Looking good, feeling good

On High Schools

High Schools

November 22, 2005|By MILTON KENT

Zhondria Benn stood at halfcourt at Western last week near a group of microphones, looked over her new basketball uniform and declared it a winner in every detail, even down to the length of the shorts.

"The shorts aren't too small," said Benn, a second-team All-Metro forward last year. "They [the uniform makers] assume that girls want little shorts. No, girls like to play basketball in big shorts. They're perfect."

Benn and girls from 18 other city high school teams will all receive perfect shorts, jerseys and warm-up or "shooter" shirts to don this season, courtesy of the Ravens All Community Team Foundation.

The jersey tops have each the school's nickname across the front, with a school color across each strap of the shirt. The shorts have a stripe on the side with a small Ravens logo high on one leg. And the shooter shirts are in a solid color with the school's name across the front.

Besides being functional, the new uniforms look nice.

"The material is a lot better and it looks better," said Britni Lonesome, a senior guard at Poly. "And if you look better, you play better. That's what I say."

Actually, Billy Crystal's "Fernando" character from the Saturday Night Live of about 20 years ago was the first to say that it is always better to look good than to feel good, but the idea comes through loud and clear.

On the face of it, the donation of sports uniforms by a business is pretty commonplace. Youth sports organizations could hardly make do unless a local garage or pizza palace or some sort of store wasn't willing to pony up some dough to see its name emblazoned across the front of an 8-year-old's baseball shirt.

However, this sort of thing doesn't happen much on the public high school level and for understandable reasons on both ends. The school systems don't want to be beholden to a particular business and a single business doesn't have enough disposable cash, generally speaking, to affect an entire school system, much less more than one system.

But what happens where there are critical needs, as exist in the Baltimore City school system. Just last month, the school board, which has already consolidated and closed some schools, voted to cut operating space by 2.7 million square feet over the next three years, a move that will almost certainly mean more school closings.

In the midst of all that turmoil, paying for new sports uniforms may seem like an extravagance, even an obscenity to some. Perhaps, but that's where good corporate neighbors like the Ravens come in, to ease the burden, ever so slightly, where needed.

Having already outfitted the city's football teams, the Ravens came through to give the girls who play the highest-profile sport a chance to look as good as boys.

"The bottom line is we want to make sure we're taking care of everyone," said Kenny Abrams, the Ravens' community relations director. "It's not just the gentlemen, but it's also the ladies."

But there's more to this than looking good. A reader asked in an e-mail recently why the Douglass football flap, where the team's 9-1 season and state playoff berth were wiped out because of the use of a supposedly ineligible player, is so much more tragic than if it happened someplace else.

The answer can be found on a drive on North Avenue west of Monroe Street or east of Harford Road. Take a look at all of the faces of young men and women. They are almost always African-American and most of them have given up the hope that a mere high school education could provide, for listlessness at best and crime at worst.

Sure, not all of these people could have been saved by something as insignificant as a new football jersey or a shooter shirt, but Abrams said there was 30 percent more participation in football this year than last. Was it because of the uniforms? Who can say with certainty, but if one kid chose to play football rather than stand on a corner or hold up a store, than it was worth it, yes?

The truth is, none of us can measure the value of play in a kid's life. All we can hope is that kids who live on Schroeder Street get the same chance as kids who live on Barefoot Boy in Columbia, and that looking good is the same as feeling good.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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