When Kenneth Fields graduated from Fairmont Heights High School last year, basketball was the most important thing in his life. But six months at a Nebraska junior college have changed the teen-ager's priorities.
"Getting an education is important, not playing basketball," said Fields, now a freshman at Southeast Community College in Fairbury, Neb.
Fields is one of a half-dozen Southeast Community College players from the Washington area who have been known as the "D.C. Super Six" since they helped the team achieve a 12-0 record last year. Nationally, the school was fourth-ranked in basketball among junior colleges.
The players are all beneficiaries of Executive III, a program founded by a group of Prince George's County professionals who volunteer their time to help Washington-area youths use athletics as a means to higher education.
Since 1972, the group has helped arrange scholarships for more than 100 youths, half of whom have earned degrees, said Harold Bates, program director of Executive III.
The group had helped only male athletes until last fall, but then Bates came to watch 18-year-old Christine (Tina) Jordan play girls' basketball for Fairmont Heights High School. As a result of Bates' interest, Jordan received a full basketball scholarship to Western Wyoming Junior College in Rock Springs.
Jordan, who said she would not be in college now without Executive III, warmed the bench for five of the eight games played this season by the junior college's Lady Spartans team--until her grades improved. "They the coaches kept telling me, 'Get your grades up and you can play,' " she said. She expects to play for the remainder of the season, she said.
The second-semester freshman said her mother tried to dissuade her from playing basketball "from the very beginning." But Jordan herself said she is encouraging other female athletes to "keep playing. If I had stopped I wouldn't have this chance now."
Jordan's beliefs were echoed by Western Wyoming schoolmate Stanley Mills, a Duval High School graduate.
"I would not be in college today without Executive III , I would probably be looking for a job or sweeping floors," Mills said.
Said Bates: "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 do not have the grades to match their athletic skills.
Bates, a librarian in the District, was one of five founding members of the organization. It 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.
Seven years later the club became Executive III and began seeking college scholarships in football, basketball and track for minority athletes from their old high school.
Over the decade since it began, Executive III has broadened its eligibility requirements to include minority athletes from throughout the metropolitan area.
Bates emphasized that although the active sports in which they sought players were narrowed to basketball, the group tries to help eligible students in any sport seek scholarship funds. For instance, in 1979, Fairmont Heights quarter-miler Curtis Hall and teammate Louis Warren received scholarships through Executive III, Bates said.
Bates is one of four leaders of the informally run Executive III effort; the others are Aaron Coleman, a COMSAT employe; Stanley McDowell, a district manager for American Pest Control, and Sterling Parker, a counselor for the D.C. Department of Recreation. All four are residents of Prince George's County.
The organization maintains two summer basketball squads: one that helps train players for the Amateur Athletic Union competition for youths 19 and under, and a second that vies in the Urban Coalition summer league and includes some older college athletes, noncollegiate players and professionals.
These summer competitions showcase the Executive III athletes to college coaches. Bates said the coaches 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 University.
Bates said the majority of Executive III athletes attend junior colleges, which he said provide the academic tutoring needed to help the players continue their education at larger institutions.
Among the Executive III players from Maryland currently enrolled in colleges are John Watkins, a Duval High School graduate who went to Anderson (S.C.) Junior College and now plays for Winston-Salem State University, and Ken Harvey of Fairmont Heights and Leo (BB) McGainey of Potomac High School, both members of the Southeast Community College's "D.C. Super Six."
Not all the athletes who participate in Executive III need the kind of exposure to recruiters that the group seeks to provide, Bates said. Some Executive III alumni, such as former Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Lenny Wills, had been passed over because of size, he said. Others, including McGainey and Junior Brown, a former member of the "D.C. Super Six," were recruited but later dropped out of college.
"I wasn't ready for the responsibilities of college life ," said the 21-year-old Brown, referring to his ill-fated year at High Point (N.C.) College. "It was my own fault . . . . But I have learned from my mistakes."
Although he had always planned to attend college, Brown, now a business management major at the Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts, concedes that he would not be in school today without Executive III.
Some Executive III players, such as Keith Simon, say they dream of careers in sports. "If God means it to be, it will be--and I'll be ready," said Simon, a Southeast Community student who graduated last year from Forestville's McNamara High School.
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, "and that he will no longer desire to stand on the corner, smoke pot and slap hands."