When Leroy Moreno graduated from Spingarn High School in 1976 he had an academic record that probably would have disqualified him for admission to several major universities that had sought him because of his basketball prowess.
Nevertheless, the Southeast Washington youth--who made the All-Interhigh team while at Spingarn--received a full athletic scholarship to Southeast Community College SCC in Fairbury, Neb., with the help of Executive III, an organization of professional men who help Washington area youngsters turn their athletic abilities into college opportunities.
Since 1972, the group, made up of four Prince George's County residents, has helped arrange scholarships for more than 100 youths, half of whom have earned degrees, said Harold Bates, program director of Executive III.
"It's a really good organization for . . . a person trying to make it," said Moreno, who received an associate degree from SCC in 1978, then transferred to Montana State University, but later dropped out and now counsels autistic children at a Potomac, Md., institution.
"We look for the kid who's not going to be recruited by the big schools, the kids who are not the superstars," in addition to those who, like Moreno, do not have the grades to match their athletic skills, Bates said.
Bates, a librarian with the D.C. Public Library system, was one of five founding members of the organization, which began in 1965 as Executives Limited, a social club of Fairmont Heights High School graduates who had kept in touch through college and military service. Executive III eventually expanded its efforts to garner scholarships for minority athletes, focusing not only on those from Fairmont but also on youths throughout the metropolitian area.
Bates leads the informally run organization, which includes Aaron Coleman, a COMSAT employe, and two coaches, Stanley (Butch) McDowell, an extermination company executive, and Sterling (Fluff) Parker, a District recreation counselor.
The organization maintains two summer basketball squads: one helps train players for the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) competition for youths 19 and under; a second competes in the Urban Coalition summer league and includes some older college athletes, noncollegiate players and professionals.
Bates said these summer competitions show-case the Executive III athletes to college coaches, who are drawn to the games by the local high school "superstar" players, collegiate players and professionals who occasionally participate, such as Ralph Sampson of the University of Virginia and Thorough Bailey of North Carolina State.
"This program was my second chance," said SCC sophomore Neil Wake, 24, a scholarship student who graduated from Middlesex (Va.) High School in 1976, but did not go on to college.
Wake was jobless when Bates approached him two years ago at a local basketball tournament. Last year, Wake and five other Executive III players became known as the "D.C. Super Six" on the SCC campus after they led the team to a 12-0 record, placing the school fourth among junior colleges in the nation.
Bates said junior colleges provide the social and academic tutoring required for the players to make it in larger institutions, to which many later transfer.
Among current Executive III players are Jan Pannell, a McKinley Tech graduate, who recently was the starter for the University of Oklahoma; brothers Earl and Linwood Davis, Roosevelt High School graduates who play for Laredo (Tex.) Junior College, and Leo (BB) McGainey, a Potomac High graduate and one of last year's "D.C. Super Six" at SCC.
Not all the athletes who participate in Executive III need the kind of exposure to recruiters that the group seeks to provide, Bates said, nor do all of them have poor grades. Some Executive III alumni, like former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Lenny Wills, had been passed over by college recruiters because of size, he said. Others were recruited but later dropped out of school.
Moreno, now 25, is hoping Executive III will help him resume his college studies. "This time my priorities are strictly academic," he said. "I realize now it is all on me."
Although Executive III stresses academic achievement, Bates said members share a belief that acquiring a college degree is not the only measure of success.
"We hope that the academic experience itself will stimulate the student) to seek a higher quality of life," Bates said, "that he will no longer desire to stand on the corner, smoke pot and slap hands."