District of Columbia Public Schools
In 1975, when Patricia Briscoe returned to her alma mater, Anacostia High School in Washington, D.C., to teach math, she had dreams of someday becoming the principal. Instead, with the encouragement of her principal and superintendent, she followed a path to athletic administration and today is the Assistant Director of Athletics for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).
Starting her coaching career with the j.v. cheerleading squad at Anacostia, Briscoe soon took on the head coaching responsibilities for girls' varsity basketball, then cross country, softball, and track. She became the school's Athletic Director in 1987.
Two years later, Briscoe moved to the DCPS central offices, where she helps oversee athletics programs at 15 high schools, 27 middle schools, and 102 elementary schools. Briscoe has long been a participant at the national level as well, and at the end of 2006, she became the District of Columbia's first representative on the NIAAA Board of Directors, where she sits on the Awards Committee.
In this interview, Briscoe talks about leveling the playing field for D.C. athletics, getting involved with the NIAAA, and fostering female participation.
AM: What are the major projects you're undertaking in the District of Columbia?
Briscoe: Right now, we're concentrating on renovating fields and upgrading athletic equipment. Over the summer, major renovations took place at six high school stadiums, which now have artificial turf and new track surfaces. Down the road, we will improve some of our gymnasiums as well. These renovations are part of an ongoing process to level the playing field between us and the suburban communities around us.
Is it significant that you're the first person from Washington, D.C., to represent Section 2 on the NIAAA Board?
I think it's very important. One of the things I recognized when I started attending the national conference was that if you don't have a presence, it's hard for people to hear about your concerns. You need to express your ideas and have a voice in the governing of your sport.
For example, a lot of people don't realize we have a very extensive downhill skiing program in D.C. We ski at mountains in Pennsylvania, and it's a wonderful program that's flourished for a number of years. Now that we have a voice, people are hearing about it.
Why did you decide to get involved in the NIAAA?
I attended my first meeting in 1990 or 1991, and I met the most wonderful people: athletic directors who shared a passion for student-athletes and were committed to improving not only opportunities for participation, but also the professionalism of their colleagues. Since then, I've had a phenomenal experience. It's so important to interact with professionals who share your concerns and who may have some of the solutions you're searching for.
What kind of issues is the NIAAA dealing with right now?
The biggest concern is relocation. We've moved to a business location separate from the NFHS, and that has been a major change. We also initiated the Frank Kovaleski Award, which is presented annually to an athletic administrator who has made significant contributions to professional development. In addition, we created an award to recognize scholarship and leadership in student-athletes, who submit an application to their state association and complete an essay on how high school athletics has affected their lives. And we're getting ready to start an NIAAA Hall of Fame.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for high school athletics?
Participation. As children specialize more and outside activities increase, we are seeing a decline in athletics participation. You never know where you're going to find your niche, so I think children should try all sports, and I think multi-sport participation is good.
In the upcoming years, we're hoping to introduce a couple of new sports into the school system, probably bowling and lacrosse. Bowling is a great non-contact sport that a lot of students could participate in. When adding teams, I look for sports that provide college scholarships because that gives them another opportunity to pursue higher education.
Why does D.C. require athletic trainer coverage for every secondary school contest?
The first year I came into the athletic office, there was a court case intended to ensure there would be nurses at all the elementary schools. During that process, there was reference to medical coverage at athletic events, and when the case was settled, it was decided that all secondary athletic events needed appropriate medical coverage. It's been a godsend. We have 10 certified athletic trainers on staff who cover athletic contests, not only at the senior high and middle school level but at some of our elementary school events as well.
Why did the athletic trainers go on strike last year?
They had concerns related to compensation that could not be solved quickly. They went on strike for a day, and we could not find the coverage we needed, so our games were cancelled. Those issues could not be resolved in the athletic office, but we brought them to the administration and tried to support the athletic trainers and demonstrate they were being heard.
