Archbishop Carroll High School will induct 11 athletes and one coach from the 1950s into its Athletic Hall of Fame on Saturday, and the occasion provides a chance to examine the changes in sports and society hereabouts over a half-century.
Less than three weeks before a black candidate might be elected president of the United States, it is instructive - and startling - to understand how different the District and the nation were in that distant and generally segregated decade.
Carroll opened in 1951, three years before the Supreme Court struck down the hoary "separate but equal" doctrine for black and white students, as the first fully integrated secondary school in the metropolitan area - a priority for Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle.
At the time, the District's public high schools, nine for whites and five for blacks, were strictly segregated - like most of the city itself. Then and thereafter, Carroll's racially mixed teams often faced local opponents against a backdrop of tension.
"But I don't remember any real problems," said Jim Howell, a black student who played football and basketball at the Northeast school from 1954 to 1957 and who will be inducted Saturday. "I don't recall any racial stuff from other teams or players, and I think I would remember if there had been."
Towering Tom Hoover, another black inductee who starred on Carroll basketball teams that won 55 straight games between 1959 and 1961 and later spent seven years in the NBA, has more-disturbing memories.
"Most [opposing] players knew better than to mess with me because they were going to have a bunch of problems," he said of racially tinged comments. "The ones who did, I knew they were trying to get me mad and get me out of the game. Our coach, Bob Dwyer, told me, 'If you get upset, the team gets upset, so just ignore them.' I did, you had to, but it was hard.
"I remember that [legendary DeMatha coach] Morgan Wootten once said he was going to bring in a 7-foot Seminole Indian from the Everglades to play against me. I didn't mind that - it was funny."
George Leftwich, a teammate of Hoover's and fellow All-Met player who also is black, remains at Carroll today as athletic director. He came out of the D.C. public school system and attended Carroll at his father's insistence, although the family was not Catholic.
"No question the '50s were a very different time in the city," Leftwich said. "Blacks didn't go west of Rock Creek Park then. If a white person saw you there, he'd ask, 'Where do you work?' He knew you didn't live there."
"Any negative comments were from riffraff of both races in the stands. One [black] guy yelled, 'Hey, George, I guess playing for that white school, you think you're white now!' Most of the athletes were just concerned with whether you could play or not."
Leftwich's teammates, in addition to Hoover, included John Thompson, the longtime coach at Georgetown. Another was the Rev. Edward "Monk" Malloy, another honoree and now president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame. Leftwich recalls that all of them and their teammates, black and white, were extremely close.
"Other teams always got on Hoover because he had a short fuse," Leftwich said. "So did Thompson, but nobody knew it because he was very quiet."
Carroll instituted its Hall of Fame in 2007 by inducting two coaches now deceased, Dwyer and football boss Maus Collins. Next year the school will add notable athletes from the 1960s and keep going until it catches up with the recent past. But this weekend belongs to the heroes from its first decade, when race relations were a subject few discussed.
Among the posthumous honorees is Alphonse "Tuffy" Leemans, who became the school's first football coach after starring at George Washington and with the NFL's New York Giants. The plaque, which will be accepted by his daughter, is not Tuffy's first. He's also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Others include Billy Hessler, Charlie May, Ed Scanlon, Joe Kammerer, Tony Shannon, Mo Walker, Jim Schwab and Doug Barnes - all athletes who wore Carroll's green and gold with distinction and dignity. They did their school and themselves proud while striking a figurative blow for true equality and democracy.
"When I came here, I didn't know anybody, I wasn't white and I wasn't Catholic," Leftwich said, "But I never felt that I didn't belong or that I was just a jock. This school put its arms around me."