Bill Butler, 85; Guided D.C. Athletes to College

Bill Butler worked for the Police Boys and Girls Clubs for almost 50 years.
Bill Butler worked for the Police Boys and Girls Clubs for almost 50 years. (Family Photo)
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By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2008

Bill Butler, 85, a Washington boys' club coach, mentor and administrator who helped guide the city's most promising young athletes to college sports programs, died Feb. 7 at Sibley Memorial Hospital after a heart attack.

Mr. Butler spent nearly 50 years as a salaried employee of the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs, a charitable organization formed to combat juvenile delinquency. He was also a youth services counselor with the federal Labor Department and later the District's Department of Employment Services before retiring in 1976.

His specialty in both careers was finding athletic scholarships for promising youngsters. He estimated that he had a role in sending more than 200 Washington teenagers to colleges and encouraging them in their athletic careers afterward.

Those he was credited with helping included former Georgetown University basketball coach John Thompson Jr., NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor and Pro Football Hall of Famer Willie Wood.

"Before I got in the game, no black kids from the D.C. public schools got scholarships anywhere in Division I," he told The Washington Post in 1995.

"So kids weren't motivated to study, to get grades, because they weren't going anywhere" after high school, he said. "The Catholic league kids got scholarships, but other All-Met kids didn't. I decided to do something about it."

In the early 1950s, he became involved with Police Boys Club No. 2, as it was known then, through James "Jabbo" Kenner, a heavyweight boxer who helped found the city's first police boys' club for blacks.

Mr. Butler began volunteering with the club, then housed in an elementary school near Third and K streets NW. It later moved to the gym of what was once M Street High School, at 128 M St. NW.

In 1979, Mr. Butler helped stage a sit-in against the city's efforts to dislodge the club from the high school to build a parking lot. The city cut off the school's heating system, prompting Mr. Butler and other boys' club officials to wrap themselves in heavy coats to continue coaching.

With others, Mr. Butler argued that M Street High was a historic site -- the first school for black students built in the city with public money. The heating was restored.

In 1998, Clubhouse No. 2 was renovated and dedicated to Mr. Butler and Julius Wyatt, another club coach and official. Over the years, Mr. Butler won honors from the D.C. recreation department and the National Association of Black Journalists, among other organizations, for his dedication to the club.

William Leroy Butler was born in Washington on Sept. 19, 1922, and dropped out of high school in ninth grade. He was a Marine Corps veteran of World War II and later received a GED.

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