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Thursday, May 30, 2013

As MacFarland Middle School closes, so ends a memorable DC SCORES chapter

Last Friday was no different from my dozens of other DC SCORES Game Day experiences at MacFarland Middle School.

By the time I biked north to the Ward 4 school, I wished I had brought a sweatshirt. Forget the fact that it's late May in Washington, DC — Friday afternoons have ALWAYS been windy and chilly at MacFarland. This was no exception.

During the girls game between MacFarland and Chavez Prep, I performed my normal task of asking students watching to not stand directly behind the MacFarland goal chatting with — and distracting — the goalkeeper. 

And, as usual, I heard the bellowing bilingual Sergio Luna ("Coach Luna") urging on his Crusaders to push the ball up the field and get back on defense. 

I had experienced all this several times during the past three years.

What made Friday different, however, was that it marked MacFarland's last DC SCORES Game Day.

After the school year, MacFarland is one of 12 District of Columbia schools closing. DC SCORES programs at Davis and M.C. Terrell elementary schools and Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson will also cease as the schools' doors are closed. 

The hope is that many misplaced students will end up at neighboring schools with our after-school program intact, but the reality is that many will no longer have access to our Arts/Academic/Athletics model.

Thinking back on my experiences at MacFarland, that's an incredibly sad truth.

Over the past three and a half years, I've spent more middle school game days shivering on the sideline at MacFarland than at any other school. I've seen the soccer teams grow in size and in togetherness. I've seen a team go from chaotic and everyone for themselves in the fall to playing for the middle school championship at Jamboree! in June.

I'll never forget the faces of Kevin, Keon, Sarah and so many others who have grown tremendously as Crusaders because of DC SCORES.

Most memorably, I'll fondly remember the Crusaders exuberantly participating in the ASCAP Songwriter Residency @ America SCORES in the fall of 2010 when they worked with a band to create and record their own original song, "Pass you the Ball." 

Watch the video. I've done so dozens of times and it never gets old. 

Out of that experience, the Crusaders took the song to the Poetry Slam! that fall and performed it flawlessly to win first place among middle schools. Then a group of students dressed up and performed the hit song at our Inspired Art Gala fundraiser in the spring. 

The chemistry developed working together on creating and recording a song — no easy task! — translated to the soccer field, where I watched teammates share the ball more often and provide positive reinforcement in place of negative criticism.

The DC SCORES program, which began at MacFarland in 2007, became stronger and stronger and had an indelible impact on the entire school community.

Former writing coach Genia Rosenblum was around the students every day and witnessed the impact the writing sessions and soccer practices had on students.

"DC SCORES is not just another after-school program," Rosenblum said while at MacFarland. "It's a reason for my students to come to school. It's their motivation to keep their grades up. With DC SCORES, they learn how to win and lose, express themselves, and they spend their time doing positive activities. 

"When someone scores a goal, we all score a goal."

It sounds cliche, but it's true. And such was the case last week, as I took in a final MacFarland game day. It was cold. And the wind was howling. But during a tense 0-0 girls game, students on the Crusaders sideline 'oohed' and jumped up and down every time a scoring chance was just missed. 

On the field, MacFarland played as one —best exemplified by a play during the second half when a handful of defenders combined to stop a prime scoring chance for Chavez Prep. They built a wall in front of the goal.

When I asked the poet-athletes about playing their last DC SCORES game as a MacFarland Crusader, many were oblivious to the fact and instead asked me about the upcoming Jamboree! season-ending celebration. But they displayed the energy and effort of a team playing out the final minutes of a final season.

The boys game was equally intense as the girls, with a wealth of scoring chances on both ends and the defenses holding strong. MacFarland held off Chavez's offensive attack until the final minute, when a perfect shot found the bottom corner of the goal. It was a heartbreaking way to end the season, but minutes later the Crusaders were already thinking about their next chance to play games together at Jamboree!.

And there was this from Kevin, a long-time program participant who has always greeted me with a handshake and a smile when I visit the school:

"They're still gonna remember DC SCORES when they shut (the school) down."

Amen to that.

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