At all-male DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, the band practices in trailers but still consistently places first in competitions. The school's championship-caliber football team has no playing field. DeMatha's perennially-strong wrestling squad practices on mats dragged into empty classrooms at the end of the school day.

The largest private high school in the District and Maryland, DeMatha is a combination of traditional school building and seven temporary structures, trailers and renovated houses. An old lockerroom has been converted into a typing room. What were once cubbyholes are now rehearsal rooms. Nonetheless, this unusual environment has spawned a tradition of overachievers in academics, music and sports.

"The accent here is on people, not facilities," said John Mitchell, the school's band director for 18 years. Mitchell has been offered many directorships around the country, yet chooses to remain with DeMatha. "I stay because of the kids, the staff and the exceptional support of the band boosters."

Among Mitchell's former pupils are Peter Bay, conductor with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and a slew of other classical musical performers and studio musicians.

And, of course, the name DeMatha brings to mind the basketball program of Coach Morgan Wootten. Playing in a tiny gym, the team has won five national championships and has a record of 860-122 during the past 32 years.

For the past 13 years, a former DeMatha player has started on the Harvard basketball team. Scores of players such as Kenny Carr and Adrian Dantley have played at major colleges and then the pros. But no matter how talented a DeMatha player may be, he won't play in a varsity sport if any of his teachers think he is not performing up to his academic level.

"We've been very successful in athletics," said Principal John Moylan. "But we take greater pride in academics, in making young men better people who will be able to do well in the world, men of integrity. We offer a curriculum that can compete with any magnet school in the area and we don't just offer the courses to 15-20 percent of the students. All of them take science, literature, math and fine arts."

Magnet schools, which offer specialized college or business courses, have been used in the Prince George's County school system to help draw white students to predominantly black schools as part of the county's court-ordered integration effort.

"What's important is that 99 percent of our kids take the SATs and we still score {an average} 446 verbal and 485 math," said Moylan. "Meanwhile the national average is 430 verbal and 476 math."

When DeMatha's honor students -- those in the top third of their classes -- took the SATs, they scored 580 in verbal and 670 in math. Just as impressive are school statistics showing that almost 99 percent of DeMatha's students are accepted into universities and that 95 percent get their college diplomas.

"Anyone can get into college," said Moylan. "But being a success once you get there is what's important."

A DeMatha sophomore taking American literature must read 10 novels and 50 short stories, about twice the load assigned at a normal high school. Students meet similar standards the next two years while learning world and British literature.

In fact, many of the students, who pay $2,300 in tuition and fees, elect to take the sort of course load one would expect a college freshman or sophomore to handle. Because of the school's attention to excellence and challenging curriculum, the U.S. Department of Education cited DeMatha as one of 60 exemplary private schools in the country in 1984.

At many private schools there is a frequent turnover of instructors. But DeMatha's staff of 52 teachers have been at the school for an average of eight years.

Dan McMahon is chairman of DeMatha's English department. He's an alumnus and currently in his seventh year of teaching at the private school. "DeMatha is a place where teachers want to teach and are given a lot of freedom," said McMahon. "You are not burdened by committee or an institutional bureaucracy. We set high expectations and the kids rise to them." Although he is nearing the completion of his doctorate, McMahon said, "I suspect I'll be here for a long time. I don't know if I could see as many students at another school and there is nothing as exhilarating as sharing ideas with a young person."

Named for St. John DeMatha and established by the Order of The Most Holy Trinity, the institution opened in 1946. In the late 1960s, the school began turning to predominantly lay teachers. Slightly more than 35 percent of the student body is non-Catholic. But spirituality and discipline still have a strong presence on campus.

Eight priests teach at DeMatha. There's a crucifix and American flag in every classroom. Students wear uniforms -- blue for underclassmen and maroon for juniors and seniors. Each of the 835 students are required to take four years of religious studies and volunteer for 40 hours of community service, including such things as coaching Little League baseball and working in local hospitals.

Arnie Casterline, a senior from New Carrollton, is a participant in band and a one-time lacrosse player. He was pleased with DeMatha, saying he felt both stimulated and inspired by the school's academic attitude.

"If you aren't doing well, the teachers always think it's their fault. They'll stay after school until you have it down," said Casterline. "It's like family here."

"Students tend to be more serious about their studies," said senior Patrick Brennan of Bowie. A little more than 70 percent of DeMatha students live in Washington or Prince George's County. The rest come from as far away as Annapolis, Fairfax and Frederick. The school offers no scholarships.

"You're not just going to slide by," said Brennan. "You have to work hard." A member of the band, Brennan plans to attend the Naval Academy or Notre Dame for aerospace engineering.

Mark Melvin is a senior from Bowie. His father, an alumni of DeMatha, used to bring him often to the campus. "I liked what I saw and decided it was what I wanted in a school," said Melvin. "It's so different from a public school. There, you were an outcast if you participated academically. Here it's not normal if you don't."

Senior Jim Carrick handles a full load of schoolwork and extra curricular activites. He not only plays clarinet in the DeMatha band but has an "A" average despite taking advanced placement physics, honors English, advanced calculus, religion, government, wind ensemble and advanced music theory. Carrick, who wants to pursue a career in either biology or genetics, said it is not unusual for him to spend five hours a night studying.

"The caliber at DeMatha is so high, you want to do well and usually have no problem because of the way material is presented. You're taught to set goals and strive for them. At DeMatha you're taught never to give up."