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Soccer Comes to Dunbar

It seemed like an obscure request, seeing that Dunbar had never sponsored a soccer team. And when the announcement came across the school’s public-address system one morning in early September, the sport appeared to have no future, either.

“Anyone interested in soccer tryouts, meet with Ms. Mubangu after school.”

“My heart sunk,” said first-year teacher Anuarite Mubangu, who was trying to start a girls’ soccer team at the school. “But since they didn’t say boys or girls, I was sure I was going to have a bunch of guys show up, see that they don’t want to be coached by a woman, and give up.”

Sure enough, Mubangu was greeted by about a half-dozen boys and a couple of girls after school, but they were still plenty interested. She told them, simply, “Whoever gets their act together first – boys or girls – I’ll coach you.”

By Wednesday, the boys had gotten their act together. Eight players took the field for Dunbar for what, Athletic Director Johnnie Walker said, was the school’s first soccer game. Nevermind that the Crimson Tide were three players short, or had to face Wilson, the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association’s top program. They still took the field.

“Everyone’s knees kind of buckled when I told them who we were playing,” said Mubangu, whose team lost, 5-0. “It was tough, to say the least. But they were playing much better toward the end. They were surprisingly enthusiastic after the game.”

Mubangu, who played at Mt. Vernon before a knee injury her senior year ruined her chances of a college career, said her players – three of whom are natives of Nigeria, one from Ethiopia and another from Cape Verde – know how to play the game individually, but are still grasping the team concept.

“The dynamics of playing with a team takes a while to build into you, and that was something I took for granted,” said Mubangu, who graduated from William & Mary last spring and joined the faculty at Dunbar as part of Teach For America.

Mubangu, however, said the boys have taken to her coaching, which speaks to another unique dynamic – women coaching boys. I did a story about Natalie Randolph, who was the wide receivers coach at H.D. Woodson a few years ago, and her story discussed the potential uneasiness the gender difference could pose. That has never been a problem at Dunbar, according to Mubanga.

It is not uncommon at D.C. Public Schools for teams to come together – or fall apart – very quickly. Players often tell coaches they want to play, but do not complete preseason physicals or mandatory practices before being able to take the field, leaving the team with an insufficient roster. Mubangu said there are five more players who are trying to gain medical clearance, which would give the Crimson Tide a full lineup.

That hasn’t deterred Mubangu or her players. During the game against Wilson, the Tigers’ coaching staff offered Dunbar a couple of its reserve players to even out the sides.

“I told them, ‘No, this is a learning experience for them,’” Mubangu said.

Walker said he initially told Mubangu that it would be best if the Crimson Tide played this season as a club team and developed some chemistry before tackling a DCIAA schedule. Mubangu, however, “stayed after me everyday,” Walker said, “and finally I gave in.”

Since the team’s debut was so sudden, Dunbar is still waiting on uniforms to be delivered, which should happen in the next week.

“I wanted the guys to have a chance to demonstrate what they’re learning at practice,” Mubangu said, “and if you’re playing a game that’s part of a season, there’s a tangible goal there.”

To some extent, the Crimson Tide has already reached its first goal.

By Alan Goldenbach  |  October 15, 2009; 3:33 PM ET
Categories:  DCIAA , Dunbar , boys' soccer  
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