Support for T.C. Williams Runs Deep in Community

The sports community surrounding T.C. Williams in Alexandria has all the trappings of a small town, despite the fact that the high school is the third-largest in Virginia.
By Preston Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Tierra Ruffin-Pratt has grown accustomed to the inquiries from strangers in the city of Alexandria who want to know what's up with the star of the T.C. Williams girls' basketball team.

But there was one time, while she was walking between home and one of the town's recreation centers, when a car pulled up alongside her. It gave her an uneasy feeling at first.

"How's everything going on?" the friendly male driver asked the star athlete from the only public high school in Alexandria. The T.C. supporter added, "Just trying to see how you're doing in basketball."

Ruffin-Pratt recognizes that such encounters are part of life as a quasi-celebrity in the big city. Or is it small town? With Alexandria, or at least with the T.C. Williams community, you can never be too sure.

"You just have to be here to experience it," said Ruffin-Pratt, a lifelong Alexandria resident. Several of her relatives have gone to T.C., including her mother, Deneen. "If you're not a part of what we have in Alexandria," she said, "you'll never know."

For the young residents who wear T.C.'s red, white and blue uniforms, particularly basketball players in recent years, Alexandria at times can feel like an urbanized Mayberry. That's no small feat for a bustling borough with about 139,000 residents packed into 15 square miles.

Based on census data, 19.4 percent of the city's residents are younger than 18, one of the lowest percentages in the region. So Alexandria is no minivan mecca. But with T.C. being in existence since 1965, and as the lone city high school since 1971, a sizable portion of the citizenry feels a sense of ownership of the public school and its sports teams. Never mind that T.C. is the third-largest high school in Virginia, with more than 2,800 students.

"We feel as though we have to represent for the whole city, the whole town," said Dominique Copeland, a senior guard on the boys' basketball team, which advanced to the Virginia AAA tournament the past three seasons, and won the title last year.

Sure enough, earlier this month, the City of Alexandria schools' Web site featured celebratory shots of the T.C. boys' basketball team after its win over Hayfield in the Northern Region championship.

The mayor of Alexandria, William D. Euille, is a T.C. alumnus. The school's former athletic director, Kerry Donley, was mayor before he was AD and had five daughters who played sports at T.C. Many graduates work for the city or school system, or have kids who are now second-generation Titans.

The first person a spectator might encounter at a basketball game is city police officer Jim Colantuoni, who works security at the games and was a standout offensive lineman at T.C. in the mid-1970s. Jim's brother Steve is an assistant principal. Girls' basketball coach Cavanaugh Hagen is an alum who works down the hall from her father, George, a longtime teacher at the school.

"It's neat to look up and see fans who have been there for 20-some years," said Hagen, noting that some bring team newspaper articles to distribute to her players.

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