The sun was shining through Spingarn High School’s caged windows late Tuesday afternoon, lighting the school’s basketball court just in time for a game against Eastern. About 10 members of the band were in one corner, and the grill man was in another, cooking burgers just feet from the court. A handful of students sat in the bleachers, surrounded by mustard-colored walls painted with bright green waves, the team’s nickname since the school opened in 1952. The place smelled of old wood and sweat.
By the second half, the Spingarn forward Jerome “KC” West had become frustrated. His team was losing badly, West couldn’t get a call and he was being heckled by a couple of fans whenever he stepped to the free throw line. West missed a free throw and stared straight ahead at one of the walls, facing the colorful paintings of Spingarn’s basketball forefathers hanging above: Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing and Sherman Douglas, all wearing NBA jerseys. A blowout loss against a young Eastern team wasn’t what West had in mind for the second-to-last home game in school history.
As Spingarn High prepares to close its doors, it’ basketball team reflects on the school’s accomplished program.
(John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST) - Spingarn's Arivin Gates holds a trophy from the Green Wave’s 1960 team in the school’s athletic laundry room. Spingarn's basketball program will end as the school closes at the end of the school year.
Spingarn’s last chance to play on its hallowed court in Northeast will come Thursday night at 7 against D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association foe Luke C. Moore.
“I’m going to tell them, before in the locker room, it’s our last home game,” West said. “We know that Spingarn is closing down. We gotta get this ‘W’ for the last home game.”
Spingarn’s students and faculty face uncertain futures after this school year. D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced in January that Spingarn will close this summer, one of 15 schools to shut down in the District as the city confronts an enrollment drain in public schools and consolidates buildings that haven’t been at capacity for many years.
Spingarn is not just closing the school. It is also boxing up a team that has contributed to the District’s rich basketball tradition for more than 60 years. Wearing the Green Wave uniform was more than a high school experience for generation after generation of players; it was a chance to connect with playground legends, college all-Americans, first-round NBA draft picks, Hall of Famers, and two stars named among the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players. It was a chance to run on the same court as Baylor, shoot at the same basket as Bing, get dressed in the same locker room as Douglas.
“Spingarn had a major, major influence on my basketball, even though I didn’t attend there,” said longtime Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson Jr., whose Archbishop Carroll team was a Spingarn rival in the 1950s. “It was the fact that Elgin went there, David went there, you know, Ollie [Johnson, a first-round pick of the Celtics in 1965] went there. Very little of our history sustains itself.”
‘It’s a part of history’
Bruce Williams stepped inside a cold, dark laundry room in the basement of Spingarn last week. After 20 years in the building at the corner of Benning Road and 26th Street, he is the longest tenured employee at the school — a quiet, stern man who, as athletic director, has become a guardian of Spingarn’s memories, many of which sit in this cramped space, awaiting fate.