The past few decades have produced dozens of Washington high school stars who became household names across the country. Sports fans can be forgiven if they’re slightly less familiar with D.C.’s prep stars of a previous era.
Like Anacostia’s Dan Droze, the 1954 Touchdown Club high school football player of the year, who The Post reported “turned in some of the most sensational running ever seen in these parts.”
Or Ralph Sita, who led Eastern to Interhigh football titles in 1950 and ’51 and was the public school player of the year, but turned down a football scholarship to Florida and signed with the Cincinnati Reds.
Or Bill Harrison, whose 350-foot home run at Griffith Stadium in the 1952 Interhigh championship game was described as “the first on record by a high school player at the Washington ballpark.” (See above.)
You likely haven’t heard of Droze, Sita or Harrison, but their peers remember. The three men were among the honorees at Saturday’s 39th Annual Jocks Reunion Awards Luncheon, a quirky, ever-changing event that pays tribute to Washington’s prep stars of the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s.
It started with a pair of funerals nearly four decades ago, which both turned into impromptu reunions for men who grew up playing sports in the District but rarely kept in touch. That led to annual reunions, which eventually led to annual awards.
Not surprisingly, at the center of the event was Charlie Brotman, the longtime local PR man and all-around macher, who has never met a Hall of Fame he wouldn’t join.
(Brotman claims membership in 10 halls of fame, including the Greater Washington Fastpitch Softball Hall of Fame and the Greater Washington DC Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. “I’m gonna turn Catholic so I can try to get involved with the Catholic Sports Hall of Fame,” he quipped.)
As one of the key figures in Washington’s Touchdown Club, Brotman learned that three things could lure attendees to an annual event: money, a personal connection, or an award.
“You come up with a tribute, an honor, a $100 trophy, they’ll be there,” Brotman told me. “This is really just a get-together. It’s a reunion. And we tried to jazz it up with these little hall of fame things, but these are guys that love each other, for God’s sake.”
Still, there are awards. Droze, Sita, Harrison, Billy Hunter from Eastern, Pat Clarke from Anacostia, Billy Garner from Roosevelt and Joe Hands Jr. (posthumously) from St. John’s were this year’s inductees into the Jocks Hall of Fame. Leonard Bauroth from Eastern and Howard and Sondra Bender from Wilson were given Lifetime Achievement Awards. As always, there were acceptance speeches, photographs, and commemorative plaques.
“I never realized until we really got into this thing that anybody would get excited about this 40 years, 50 years after they get out of high school,” Brotman said. “I’m telling you, it is like winning the Academy Award, it’s like winning the Super Bowl. They are so excited, their families are so excited. And I’m just excited for them.”
The event used to be at night; now it’s a luncheon at the Greenbelt American Legion, because so many of the attendees don’t drive at night. The “Jocks” have a motto – “The older we get, the better we was” – and attempted to get with the times this year by inviting mothers and daughters to attend to what was once an all-male event. And while Brotman doesn’t know for sure, he likes to tell people that his Jocks Reunion is uniquely Washington.
“We like to think it’s one of a kind,” he said. “It’s nutty. And I’m loving it.”