School's true colors absent in sports


Dec. 20, 2001, midnight | By Liam Bowen | 19 years, 1 month ago

Two-thirds of varsity sports teams at Blair are dominated by one racial or ethnic group


Do you Remember the Titans—the T.C. Williams High School football team that won a state championship in 1971 and was famous for its diversity? Did you catch the sappy Disney movie? Blair athletics apparently missed the flick. Despite being an incredibly diverse school, Blair houses sports teams that are several colors short of a rainbow.

Of the 21 varsity sports teams at Blair, 14 have a dominant race or races. For a school without a dominant race itself, 14 is a staggering number, certainly outside the realm of random chance. Other forces have to be at work.

This is not, however, a story about some sort of administrative conspiracy. There is no evidence that any coach at this school uses race as a criterion when choosing players for his or her team. What is going on at Blair reflects a greater social problem. Nationwide, certain sports have become associated with certain races, a fact that likely discourages other students from participating and deprives teams of quality athletes.

Nowhere is this more evident than in two of Blair's major sports, baseball and boys' basketball. Last year, the baseball squad was an all-white team except for two players, neither of whom started. All of the Blazers who pitched during the season were white. Early indications are that with the graduation of one of last year's minority players, the varsity baseball team may be down to one for the 2002 season.

The influx of Hispanic ball players at the professional level makes the Blair team's lack of minorities even more surprising. According to latinobaseball.com, there are 90 current major leaguers from the Dominican Republic alone, an all-time high. At Blair, however, none of the school's nearly 800 Hispanics played for last year's varsity baseball team.

On the other end of the spectrum, last year's 15-9 boys' basketball team had one white player, a reserve who saw few minutes. Anyone who watched a Blair basketball game and knew nothing else about the school could only have concluded that blacks vastly outnumber whites in the halls. In fact, the margin between blacks and whites at Blair is about 90 students. This year, the team doubled its white membership, but still starts five black players.

Baseball and basketball are not alone. Black and Hispanic players dominate the football team. Lacrosse is largely a white sport, as is field hockey. All three volleyball programs—girls', boys' and co-ed—are heavily Asian. The only thing that separates these race-specific sports, other than the different dominant races, is what makes them so homogeneous.

The root of the problem

For some programs, the dominance of one race is a new phenomenon. According to baseball coach John MacDonald, the program was about one-third Hispanic during the first half of the 1990s. The vast majority of these players were Nicaraguan. Around the middle of the last decade, Blair's Nicaraguan population shrunk drastically while the number of El Salvadorans attending the school skyrocketed. For the last six years, these students have shown little interest in playing baseball. "There is no baseball in El Salvador; it is a soccer-oriented country. In Nicaragua, baseball is their game," says MacDonald.

Other sports somehow get associated with one ethnic group, which discourages other students from playing. Shooting guard Josh Richardson, one of the two white players on this year's basketball team, feels the number of black students in the sport pushes whites away. "White kids get intimidated because so many black guys play basketball. It is difficult for some people to be the only person of their race on the court," he says.

Still, other programs lack diversity because of the costly nature of the sport. Defenseman David Chachere, one of two black players on the lacrosse team, feels the cost of playing the sport keeps minorities who have fewer resources away. "The price of a good stick, helmet, pads and cleats restricts the number of minorities that can participate, whereas games like soccer and basketball cost a lot less," he says.

Senior Isaiah Plair, who is black and does not participate in varsity athletics but regularly plays pick-up basketball, echoes Chachere's sentiments. "Kids don't play some of these sports because it costs too much. With basketball, all you need is a ball. Sometimes you don't even need that because somebody at the park already has one," he says. Plair adds that he might try golf or lacrosse if the sports were not so costly.

Backlash

Having racially divided sports teams has two main consequences. First, the kind of racial coming together seen in Remember the Titans does not happen. Sports has long been seen as a common ground where the different races can relate to each other more easily than in other social situations. "There is never any color line in athletics. True athletes do not see race, they see ability," says head football coach James Short.

Also, good athletes are discouraged from playing for teams that desperately need them. Sports like football demand as many good athletes as one school can possibly offer. This year's football team, which included over 40 players, had only five white members. This means that Blair's white population, 30 percent of the school, contributed just 12 percent of the team's players.

The football program is almost certainly missing out on quality white athletes. According to offensive lineman Chris Giovanniello, one of the team's few whites, these athletes are not staying away because of any reverse discrimination. "There is no racism or anything like that on the team. Anybody who can play is accepted by the group," he says.

Blair's good example

Not all Blair teams are monopolized by a single race. Soccer, the most ethnically diverse sport in the United States, according to Jay Coakley, author of Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies, is also highly heterogeneous in this school, especially on the boys' side.

This year's varsity team was virtually equal parts white, black and Hispanic. The girls' team, while composed of more whites than the boys', received significant contributions from several minority players.

The wrestling team that went 13-1 last year, rivaled soccer in its diversity. It is the only team at Blair with significant representation of all four major racial groups, whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. This year's squad promises to be just as diverse and, with a bit of luck, just as successful.

It appears that most Blair sports teams have forgotten the Titans. Even more distressing is that the problem is not confined to Four Corners. In fact, 30 years after their historic state championship, not even the Titans remember the Titans.

The 2001 edition of the T.C. Williams football team had six white players on a roster of 42, a far cry from the mixed group in the movie. This is in Alexandria, Virginia, a town that is 60 percent white. The latest Titans were not quite silver-screen material on the field either, struggling through a winless season.

The shortage of white athletes, pathetic play and lack of resemblance to the movie team were all touched on in an Oct 15 Sports Illustrated article, "What Ever Happened to the Titans?" In the article, senior Josh Freeman, one of the football team's few white players, says, "Most of the white kids around here wouldn't even think of coming out for football. They think it is a black sport."

Freeman was talking about football at T.C. Williams. He might not know Montgomery Blair High School from a hole in the ground. Nevertheless, a couple substitutions in his statement, just changing the race and sport, and he could be talking about an alarming number of Blair's teams.



Tags: print

Liam Bowen. Liam Bowen has loved sports, baseball in particular, since he saw Jeff Ballard pitch for the Orioles in the late-80s. When he isn't on the beat, Bowen ties up his daytimes with his misguided and entirely unrealistic dream to play some sort of advanced baseball … More »

Show comments


Comments

No comments.


Please ensure that all comments are mature and responsible; they will go through moderation.