Committed to Compete
ARLINGTON, Va. --- Anyone who has ever lived in or around Washington, D.C. knows all about the traffic on I-95.
The interstate connecting the nation's capital with the rest of the free world is notorious for having the functionality of a parking lot most of the day. With the sheer number of people driving in and out of the area, the 30-mile stretch of road wrapping around D.C. is an evil commuters simply have to deal with.
The only refuge for drivers in the battle against traffic on I-95 is the HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes that run in the highway median between north and southbound traffic. If you want to use the HOV lanes, your car has to have at least two and sometimes three people in the car. If you don't have enough passengers to qualify, you're not going anywhere.
That is unless you're willing to wake up early enough.
Kendall Marshall lives in a town called Dumfries, Va. which is located about an hour from Bishop O'Connell High in Arlington, Va. The only route from Marshall's house in Dumfries to O'Connell is via I-95. The only way for Marshall to get to school in the hour it should take is by hopping on the HOV at 5:45 each morning during the restriction-free time period.
"It depends on the morning but even then it's still pretty slow," Marshall said. "But if I wasn't in the HOV it would take two hours to get there."
When Marshall gets to O'Connell around seven he sets up camp in his car — the nicest sleeping bag he could ask for — and sleeps for about an hour before school. Ten hours later when Marshall is done with school and basketball practice, he's back in his car, catching another hour of sleep before he can slip back onto the HOV for the 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. no restrictions period.
"I'm dead -- sleep is very hard to come by," Marshall says in a half-joking, half-exhausted tone midway through a long school day. "I usually get five or six hours a day. It's tough."
And before he got his license? He took the train -- and that commute was over an hour and a half each way.
Marshall has never been one to back down from a challenge and his choice of school is the perfect example. Marshall attended a private school closer to his hometown until eighth grade, a school that allowed him to avoid a dreaded commute. It was also a school that would allow him to avoid the vaunted Washington Catholic Athletic Conference. The WCAC is a 12-school conference featuring some of the top basketball programs in the country like DeMatha, Gonzaga and a host of others.
"In seventh and eighth grade when I was deciding what high school I wanted to go to my mom wanted me to stay at the private school I was at where the competition wasn't as hard," Marshall said. "Me, I wanted to come to the WCAC because I feel like the best players will always come out of it on top."
Marshall likens the WCAC to a college conference, saying not only does the league have top talent but the teams are run like college programs.
"It's the toughest in America," Marshall said. "When you've got coaches who have played at the college level and have coached at the upper tier high school level and know your every move and know how you play, you have to be able to adjust to those things. You're not playing against kids who just went out for the basketball team. Every night I'm playing against kids who are going to Duke, kids who are going to Richmond, kids who are going to Princeton, kids that are top 20 in the country. It's tough."
After four years of waking up before 5 a.m. to go to school and playing in one of the top conferences in America, Marshall says his high school choice has affected him in a lot of ways. Obviously, he's simply more tired than he would be normally but he also said the 10-plus hours he spends on I-95 each week has even affected his basketball game — most notably his shot. Once known as a shooter early in his career, Marshall said the lack of opportunity to work on his shot has caught up with him. He said of all the things he looks forward to next year, one will be living in a dorm right near the Dean E. Smith Center.
"I think a big part of it was just having the chance to keep my reps up," Marshall said. "Traveling an hour to and from school, that takes a lot of time out of your day. Being that I'll be right next to the gym, I'll be able to keep my reps up and I think it'll be good."
But even with all the drawbacks to the commute from Dumfries to Arlington, Marshall says he wouldn't go back and change his choice.
"I never thought it wasn't worth it," Marshall said. "It's very tough. But I think doing it for four years has made me a stronger person."
(Check back tomorrow for Part IV ...)