W.T. Woodson's George Burgin and Washington-Lee's Walter Palmer Jr. are very tall. How tall? Well, as an indication, they get asked that question all the time.
Burgin, a senior, is 7 feet 0 3/4 inch and weighs 195 pounds. Palmer, a junior, is 6-11 and weighs 180. Sound like basketball players? Well, when you're built like that, that's the second mildly bothersome question gawkers ask.
If Burgin and Palmer didn't have so much potential, and if they didn't work so diligently at the sport they love, they might be defensive about the latter query.
Burgin loves basketball, but he's so set on being an aerospace engineer that he can't make up his mind whether to attend Princeton or Cornell. He knows Princeton has Coach Pete Carril, who has led the Tigers to the Ivy League title three of the past four years.
Cornell, however, has Dr. Don Greenberg. Burgin says, "He's awesome. He's so advanced in the aerospace field that he's six months ahead of everyone else and making breakthroughs daily."
Burgin gets his enthusiasm for airplanes from his father, who is a mechanic for USAIR. His hobby is flying model gliders and sail planes.
Burgin's math SAT score of more than 700 could probably get him into either school, even if his only interest in basketball were the aerodynamics of a sky hook.
Palmer is interested in acting and has a stage record nearly as impressive as the seven blocked shots per game he has averaged on the basketball court. Still, the size that helps him on the court can be frustrating off it.
"I never get the big parts because they tell me I don't fit in," Palmer said.
Last year, he played Meeker the bailiff in his school's production of "Inherit The Wind." He earned an award in the school's one-act-play contest and in his freshman year had a cameo role in "You Can't Take it With You."
Last week, Palmer dressed up as St. Nicholas. "I was the tall, skinny Santa Claus," he said with a smile.
"All the acting helps me get used to the pressure. I use the drama warm-ups and warm-downs to get ready for a game."
Palmer has found other disadvantages to his height. He had to give up cross country skiing, a sport he fell in love with when his family lived in Maine, because he couldn't find boots big enough for his size-17 feet.
Finding a bed was also a problem. "We had the headboards," said Palmer. "But we had to make extra-long rails. My Mom went to the foam store to make the mattress. Now I've got a 7-6 double bed so I can spread out."
Palmer's father, Scott, who is 6-6 and chairman of Latin American Affairs at the Foreign Service Institute, and his mother, Sally, who is 6-2, might be at the foam store again, shortly. Walter's younger brother, Crawford, is a 6-7 freshman at Washington-Lee. By way of comparison, Walter was only 6-3 two years ago.
Walter Palmer brightens at the prospect of playing on the same front line with his brother next season. "He's about where I was last year," said Walter. "I can't wait for next year."
But the elder brother's potential was not always obvious. "I didn't make the eighth-grade team," said Palmer. "On the freshman team, I sat on the bench." Last year, Palmer missed the first four games with a broken wrist, but by season's end, he was scoring about 20 points per game for the junior varsity. And this year, in addition to his blocked shots, Palmer scored 18 points against Wakefield and Fort Hunt.
Burgin also played on the junior varsity last season. Red Jenkins, the Woodson varsity coach, thought Burgin's progress might be greater playing regularly than if he had had to compete for time on last season's talented varsity team.
Palmer's father played football at Dartmouth. His mother played basketball. "She always asks, 'Why they don't just lob it into you?' "
Burgin has had some trouble finding clothing that fits. "I usually just ask for the tall catalogue," said Burgin. "My pants are usually unhemmed, but my mother sews them for me."
For Burgin, there is the amusing story about the time he got in the back seat of a Volkswagen bug: "It wasn't bad once I was in, but I'll never do it again." And he has to duck his head a few more times each day now that a Fairfax County ordinance has required Woodson to install fire doors in the school's corridors.
For both, there are those inevitable inane queries about the "the weather up there," but mostly life is pretty much the same, they say, for a 7-footer as it is for a 6-footer or a 5-footer.
"If I could be short for a week, then I could apppreciate the difference," said Burgin. "Being tall for so long, I'm used to it."
Palmer shops at the same tall men's clothing store Burgin does. "You can recommend that to all the big men," said Palmer. Indeed, with the likes of Palmer and Burgin shopping there, you might find a few college basketball recruiters shopping there, also.