Kicking the Can
Opinion: "The mayor has a love affair with the Redskins, world cycling and baseball in the Bottom. Now maybe it’s time to learn from Russell Wilson."BY CAROL A.O. WOLF
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There are important lessons to be learned in the aftermath of the Super Bowl championship. You probably know by now that Russell Wilson, quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks — whose team crushed the Denver Broncos — grew up in Richmond, attended Collegiate School for 13 years and graduated in 2007.
Let's hope the members of the Richmond School Board and City Council, along with Mayor Dwight C. Jones and his staff, have their eyes on the ball.
Amidst the well-deserved post-victory celebration and adulation of a hometown kid making the big leagues, an article in Sporting News delivers the proverbial smack upside the head to Richmond officials. It quotes Charlie McFall, Wilson's coach at Collegiate, recalling what happened when the city public schools started angling for Russell to transfer from Collegiate as a ninth-grader.
The article recounts Wilson's father going to McFall's office and saying, "Let me tell you something: I didn't put Russell in Collegiate for sports, I put Russell in Collegiate to get the best education he could get."
What the elder Wilson, who died in 2010, didn't need to explicitly state — because there are plentiful facts that prove it — is that Richmond public schools provide neither the best education nor a decent sports program that could help train his son, or any other children, to become champions.
Given Hizzoner's $10 million-plus love affair with the Redskins, the UCI Road World Championships coming to town in 2015, and his relentless quest to manipulate Richmond taxpayers into paying for an $80 million-plus baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, some people might bet that Jones and his staff understand the importance of sports in our society and in the lives of young people.
That would be a losing bet, my friends.
Why is it that the city of Richmond neglects to invest in decent athletic programs for our students? After-school sports with the parks and rec department don't really cut it. Why is it that in the city that was Arthur Ashe's hometown, we have no competitive tennis for our young people? Why is it that we don't have students training a team to participate in the bicycling championships? Why is it that in our comprehensive high-school athletic facilities, our kids are forced to make do with old, worn-out equipment?
At one point, City Councilman Chris Hilbert and I, serving as a School Board member, had to find money to buy a washer and dryer for John Marshall High School. It turns out the machines were beyond repair and the coach's wife was taking uniforms home to wash.
Why is it that the $10 million-plus Redskins training facility, which our tax dollars purchased, sits unused 49 weeks of the year, and our high-school students aren't allowed to practice or play games there? Hilbert tells me that Economic Development Authority representatives claim Richmond's high-school coaches "can't get along," and that the authority decided it wasn't worth the trouble.
Really? Why would the Economic Development Authority be navigating the issue of relationships among high-school coaches instead of involving School Board members or the new Superintendent Dana Bedden?
The Washington Redskins, the second-richest NFL franchise team with a value of $1.7 billion, offered only $100,000 through their foundation to help John Marshall High School put in a synthetic turf football field. And then made that grant conditional upon the cash-strapped district raising $100,000 of its own.
Councilman Hilbert spent Christmas season 2012 at the Medical College of Virginia, alternating between his wife's hospital bed and the hallway, where the mayor's staff lobbied for his vote to support the great Redskins-Bon Secours giveaway of the Westhampton school building, arguably the schools' most valuable piece of real estate. Hilbert held out for concessions that promised some much-needed funding to improve the athletic programs and conditions of our sports facilities.
And, yet, School Board members say they haven't received any of that promised money.
Evidently, Hilbert got played. City Council got played. We all got played.
Promises made. Promises forgotten.
If the mayor ever wants to have any bragging rights about one of Richmond Public Schools' students making it to the NFL and winning a Super Bowl championship, he must invest in our young — not grab school properties and use them as bargaining chips to anchor his latest development deal.
Unless — and until — School Board and City Council members are willing to push back and invest, as Russell Wilson's father did, in the academic and athletic excellence of our children, their only legacy will be that they talked about it, and then did nothing. S
Carol A.O. Wolf is a former newspaper reporter who served on the Richmond School Board from 2002 to 2008. She writes regularly about the Richmond Public Schools at saveourschools-getrealrichmond.blogspot.com.