How did you get involved in coaching?
In 1976, I was working with the j.v. cheer squad at Anacostia when the head girls' basketball coach decided not to continue coaching. The principal sent the basketball team to ask me if I'd be interested in coaching them. I'd never played competitively, so I wasn't sure I could do it, and I was very open with them about my concerns. But the young ladies wanted to play, compete, and have fun, and they needed someone who was willing to help them do that. Rather than not have a team, I agreed to give it a try.
After spending that season coaching basketball, I just kept going. Some of the girls wanted to have a softball team. Well, I'd never thought about coaching softball, but I was more than willing to try. As time went on, I started meeting some young ladies who wanted to run track, so I figured, why not have a girls' track team? I ended up coaching year-round.
What's the challenge of coaching a sport you didn't compete in?
You need to devote a lot of time to learning the skills associated with that sport. Go to clinics, immerse yourself in the sport, and learn everything you can. And you need to be honest with your athletes about your limitations. Don't try to fool them. If you don't know how to teach hurdles, find someone who does. Most of all, you have to be willing to be taught as well as to teach.
As a coach, what did you learn from your athletes?
The value of respect. Having worked in the inner city for my entire educational career, I know the thing our kids value most from adults is honesty. Years later, I still maintain relationships with a lot of those athletes. They know I've always been honest with them and they respect that.
Why did you move from teaching to administration?
When I started teaching at Anacostia, I believed I was going to be principal there some day. But the more time I spent coaching, the more I found myself involved in making policy and attending meetings to talk about athletics rules and guidelines. That's when I realized there were no females in the athletic department--which was something that needed to change.
When the superintendent asked if I would be interested in working in the athletic office, I quickly said I was--it seemed like the perfect fit. Since then, I have truly enjoyed administration. Setting policy and developing programs is rewarding, and even though I'm not coaching, I still have the opportunity to interact with student-athletes. It's the best of both worlds.
Why is it important to have a championship for cheerleading?
Having been a former cheerleader and squad coach, cheerleading is still one of my passions. So we created a championship, and have seen the sport grow across all levels. Every sport needs to have a culminating activity, and what I like most about this championship is that we give cheerleaders an opportunity to perform in front of the community. People get to see that cheerleading is a sport that requires true athletic skills. These young women and men are athletes, and when our children dedicate their time and effort into doing something well, it should be recognized.
What can athletic administrators do to foster more female participation?
If we can identify more female teachers who are interested in coaching and then mentor them and give them the tools to succeed, it will help us encourage more girls to participate in athletics. We believe if you see someone like yourself doing something, you're more likely to do it. We encourage athletic directors to talk to the teachers currently working in their schools. If teachers know about these opportunities to coach, they may be very interested, even if they're not physical education teachers.
What have you learned about balancing work and life?
When you work in athletics, especially in the inner city, it's difficult to separate yourself from work, because your students are an important part of your life. But at some point, you need to do things for yourself. You have to find ways to spend quality time with the people who are most important in your life. My husband coaches cross country, track and field, and basketball at Anacostia, so both of us commit a lot of time to student-athletes. But we're very understanding of each other's schedules, and it's worked well for us.
What's the biggest professional challenge you've faced?
Acceptance as a female in athletics. I think people still believe that only men belong in athletics, so as a female I'm always challenged to show I'm capable of doing this job.
As you look back over your career path, what surprises you the most?
That I'm in athletics in the first place. It was something that just fell into my lap when my principal sent those girls to talk with me about coaching basketball. Even after that happened, I could never have imagined it would lead to a career in athletic administration. I have the soul of a math teacher, and I think it's helped me be a better administrator. Logic has enabled me to see the steps I need to take to reach a goal.
What should people learn from your example?
If you work hard at something you have a passion for, listen to people who share a common interest, and respect everybody's opinion, you can be successful. You can't start out with all the answers, but you can find most of them by listening to the people around you.