Forestville High School has a short history in which the student body can find reason to take pride. The school opened three years ago and took over a two-building complex that formerly housed Spaulding Junior High and Forestville Elementary, so any heritage the Knights have is recently established.
But, despite the short time span, the Forestville student body has something unusual in which to take pride this week -- the success of the school's basketball program. In the third year of what many believed would be a long building plan, Forestville had both its boys and girls teams in last weekend's state playoffs.
The boys won the Class B championship by defeating Milford Mill Saturday night, 67-63, at Cole Field House. They finished 21-3, ranked No. 3 in the area.
The girls won the Prince George's AB title with a 10-0 league regular, but lost in the state semifinals to eventual champion Southern of Harwood, 70-55.
While the students are rejoicing, the administration is left to wonder, with the rest of the state, just how the Knights got so good in so little time.
"That is something," Athletic Director Paul Lewis said. "I knew if we had the right kids, the hard work would pay off, but I'm surprised how quickly (it came about)."
The feat is even more surprising considering the slow start with which the Knights athletic teams started in the 1982-83 year. Amid a criticism, Lewis decided to have the school begin varsity play in its first year, when the Knights were still in their infancy. The result was a combined six-win, 92-loss record for the athletic teams.
"They grew up the hard way," said Lewis.
But the experience paid off for the Black and White and things turned around last season. The boys basketball team improved to 13-12. Seeded sixth, it upset Hammond and Oakland Mills in the regional playoffs before falling to Mount Hebron. The girls improved from their 0-20 mark to finish at .500. The foundation had been laid, and the Knights, with two-year returning starters having taken their lumps, were now mature.
Former Surrattsville Coach Aaron Holder was hired by Lewis to coach the boys team and former Largo Coach Ruby Davis was recruited to guide the girls. Both had been winners at their former posts and had taken teams to the state playoffs -- Holder in 1979, Davis in 1981 -- but they were excited about starting anew with programs of their own.
"It was a unique situation," Holder said. "A chance to open a new school and start a new program. It was a big challenge. I was very interested in starting something from scratch.
"Over the three-year period we have done a lot of work to get to this point, but it's amazing we reached this level this quickly. I thought it would take four or five years. I'm overjoyed with the success."
Davis is elated, too. But she deflects the credit away from herself and toward Jackie McKinnon, the Knights' 23-points-a-game all-Met center, who transferred to Forestville after starring her sophomore year at St. Anthony's.
"That was the turning point," Davis said. "Jackie turned the whole team around. The girls fell in love with her from the beginning. She has more with her than a basketball, she has personality."
McKinnon's influence and talent turned a team "that just wanted to play ball" into instant contenders, Davis said.
The athletic success, in turn, has given Prince George's County's smallest school (1,080 students) a personality of its own. "At first there wasn't any school spirit," Lewis said. "But over the three years, it's gradually picked up more and more. The school's quite alive . . . They have something to identify with."
In fact, Lewis credits Forestville's fan support for helping the boys team reach the state playoffs. The home court advantage provided the edge, he said, in the Knights' 88-86 overtime victory over Oakland Mills in the Class B Region III final.
"It was a very emotional crowd," Holder said. "Our best crowd of the year."
It was a long way from the team's humble beginnings.
"That first year we took our lumps," said Holder. "(The players) understood what they were going against, but they were very excited. I had to give them a lot of encouragement, (but) that first year was one of my better years coaching. The players were willing to learn, and willing to listen."
Success, even a second time around, is not lost on the coaches. They also realize the present good fortune could be short-lived, especially for the girls team.
"I don't think we can do it again next year. It will take 200 percent extra work," Davis said. But thinking again about the present, she said, "I think I'm still like a zombie. It's just amazing."