Cleveland High School's carwash gals

Do you remember the dreaded phone calls that invariably came at dinnertime until the marvelous "do-not-call list" came into action?

Well, lately I feel there has been a shift to doorknockers, who also choose to arrive either while we are preparing, or eating, dinner. They are infinitely harder to gently (or not) blow off, even while explaining that our family has already emptied its coffers to tsunami or Katrina victims.

I don't mind the neighborhood kids who are rustling up sponsors for their school jog-a-thon, since my kids will probably knock on their doors when it's time for their own.

It's different with the compelling young adults who wave a badge and give a good story about changing their lives for the better, if I buy a $30 magazine subscription (that I don't want) so they might go to college. It's hard, and meanwhile my dinner is burning on the stove.

So, when I drove by MLK Jr. Way South and South McClellan Street last Saturday and saw a cheery group of girls waving a carwash sign, I swung on in.

Yes, I do have two children who are old enough to do it, but I would be paying them anyway. They would also put up a million reasons why they actually don't have time. Either that or they'll say the, "I promise I'll do it tomorrow!" line that never eventuates.

I have to say that it was their bouncy attitude that grabbed me. It was not a case of poster girls snagging the clients, and, once you were there, end up waiting in line for 15 minutes to find it was a second-rate cleaning.

Nope. This was a smile-a-minute and a prompt, first-rate cleaning job.

They were the Cleveland High School girls basketball team out to raise a whopping $13,000 to cover uniforms that were previously provided through pop and candy sales on campus.

Now this was something I believed in. My family had campaigned to get sugar out of the schools, but my mind boggled at $13,000! Where are the days of a screen-printed t-shirt, a pair of shorts and matching socks?

I later spoke with their coach Gary Alexander who runs the "G.E.A.R. Up" program at Cleveland. He seemed unsurprised by my question, and his response was simple.

"Kids do better in school when they feel good. They do better in school when they have eaten, (and) it translates, also, to sports," Alexander said. "If they don't look good, they don't feel good.

"The other schools have nice uniforms. So, we are tired of not having anything, and we are trying to say to our girls to work hard and we are going to get something nice."

"G.E.A.R. Up" is a partial acronym for "Gaining Early Access Readiness." It's a federally funded program specifically aiming to facilitate and encourage students to be prepared for college. It's present in many ways throughout the school not only sports.

Alexander feels that he knows, personally, most of the students frequenting Cleveland High School. Through 'Gear-Up' he directly influences the lives of the roughly 145 students who currently participate in the school's basketball or football teams. By developing their sense of teamwork, they find that responsibility is important.

They also discover the importance of working hard whether they're preparing for college or not.

I suppose the bottom line is this, if parents end up footing the bill for athletic team gear, the wealthier neighborhood schools are going to have fancy, top-of-the line outfits. Such a move only further delineates the ever-present, socio-economic differences defined by geographical zip codes in Seattle.

In an ideal world, if ALL schools were willing to standardize what constitutes a team outfit and agree on a maximum budget, well then, we truly might have a level playing field.

Jacqui James may be reached via[[In-content Ad]]