Keeping Up With Jones
DeMatha High School basketball coach Mike Jones, who three years ago had the what seemed to be the impossible task of succeeding Hall of Famer Morgan Wootten, was happily reflecting on a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship season and coach of the year honors the other day at the annual Washington Post All-Met luncheon.
"A great year," Jones said, surveying the scene Wednesday in the ballroom of the Grand Hyatt, where just minutes before several hundred athletes had been honored for their All-Met accomplishments in front of parents, coaches and figure skating champ Michael Weiss, who delivered the keynote speech.
The event has become an annual tribute by the newspaper to the best performers of the school year, touching just about every scholastic sport from football to basketball to track, swimming, soccer, crew, volleyball, ice hockey, lacrosse, field hockey, baseball, softball, gymnastics and everything else.
If teachers and coaches get recharged by the new school year, this May luncheon tells every athlete honored, "you done good," made your parents proud, but get ready for the rest of your life. Even with so many winners in the room, and so many successful coaches, I'm still blown away by the success of one high school in the area: DeMatha.
The all-boys high school of about 1,000 students in Hyattsville this year produced two All-Mets in football, two in soccer, two in lacrosse, two in golf, two in track and one each in tennis, basketball, swimming, ice hockey and wrestling. Sports Illustrated this month ranked DeMatha's athletic program second nationally only to Long Beach (Calif.) Poly (enrollment 4,750) noting, "Of the more than 38,000 high schools in the U.S., fewer than one in a thousand made SI's list honoring schools with the nation's top athletic programs."
Second in the whole country?
The magazine's Alan Shipnuck wrote, "Our criteria emphasized all-around excellence during the last 10 years and included state titles won and college athletes produced."
So, I asked Jones mischievously, what if someone like me (younger by 50 years) who can't play and barely held off Heather for next-to-last in the 2.2-mile boot-camp run Thursday, shows up at school in September? Where do I fit? What do I do?
"You," said Jones, with a twinkle in his eye, "take up a musical instrument."
The DeMatha tradition began with Wootten's success in basketball nearly 50 years and his 1,274 varsity basketball wins ago, with generally consistent support from the administration, in particular the retired principal John Moylan and his successor, Daniel McMahon. It was bolstered by a succession of mostly smart hires such as football coach Bill McGregor and a tradition of great teams that annually produce dozens and dozens of college athletes. It also helps that parents of many of the best athletes want to send their sons to DeMatha, where the tuition is currently $7,500 per year.
"Some of our competitors say we're just a jock school, a factory where we build athletes," McMahon said. "That's far from the truth. We don't have great facilities. We succeed by having excellent people as coaches. It isn't the system here, it's the people. We try to provide a model on how to achieve something in adulthood. We try to find a spot for every kid at DeMatha, whether it's sports or the band or something. It's about belonging and participating."
Wootten said, "They find something for everyone." Former Post sportswriter David Aldridge, a DeMatha graduate now working for the Philadelphia Inquirer and TNT, calls himself the school's "patron saint of the uncoordinated." Aldridge remembered trying out for the junior varsity football team, "a brief experience that lasted three days and put me on the school newspaper and encouraged me to be a complete person."