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For Hoop Dreams, Strauss Brings Other 'A' Game

As he rode up the "Senators only" elevator Wednesday night in the U.S. Capitol, the D.C. Shadow Senator Paul Strauss was ready to be at the top of his game, preparing to speak to a packed reception to honor winners of the nonprofit Hoop Dreams scholarship fund.

The non-voting member who lobbies Congress for District voting rights felt in more comfortable confines making a speech, he explained, rather than other efforts, like the time he tried to help Hoop Dreams in the late 90s. As his story went, Strauss offered to assist Susie Kay -- an American University classmate, friend and founder of the program to help District students attend college -- and came up short--literally.

Strauss had been recruited to play in a celebrity basketball game against some District youths. He recalled being excited, buying brand new sneakers and shorts, an entire basketball ensemble.

Strauss said he expected other non-athletes like himself to play alongside him. Instead the 5'7" politico was surrounded by ex-B-Ballers with skills, and height. He remembered even being picked off by a teen hoopster and being dumped on his derriere, all for the cameras of local cable access.

So last night, when Strauss walked into the wood paneled opulence of the Senate's Mansfield room, he was prepared to support his old friend with just words of praise. (The group does hold an annual Charity basketball tournament, founded in 1996 after Kay watched the documentary film "Hoop Dreams," but the program focuses on mentoring, college preparation and monetary awards instead of athletics.)

As the shadow senator waited in a line of politicians and corporate top-dogs, once again the tall guys bested him. He followed a tall, lanky, basketball man Sen. John Thune (R-SD). Strauss felt compelled to share his embarrassing tale.

"We'll leave that for the taller, athletic senators," he quipped, to a raucous laugh from the crowd of more than 100 scholarship winners, family members and Washington business types.

Then he went to work on his true game, reminding those in attendance of the District's lack of voting prowess. He lauded Kay's ability to gain so much Congressional support, much of what he lacks when it comes to getting serious District voting rights legislation passed.

"You're obviously doing something right. We need to learn a few pointers from you," Strauss said to Kay, again to laughs.

When his colleague from the House, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, took her turn at the podium she lauded the federally funded D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program and other services designed to help D.C. residents afford higher education.

"What this bill has done is double the city's college enrollment," Norton touted, saying the city now sends students to 640 colleges and universities around the country, by offering up to $10,000 in grants to attend public institutions.

Talk about having game.

Clarence F. Williams

By Marcia Davis  |  May 8, 2008; 6:59 AM ET
Categories:  Voting Rights  
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