Friday, March 30, 2001

Archbishop John Carroll High School inducted 25 members of the 1959 and 1960 basketball teams into its Hall of Fame the other night, which gave a couple hundred folks at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel a chance to hail anew one of the most memorable schoolboy outfits ever to obliterate opponents in these parts.

The most famous player, John Thompson, was absent because of broadcasting commitments, and who needed him? The Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy made it, and he’s only the president of Notre Dame. So did Tom Hoover and George Leftwich, the other two Lions who gained All-Metropolitan mention in ‘59. That’s right: Four players from one school were chosen first-team All-Met, and not many knowledgeable observers objected.

“Heck, I didn’t mind being left out,” said Walt Skinner, the other starter. He probably didn’t, because teamwork and unselfishness marked coach Bob Dwyer’s Carroll squads.

How good were the Lions? With 6-foot-10 twin towers Hoover and Thompson cleaning up underneath and Leftwich and Malloy popping from outside, they won 55 consecutive games. College freshman teams had little chance against them and other high schools no chance. In its heyday, Carroll dispatched 105 straight prep opponents and collected just about every available Catholic League, metro and tournament championship available.

“And Morgan Wootten never beat me,” said Dwyer, looking back at that wondrous time from the vantage point of age 85.

He’s right. Wootten’s DeMatha teams have spent much of the last 40 years dominating high school basketball in this fertile area, but the Stags didn’t start until Carroll’s horses had galloped off to college and Dwyer had resigned following a dispute with the school’s administration. It’s amazing how much smarter Morgan became then.

Yet there were off-court aspects just as impressive. As Malloy remarked at the induction ceremony, “When I saw the movie ‘Remember the Titans’ [a hokey Disney film about the integration of the football team at Alexandria’s T.C. Williams in 1971], I thought, ‘That could have been us.’ ”

Carroll, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Northeast D.C. this fall, was one of the first area private schools with an integrated student body and teams. No dramatic racial disturbances ensued, but there were plenty of overtones. In that era, there was white Washington and black Washington; rarely did their activities and interests coincide.

“I remember when we’d play on the road, and the other school didn’t want us to use its shower room,” Malloy said. “Or some of our guys would be refused service in a restaurant, and we’d all leave.”

The Lions, you see, were a team. Dwyer likes to recall that Carroll didn’t have a player among the area’s top five scorers either season, a testimony to its balance. More importantly, everyone had faith in everyone else.

“These kids took a lot of crap,” Dwyer recalled. “Sometimes people would call [black] players in the middle of the night and insult them. And some [of their friends] would want to know, ‘What are you doing playing for them?’ It was a hard time.”

It probably helped that Hoover and Leftwich took all the evacuatory material in stride. Both have retained pretty good senses of humor. They staged a mock debate during the inductions over which team was better, the 33-0 team of 1958-59 with both or the 33-2 squad of 1959-60 after Hoover left. Tall Tom offered this not quite impartial analysis: “The ‘59 team was better because I was the leader of it.”

One-liners flew all evening, as usually happens when old friends get together. But there were serious moments, too. Malloy put it very well: “I feel a sense of gratitude to my teachers, coaches and teammates. Because of Carroll, a whole new world opened for us.”

And of course, that’s what high school and high school athletics are supposed to be all about.

Most of the old Lions are approaching 60 now, but the early memories linger. Last season Thompson was doing a game on TV when a priest came out of the stands at halftime to try a halfcourt shot for some prize and missed badly. Said Thompson, the supposedly rock-rumped ex-Georgetown coach: “The only priest I know who could make that shot is Monk Malloy.”

Malloy grinned telling the story and added, “It’s nice to be remembered for that all these years later.”

Not to worry. These Lions will be remembered, or should be, every time high school teams gather for combat hereabouts.

Leftwich gets the last word: “If Coach Dwyer had stayed at Carroll, DeMatha would never have existed, and he’d be the one in the Basketball Hall of Fame [instead of Wootten].”

Seems to me there’s room for both teams and both coaches at the top. But Carroll and Dwyer showed the way.

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