Dynasty ain’t just a prime time soap opera. Take the Woodrow Wilson Tigers baseball team.
Wilson competes in the DCIAA, the public school sports league in Washington, D.C., though “competes” can only be used loosely here. Heading into last week’s championship game against School Without Walls (SWW), Wilson had outscored DCIAA opponents 235-0 this season.
Umpires have invoked the slaughter rule—that any game will end if either team is ahead by 15 runs after 3 innings or 10 runs after five innings—in every Wilson league game this season except one: SWW only lost to Wilson 6-0 in their regular season matchup. Alas, in Thursday’s rematch of the teams in the DCIAA title game, a sixth-inning home run by Wilson’s Elias Rosario put the Tigers up by 10 runs, making for an odd walk-off ending as the ump declared a slaughter and stopped the contest.
Wilson’s cartoonish dominance of DCIAA baseball, and the putridness of the competition provided by the city’s other public schools, are nothing new. The 2022 championship was Wilson’s 29th DCIAA title in a row. Wilson hasn’t even lost a game to another city public school in more than 23 years. And the Tigers’ last league loss, in 1999 to Dunbar, is Wilson’s only defeat in 30 seasons.
Some perspective on how long the winning streak has been going: Josh Cribbs was a sophomore player for Dunbar whose extra-base hit keyed the 1999 rally that gave Wilson its last league loss. Cribbs would go on to earn multiple Pro Bowl invitations and run back more kicks for touchdowns in his NFL career than any return man in history. He has now been retired for eight years. Eddie Smith, the starting pitcher for Wilson in the Tigers’ last league loss, is now 40 years old. Manny Burriss is believed to be the only Wilson alum to make Major League Baseball. Burriss, class of 2003, never lost a league game while at the school. His son now plays for Wilson.
The opening of the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy in 2014 in Southeast D.C. was supposed to spread the supply of young baseball talent around the city. But there’s been zero evidence of change in the DCIAA standings; Anacostia High School didn’t even field a baseball team this year.
The Wilson baseball team hasn’t ever gotten much support from its various government overlords. Eddie Saah, the guy who turned the program into a juggernaut as a Wilson coach beginning in the 1990s, told me upon retiring in 2009 that he was sick of begging the city’s school system to provide baseball staples. Like, for example, a baseball field: Saah’s teams played all home games on a converted football field that had a right field fence only 180 feet down the line.
The school thought it had its field of dreams in 2010, when a diamond was constructed at Fort Reno Park, a federally owned plot located across the street from Wilson High. (Fort Reno is best known as a temple to rock fans for hosting free concerts every summer for several decades, including shows from Fugazi throughout that rightly exalted band’s existence.)
But since the Fort Reno field opened none of the various bureaucracies who had a hand in its construction–the U.S. Park Service, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation or D.C. public schools–have done much to maintain the ballpark. Because those agencies endlessly feuded over who should pay for what, field upkeep was left to Wilson coaches, players and parents. Drainage problems resulting from flaws in the field’s design have been a constant problem. Almost all games Wilson scheduled against non-DCIAA schools were played on the road, rather than subject opponents to Fort Reno’s melange of mud puddles and uncut grass.
The everlong squabble of local and federal agencies, which wouldn’t exist if only D.C. had statehood, went nuclear in March 2022. Park Service officials, without telling anybody from Wilson, ordered DPR to tear down the batting cage at Wilson’s field, saying the cage wasn’t permitted on federally owned land. The cage had been there for six years, and the timing and lack of communication from government officials leading up to the teardown made the whole thing seem vindictive.
Wilson players publicly confronted Mayor Muriel Bowser days after the midseason demolition project, and their protest was caught by local TV news crews who were covering the mayor’s attendance at the opening day ceremonies of a D.C. Little League. That little bit of baseball activism led the warring parties to agree almost immediately to allow a new cage to be assembled at Fort Reno.
The government did come up with a way to end Wilson’s insane winning streak. Sort of. In December, the D.C. Council voted to finally remove the name of hyper-racist evildoer Woodrow Wilson from the school’s marquee and rename it Jackson-Reed High School, in honor of two local Black education pioneers. So, those who are inclined can finally say Wilson has won its last baseball game.
All other evidence, however, suggests the school won’t be knocked from atop the DCIAA standings anytime soon. But one sign that past is prologue: No other public school in the city fielded even one junior varsity baseball team this year. Wilson had two. If even the Nats Academy can’t move the needle, who knows what it will take to spur a baseball revival in other D.C. schools. Either way it’s not the Tigers problem: all they can do is keep winning.