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County Has Lots of Stars, Many Places To See Them

Prince George's Takes Its Sports Seriously

By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page PG28

Pros. College. High School. Boys and girls clubs.

The age of the competitors and the level of competition matter little. In Prince George's County, sports dominate the landscape. And the king of that competition is basketball, from the University of Maryland to Bowie State to high schools and travel teams.

The perennially powerful University of Maryland men's basketball team celebrates its 2002 national championship at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. (Jonathan Newton For The Washington Po St)

"You don't need a lot -- you need a ball and a court," said county native Steve Matthews, the athletic director and boys' basketball coach at Gwynn Park High in Brandywine. "It's the popular sport. Athletes in other sports always think they're basketball players."

Sometimes, of course, it works the other way, with football coaches finding their players on the basketball court. The county is a hotbed for college recruiters. Eleanor Roosevelt High's Derrick Williams was the nation's highest-rated football prospect this past season, but last year it was a pair of basketball players at Roosevelt -- Derrick Harvey and Jared Gaither -- who were being heavily pursued by colleges.

Indeed, many professional athletes call the county home, whether they moved here as adults or were raised here. Running back LaMont Jordan, who recently signed a five-year, $27.5 million contract with the Oakland Raiders, is from Suitland High. Linebacker Derrick Burgess, from Roosevelt, also signed with the Raiders this offseason. Defensive end Julian Peterson of the San Francisco 49ers is from Crossland High in Temple Hills.

Retired NBA player Walt Williams also went to Crossland. Boston Celtics rookie Delonte West is from Roosevelt.

And that does not begin to include the dozens of players who went to DeMatha High in Hyattsville, where Hall of Fame basketball coach Morgan Wootten retired with the most victories ever by a high school coach. Adrian Dantley, Adrian Branch, Danny Ferry were all standouts at DeMatha. Recently, Keith Bogans and Joseph Forte were among the latest stars to wear the Stags' uniforms.

Standout running back Brian Westbrook of the Philadelphia Eagles is a DeMatha grad. Bill McGregor was named the NFL high school coach of the year this past season.

The list of those who starred on the county's athletics fields is long, but there are plenty of burgeoning talents still on display in the area, at all levels.

Perhaps the best place to start is in College Park, where the University of Maryland proudly displays its 2002 NCAA men's basketball championship trophies. The Terrapins also are perennial powers in many other sports, including field hockey, men's and women's lacrosse and men's and women's soccer. The school's natatorium is regarded as an elite facility, hosting many top meets.

One would be pressed to find a county with the number of top facilities that Prince George's has. FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins and the largest stadium in the NFL, is in Landover.

Next to FedEx Field is the Prince George's Sports and Learning Complex, which has become a destination for national competitions in indoor and outdoor track, as well as gymnastics. It is there that Prince George's teams and individuals often continue to rack up high school track championships.

In Bowie, Prince George's Stadium is considered one of the finest diamonds in Class AA baseball, home to the Bowie Baysox. Fans can go there to watch many of the Baltimore Orioles' top prospects. Nearby is Bowie State University, which has become a national contender in NCAA Division II men's basketball.

In Upper Marlboro, the Show Place Arena seats 5,000 and has hosted minor-league basketball and hockey and college basketball. Next to the arena is an equestrian complex.

As prominent as professional and college sports are in Prince George's, much of the focus remains on competition at the high school level, where the county regularly wins state championships in basketball and football.

In boys' basketball, Potomac was The Post's top-ranked team this season, finishing 27-0 and winning the county's sixth state title in the sport in the past four seasons. Eleanor Roosevelt and Potomac won girls' basketball state titles this season, making it nine consecutive years that the county has won at least one state title. In football, Suitland and Potomac won state titles in December, making it four titles in four years for the county.

Beyond track, football and basketball, the county occasionally produces a top team in other sports. For instance, the Bowie High baseball team ended a 20-year drought with the county's first state title last season. Eleanor Roosevelt won a girls' soccer title in 2003.

The list of the county's accomplishments is long. And there are plenty of great places to take them all in.

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