After an Offseason Filled With Funerals, the H.D. Woodson Girls Team Turns Its Attention to Basketball

By Jeff Nelson
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, December 11, 2008

Frank Oliver's life is all about basketball, so he has no trouble remembering the exact date of the first phone call. It was June 17, late at night, nearly 20 minutes after the Boston Celtics clinched the NBA title.

The H.D. Woodson girls' coach, who had been rooting for Kevin Garnett to finally win a championship, watched in the bedroom of his Southeast Washington home, enthralled by the celebration.

Then his cellphone rang.

It was his mother, and she was crying. His second cousin had been shot in District Heights. She was dead at age 17.

"I just could not believe it," Oliver said. "I said: 'No, not her. It just can't be.' So young, you know. Who would want to do something like that to somebody, to take away their life, a young girl? It was shock."

Oliver tried to accept the reality of losing a loved one, unaware that he would soon have company.

Between that June night and the first game of the 2008-09 season, he received three more calls with crushing news. Each time, it was one of the girls from his basketball team at H.D. Woodson, and someone's brother, or mother, or cousin had died.

For a team contending for the nation's No. 1 high school ranking, it was an offseason filled with funerals. And now, with their national schedule underway and their lofty goals unchanged, the H.D. Woodson girls plan on overcoming personal loss by achieving team glory.

"It will be tough," senior Jeniece Johnson said, "but we can do it."

They already displayed their ability to play -- and play well -- regardless of the circumstances, back in July.

The Warriors, who form a club team coached by Oliver in the summer, returned from a tournament in Tennessee late on the night of July 16.

The following day, it became apparent that one of Carleeda Green's older brothers was missing. He did not come home the night before, and as the day dragged on, Green's family grew more concerned.

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