Student sportswriters are telling the stories of their high school teams in Washington, D.C.
A quick two-minute drill of clicking around web pages about high school sports in Washington on Digital Sports reveals a colorful world of photo galleries, highlight video clips, statistics and game stories. What makes the premier high school athletics website for the District even more unique is that all of its content is produced by high school students, with the help of journalism professionals.
Such was the vision of James V. Kimsey, one of the founding chairmen of America Online. Ten years ago, Kimsey established his own non-profit organization that would invest in the public schools of Washington, D.C, where he made his home. Since then, the Kimsey Foundation has set up numerous programs aimed at helping youths in the District, whose public education system has struggled in recent years with safety concerns and corruption.
For one of these programs, launched in 2004 under the direction of project manager Monica Grover, the foundation teamed up with Digital Sports, Inc. to create sports journalism workshops for D.C. Public School students. The programs include lessons on both sports writing and sports photography.
In addition to providing a head start in the world of journalism, the work that is published on the internet gives exposure to high school student-athletes, which Grover says is just as vital to teens in the District.
“Our purpose is to bring positive attention to DCPS student-athletes, not only for what they are doing on the field but so they can see what different opportunities are available,” Grover said.
Giving exposure to a positive side of D.C.’s youths is something that the program takes pride in.
“Far too often, all you see is the negative publicity, the crime. We focus solely on the positive,” Grover said.
The program began when the Kimsey Foundation purchased the Digital Sports franchise in Washington. Digital Sports also has franchises in Hawaii, New Jersey, Maryland, Tennessee and Ohio, as well as two in Virginia. The District franchise is the only one in the nation that operates as a non-profit, Grover said.
The foundation then approached DCPS about creating a formal partnership as the official athletics website for high schools across the city. In 2004, the Digital Sports DC Program was introduced to Roosevelt Senior High School and taught as a six-week summer program.
Dr. Maurice Butler, the vice principal at Roosevelt, was joined by vice president and director of franchise operations Rich Toland in teaching the first summer program. Butler said he relishes the chance to give students from the District a head start in journalism.
“My favorite part (of the program) is watching that light come on,” Butler said. “You see the kids become more and more interested, put in the extra time, put in the energy and watch them grow, learn and produce.”
During the initial six-week summer program, students were selected after completing application essays and were required to have “B” averages. Butler and Toland then took students to sporting events, including Washington Wizards games, and brought in professionals from sports journalism to talk to them.
The following year, the program was shortened to one week and moved to McKinley High School. Led by Rick Kelsey, a teacher at McKinley, the class included more guest speakers from the world of sportsand sports journalism. Kathy Orton, sportswriter from the Washington Post and radio personality Bram Weinstein from Sportstalk 980 were among those that visited the class, as well as speakers from the University of Maryland, D.C. United and CBS’s local television affiliate WUSA-9.
Grover set out to expand the program beyond just one school at a time, although it took a while to get other schools involved.
“The program was slow-moving at first, but in January of 2006 we started actively recruiting students from all over for a weekly workshop at School Without Walls,” Grover said. Currently, the program has branched out to include students from Dunbar, Ballou, Anacostia, Coolidge, M.M. Washington, Wilson and Woodson, but the goal is to reach all 15 high schools in the District.
“We’re still just beginning, but we are trying to build towards being a truly official site for D.C. athletics,” Grover said.
“Between January and June of 2006, we started building content and really got the ball rolling with the different coaches, journalists, yearbook teachers and administrators.”
The Digital Sports DC Program’s published articles and photography can be found on the internet at www.digitalsports.com under the Virginia/DC section.