Northern Virginia's basketball coaches may have solved a problem that was pestier than an over-played, full-court press with a solution as simple as going back-door.
The challenge: establishing a reputable summer boys basketball league with a single, central location and a good enough level of play that college coaches would be interested in attending.
The solution: get a young, enthusiastic coach like Win Palmer, and hold it at a private school like St. Stephen's.
The result: Northern Virginia High School basketball -- public and private -- now has a summer league that has 14 of the region's top teams composed of players who will form the nuclei of next year's varsities.
The St. Stephen's League, which began play Monday with games at 6, 7:15 and 8:30, and continues each week Monday through Thursday until it culminates with playoffs and a championship on Aug. 1. It will have teams from Mount Vernon, T.C. Williams, West Springfield, Robinson, Annandale, Hayfield, Stuart, Herndon, Lake Braddock, Langley, Paul VI, Bishop Ireton, Bishop O'Connell and St. Stephen's.
Northern Virginia boys will also play in the in the Sidwell Friends (Lee, W.T. Woodson, Flint Hill and Bishop Ireton) and and Jelleff leagues (Oakton, Lake Braddock, McLean, West Potomac, Bishop O'Connell and Potomac).
The Fairfax County League (boys: West Potomac, Mount Vernon, Fairfax, Wakefield, Patriots, Gar-Field, Edison, Hayfield and Jefferson; girls: Mount Vernon, Annandale, Hayfield, Gar-Field, West Potomac, Jefferson, Stuart, Falls Church, Fairfax, Chantilly, Robinson, McLean and Lee) will again he held this summer.
But most of the attention will be on the St. Stephen's League.
According to Palmer, the league was formed because Northern Virginia's coaches believed the region needed its own strong summer league.
"I was invited to a public school coaches' meeting," Palmer said recently from Durham, N.C., where he and 36 St. Stephen's players were participating in an early summer camp. "There was concern that there was no strong summer league in Virginia."
The reasons why the coaches wanted a strong league are obvious. What isn't readily apparent is why the District's leagues or the Fairfax County leagues didn't suffice.
"Our problem with the leagues downtown is a travel problem, especially during rush hour," said Mount Vernon Coach Don McCool. "Fighting traffic is just too much to ask kids to do. That's why I haven't looked into Jelleff or Sidwell Friends."
Hayfield Coach Robert Chuey agreed: "First of all, traveling into D.C. can be tough. We were in Jelleff three or four years and it's a good league. But getting the kids together for an early game in D.C. can be difficult. When you have an early game you run into problems."
Also, college coaches attending Sidwell Friends and Jelleff games rarely were interested in seeing players from the Northern Virginia schools when top-notch players from Dunbar, Spingarn and McKinley Tech also were on the court.
The Fairfax County League had drawbacks of its own.
"There have been so many teams competing in that league that you are never sure who is going to be in it," Chuey said.
"The St. Stephen's League is more of a select league with teams that have been good in the past," Chuey said. "The teams in it have had good regular seasons and good summer programs as far as their turnouts."
In fact, because the county runs an "open" league, entrants aren't necessarily rising varsity teams.
"I've played in other leagues in Northern Virginia and sometimes there's not an official scorer," McCool said. "Sometimes they don't have score clocks. And sometimes you have to play in a variety of locations. Usually it's run by Fairfax recreation and consequently it's not as well organized."
In county-run leagues, playing sites are often not ideal.
"The schools have to be open for the general public," McCool said. "One year, at Lee, where they have two gyms, they held the league in the smaller gym. They're not real interested in promoting high school athletics. They're interested in promoting physical fitness for the whole community."
The St. Stephen's League was opened to Northern Virginia high schools only. On the first possible date of reply Palmer received 11 applicants. On the second day he got three more. He originally had planned to have only 12 teams, but he could devise no fair way to whittle the last three respondents to one, so he took them all.