When the design plans for the new Banneker High School were revealed, the $152-million modernization plan included a sleek new design with open green spaces and new athletic facilities that mirrored a modern college campus.
Except, student-athletes at Banneker saw some big defects in the design: A football field without a football team. And very limited space for the track team to train, despite a student body full of track stars.
The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) proposed design plan only included a straightaway track for the school.
At a community outreach meeting in late October, students, parents and faculty members all voiced their concerns about the football field. Several community members voiced frustrations about the lack of community input and concerns that the decision wasn’t gender-inclusive. At the time, DCPS staff member, Joi Ruffin, stated that the decision for a football field was signed off by the Chancellor and was no longer up for discussion.
That controversial decision changed last week when DCPS announced in an email that the development team was shifting away from “a football field with straightaway track” to “a partial track with practice field.”
A track schools track record
RuQuan Brown has been running track since he was only seven years old. As a high school senior and the student body president at Banneker, he’s finishing out his high school career by fighting for the future of track at Banneker.
“I think the track is gonna just allow Banneker to continue to be what is has been,” said Brown. “So I think if you look at what Banneker is doing for our community right now, that’s [the track] what it’s gonna continue to do.”
Brown is considered “a star” for the Banneker track team after getting 2nd in the state for running the 55 meter dash in a 6.63 seconds at the D.C. State Athletic Association Indoor Championship in 2019.
Brown doesn’t just love running track at Banneker. He’s also wide receiver, running back and defensive back on the football team at Theodore Roosevelt High School. Students at Banneker are permitted to play on DCPS sports team that aren’t offered at Banneker.
Brown has clinched at least 24 offers to play college football including several Ivy League schools.
But when asked about whether football has a place at Banneker, Brown said it wasn’t a part of the current vision for Banneker.
“Right now, no,” said Brown. “I think right now it’s not something that Banneker needs. I think that we don’t need a football team right now.”
Brown thinks of track at Banneker as a legacy, especially since all three of his coaches also ran track at Banneker. He said the school has consistently groomed D.C. state champions for at least the last four years, and without a track at the high school, that legacy cannot continue.
Going to bat
Brown isn’t the only one who has been fighting for months for the track at Banneker. Several D.C. council members and commissioners have been actively working for changes in athletic field designs, including Commissioner Alex Padro and Council member Charles Allen.
When Padro heard about the development shift, he was pleasantly surprised.
Padro told The Wash that even though the goal of the football field was to increase the male student population at Banneker, it still posed gender inclusivity concerns and disregarded female athletes.
Before the change, several community members reached out to both Padro and Allen voicing concerns about the decision for a football field.
In an email acquired by The Wash, a Banneker staff member raised concerns about the original proposed plan to bus track students back to the site of the old school for practice.
“Track and Field is a linchpin sport of the Banneker athletics program and to not have a track to practice on is undermining the program. It would force Banneker athletes catch the bus from the new site back to the old site to use an already crowded 3 lane track for practice,” wrote the staff member.
The email also included renderings of the athletic facilities that Banneker proposed to DCPS, in contrast to the football field.
However, the design team for the project stated that the space would not be able to accommodate both a football field and a track.
The original proposal of a football field was signed off by the Chancellor of DCPS, Dr. Lewis Ferebee. But in a memo addressed to Ferebee by council members Charles Allen of Ward 6, Brianne Nadeau of Ward 1 and Jack Evans of Ward 2, the decision would ignore the community.
“As has been expressed throughout the School Improvement Team process and in numerous community meetings, both the school community and Shaw and Logan neighbors strongly prefer a track with a multi-sport field over a football field,” wrote the three council members.
The new development of Banneker High School has not been without its own set of controversies. When Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the official new site for the school, many community members in the Shaw neighborhood were frustrated by the decision.
In original reporting by The Wash, the overarching concern for many Shaw community members was the lack of communication and community outreach on development updates.
The adjacent dog and skate parks were among the concerned voices, as DCPS did not inform them of pending park closure dates.
The skate park in specific is heavily used by a group of skaters called The Shaw Boyz. When asked about their thoughts on the new school and the closure of the skate park, members said they were disappointed.
“It’s always in the best interest for the children of course, but nobody ever communicated, like to us, specifically,” said Chris Tate, a member of Shaw Boyz who sometimes skates eight hours a day at the park.
Now that Banneker and the Shaw community will have access to a partial track and practice field, Brown said he’s appreciative of the change. He said it will allow the legacy of track at Banneker to thrive.