Darcy Rader, an eighth-grader at Deal Junior High School, worked hard to prepare for her big race. She dragged herself out of bed to run before school and pushed herself at indoor track practices in the afternoon. Then came the big day: the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) Junior High School Indoor Track Championship on Jan. 22. Rader crouched at the starting line alongside seven competitors. Five hundred meters later, she crossed the finish line in first place.

When she reached the winner’s circle, though, Rader walked away with the same thing that every contestant in the race received: nothing. No ribbon, no plastic medal, not even a flimsy paper certificate. “It wasn’t fair that we train really hard and work our butts off and don’t get our medals,” Rader says.

Outstanding athletes in District schools have only memories to show for their athletic feats. According to DCPS assistant athletic director Patricia Briscoe, the system has yet to bestow awards on participants in fall and winter sports for this school year. Students and parents, who are all too familiar with the politics of scarcity in the school system, are outraged. “When a kid competes, they need to have something to show for it,” says Jimmy Green, who has two children on the Deal track team and an older child who runs for Woodrow Wilson Senior High. “Give them a ribbon or a certificate—something they can keep to prove that they did in fact win something. What about the kid who might not ever win another medal in their whole life?”

Blame for DCPS’s undecorated athletes, say school administrators, rests with the city’s favorite municipal bogeyman: the control board. “The reason why we have no medals is because of the new requisition and procurement rules set by the control board, along with the fact that the athletic department didn’t get funding until December,” says Dr. Allen Chinn, DCPS athletic director.

Chinn claims that last year he ordered medals on his own but got reprimanded by higher-ups for not going through the proper requisition channels. “[W]e have a new procurement officer, budget constraints, and, with the control board being the new sheriff in town, I can’t buy anything unless I go through the proper procurement procedures.”

“I should have an account so I can pay the bills myself,” says Chinn.

Ribbonless DCPS track stars are news to Ed Stephenson, the recently fired chief financial officer for DCPS. “This is the first time I heard about this,” says Stephenson. The procurement rules, says Stephenson, have been on the books for years, but only recently has the control board enforced them. All school principals maintain small accounts on which they can draw for athletic awards and other incidentals, adds Stephenson.

Before the schools shell out for blue ribbons and trophies, though, they apparently need more funds just to organize competitions. A track event scheduled to be held at Spingarn High School this past fall was canceled because the cross-country course was indecipherable. Runners were headed all over the neighborhood, and there were no officials to keep the athletes on course.

“You come not to expect much from D.C., but you can still have fun,” says Archie Ingersoll, a member of Deal’s track and field team. CP