One of the most enduring dynasties in schoolboy sports history goes on display tonight in the championship game for the DCIAA, Washington’s public school sports league. Barring rain and/or the end of days, Wilson High School will win its 26th consecutive DCIAA baseball title. Even more bizarre: With a win today, Wilson will have gone 20 seasons without a single DCIAA loss.
(UPDATE, 9:45 p.m.: They won. And didn’t even bother celebrating.)
Yes, nobody on the Wilson team this year was even alive the last time the Tigers lost to another city school.
Some crazy stats:
- Eddie Saah, the coach when Wilson’s DCIAA diamond domination began, had a 210-1 record in league games in his last 16 years of running the program.
- Wilson’s last league loss came to Dunbar, 5-4, in a 1999 regular season game, which ended a winning streak of more than seven seasons, meaning Wilson has lost just one single game to another D.C. public school in 26 seasons.
- In 1997, Saah’s team won every DCIAA game by the slaughter rule, which compels umps to end any game where a team is winning by 10 runs or more.
- In 2008, Saah’s last season before retiring, Wilson outscored league opponents 146-10.
- The two Wilson coaches since Saah’s retirement, Eddie Smith (2009-2011) and James Silk (2012-present) haven’t lost any league games.
There is no sign the intracity dominance is waning.: According to MaxPreps.com, a clearinghouse for scholastic sports stats, Wilson outscored DCIAA opponents 168-1 during the 2018 regular season. Along with its longevity, the most startling thing about Wilson’s winning binge is the utter absence of joy it has brought anybody for a long time.
“Most of our games are called after three to five innings because of the score,” Mitch Gore, Wilson’s athletic director since 2010, told me a few years ago. “We’ll be up 20 runs, and we’re bunting to get the outs just to finish the game. That’s not fun.”
Pleasurelessness pervaded Wilson’s Wednesday win over McKinley, which earned the Tigers a spot in the DCIAA finals. Wilson didn’t even play its top player, Collin Bosley Smith, a sophomore infielder who has already committed to Duke. When umpires called the game because of time with Wilson officially ahead, 7-2, there was no celebration from players or coaches or the few parents who showed up to watch the playoff matchup.
“It’s kind of sad, really,” one Wilson father said as he waited for his son, whose team had, again, just earned a spot in the city championship.
The lopsided landscape of D.C. youth baseball, and the related anhedonia, can to some degree be explained as a case of haves and have nots. Wilson is definitely the richest and whitest public high school in the Nation’s Capital. And its current facilities are the envy of at least some of its DCIAA confederates.
During the playoff game, I spoke about the state of D.C. baseball with John Capozzi, a longtime political activist in the city as well as a parent of a McKinley baseball player. Early in the conversation, he pointed to the batting cage and pitching machine at Fort Reno Park, Wilson’s home field.
“They’ve got a cage and a machine,” Capozzi said. “McKinley doesn’t even have a baseball field. Wilson players can practice hitting whenever they want. [McKinley] didn’t have one batting practice session before the season started. I swear there’s people on our team that have never been to a batting cage.”
While Wilson always had access to Fort Reno, right across the street from its campus in upper Northwest D.C., McKinley played its home games at four different fields throughout the season, none of which are that close to the school, located in the city’s Northeast quadrant. Wilson has 51 players playing on its varsity, JV and freshman squads; no other DCIAA school fields anything other than a varsity team. McKinley had, by my count, 11 players dressed for the playoff game.
But it’s more a story about a school system that doesn’t give any obvious damn about baseball. For many years even since the streak started, Wilson baseball had to make due with an embarrassing lack of amenities.
The field at Fort Reno wasn’t available until 2010, and it is located on federal land, not city-owned property, and is controlled by the National Park Service. Before that, the Tigers played baseball games on the school’s football field, which abuts Nebraska Avenue NW, a busy thoroughfare.
The biggest problem with the gridiron set-up was that right field ended only 180 feet from home plate. That required gimmicky ground rules to be put in place: Any fly ball that went down the right-field line and onto Nebraska Ave was declared a single, and anything over the fence in right-center earned a double.
And the usable batting cage at Fort Reno that makes other schools drool wasn’t installed until 2016, and mainly because of the generosity of local youth baseball leagues. If the matter was left up only to DC schools and DCIAA officials, there’s every chance the Tigers would still be playing with no right field and no batting cage.
Several DCPS schools other than McKinley also don’t have a baseball field on campus. But one of the field-less schools, Anacostia High, was able to use Nationals Youth Baseball Academy (site of tonight’s championship game), a complex in Southeast DC affiliated with the local MLB team that has several turf fields and state-of-the-art equipment, as its home park. Even with access to such grand digs, Anacostia baseball still stinks, too: The MaxPreps database has Anacostia winless on the season. But there’s worse: Shayne Wells, press secretary for DCPS, confirms that Coolidge High, a school in the Takoma section of town, didn’t even bother fielding a team this year.
It’s not Wilson’s fault that the city school system shows contempt for baseball, of course. The competition gap is problematic for the coaches and administrators, too. They go to great lengths to escape the awfulness of the game played in most of the city. They’ve arranged a preseason team trip, for example, to the Dominican Republic, a place where baseball is a religion among youngsters. And for years Gore has loaded the Tigers’ regular season schedule with games against private schools in the city and public schools from the suburbs who take baseball more seriously. The quest for estimable opponents sometimes leads to craziness. On Monday, for example, the Wilson team played and won its DCIAA quarterfinal game at 4 p.m. at Fort Reno, then hopped on a school bus and rode 30 miles through the region’s crazy rush-hour traffic to make a 7:30 p.m. game with Westfield High, a Northern Virginia school with a strong baseball pedigree (Westfield alums include Brandon Snyder, a 2005 first round pick of the Baltimore Orioles who is in Tampa Bay Rays organization this year, and Justin Bour, a first baseman for the Miami Marlins). Westfield won, 4-3.
In the DCIAA championship game, Wilson will face the School Without Walls (SWW), a magnet institution that could also be called School Without a Home Field: SWW was one of four league schools that this season shared an offsite home, Maury Wills Field. The park is named in honor of former Los Angeles Dodger great Maury Wills, who attended Cardozo High School in the 1950s, a time when schoolboy baseball in the city was a much more serious endeavor.