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UDC back from the brink
A couple of years ago, the Firebirds were all but destined to become extinct. Today, they're 10-6 and exciting the campus.

 UDC's Frank Petersen (2) is one of the young players reinvigorating the Firebirds' program.
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Date published: 1/25/2007



WASHINGTON--Several hundred fans inside Building No. 47 rose for a standing ovation when a fast-break layup gave the home team a second-half lead. The University of the District of Columbia, with a 10-4 record, was giving perennial Division II powerhouse Virginia Union all it could handle.

Members of the student government, wearing black jackets with the gold fire-breathing Firebirds logo, were leaping for joy. The school's president was clapping heartily.

It was an extraordinary sight, given what has happened over the last three years.

In the fall of 2004, UDC President William Pollard disbanded all sports teams for the rest of the school year, a self-imposed death penalty after an investigation uncovered rampant problems with eligibility, recruitment and financial aid. It was a public black eye for the city's only public university.

"The school is always struggling, always struggling for that recognition," assistant track coach Patrice Irby, one of six members of her immediate family to graduate from the school, said as she manned her post near the concession stand. "And to have something like that wipe it out, I felt bad for all of the students. I felt bad for the athletes, because sometimes this is their last chance. UDC is always seen as the last-chance school."

A blue ribbon task force was formed. A 59-page report was produced. It recommended that sports resume at UDC only if the programs were properly structured, funded and monitored.

The school hired new coaches, a new athletic director, and--perhaps most importantly--a full-time compliance officer to make sure NCAA rules would be followed. Sports returned in the fall of 2005.

But while teams can be turned off like a light switch, they don't turn on the same way. When the men's basketball team resumed play, it had only seven players--four of whom never even played in high school. One was a tennis player who was persuaded to play because he was 6-foot-5. Practices were 3-on-3 because of the lack of manpower.

The team went 1-22.

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