught De Wrangel at a cafe when he should have been in class. Spotted recently on a Metro bus at 11 a.m. on a school day, the Belgian explained his absence from school by saying, “I had stuff to do.” You can hardly blame him for treating his sojourn in the States like a prolonged spring break. At 18, he’s within his rights, and he’s already graduated from high school in Brussels.

At Seven Springs, the Belgian chafes a bit at the strictures that program founder Harold Plummer imposes on the student skiers. When Plummer calls on De Wrangel to read from his journal, the Belgian looks up from his college biology text—he’s studying to be a doctor—and swiftly plucks a booklet from under the nose of his neighbor, ignoring whispered protests. As he waits to speak, he quickly jots down a couple of entries, which he then reads aloud. Plummer is none the wiser.

The Belgian is more patient as an instructor than as a student. In addition to helping Pultz, he takes Pakpoom “Ya” Thitirojanowat,

a Thai exchange student at Walls, under his wing.

Until a couple weeks before the qualifiers, Ya had never seen snow in his life. The 17-year-old senior burst into tears when he first saw the size of the mountain at Seven Springs. But after a couple days on the slopes with De Wrangel, Ya performs parallel turns like a pro. By the championships, he is skiing black-diamond trails.

Ya has become so proficient that some coaches gripe when he enters the qualifiers as a beginner. They can’t complain too loudly, though. Having students compete at a level beneath their ability is a common strategy among coaches, one that is perfectly legal as long as the student hasn’t competed in that category at the secondary school level before.

At the qualifiers, Ya takes second, sparking an obsession with winning gold. In the month or so leading up to the championships, he watches the Olympics, studying every slalom event for racing tips. When he arrives at Seven Springs, he trades in his poles for longer ones, so that he can plant and push off better. At practice, Ya starts to charge the gates, risking a head injury each time the poles snap back. He even starts to talk trash. When a boy from Dunbar asks Ya to teach him some moves the day before the championship races, Ya replies, “I don’t teach you, because I going to beat you.”

Despite all the practice, however, Ya places second again. The boy from Wilson who takes first says he can’t believe he’s beaten the Thai ski prodigy. Walls coach Alejandro Ramos considers lodging a formal protest over alleged timing irregularities—perhaps inspired by the Canadian figure skaters at the Olympics. But by the time the celebratory buffet rolls around later that evening, Ya says he accepts the stopwatch’s verdict.

De Wrangel has a less contentious time of it, beating his opponents by almost an entire second—an eternity in the world of Seven Springs alpine competition. His victory is enough to push Walls into second, ahead of Woodson and Dunbar. (Last year, Woodson missed the events because one of its coaches screwed up the date for the championships.) Wilson, however, is the champ for the third year in a row. Eastern finishes a dismal fifth. The only school Eastern beats is Cardozo, which comes in dead last. CP

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.