John L. Moylan, the first layman principal of DeMatha Catholic High School, who helped build a reputation for strong athletic programs and academic achievement at the Hyattsville school, said yesterday that he will step down at the end of the school year.

Moylan, 67, has been principal for 32 years at DeMatha, which the U.S. Department of Education twice named a Blue Ribbon School of excellence during his tenure. Moylan also served as a guidance counselor, French teacher and assistant principal during his 44-year career at the school.

"I'm incredibly proud and pleased that we have a very high-quality school," said Moylan, who said he will remain active there but plans to spend more time with his wife, Joan, four adult children and three grandchildren.

During Moylan's tenure, DeMatha built a reputation for having one of the most successful high school athletic programs in the area. The Stags' football team is consistently ranked in The Washington Post's Top 20 poll, and the basketball team--which is led by Morgan Wootten, the nation's all-time winningest boys' high school coach--is always among the top teams in the country. DeMatha has produced countless Division I college athletes in several sports.

"John is what you'd call a very involved and very supportive principal," Wootten said. "I don't think that [Moylan's resignation] will have an effect on the athletic program any more that it would on the music program, or any of the other programs that are part of the total education picture. If programs are good and they're in place, they can continue to roll."

Moylan came to DeMatha in 1956 after serving in Army intelligence. Twelve years later, he became the first layman to be appointed principal of a Catholic high school in the Archdiocese of Washington.

He is credited with establishing a formal guidance program and a coeducational summer school program and directing the expansion of the school.

DeMatha has a reputation for being one of Prince George's County's finest schools, offering a varied curriculum, from traditional academic honors courses to classes in computer science, fine arts and business. According to school statistics, 98 percent of DeMatha's graduates go on to college, with 80 percent attending four-year colleges.

DeMatha was the first private high school named a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence when it was honored in 1984. It was named again in 1991, the same year Moylan received the Thomas Lyons Distinguished Principal Award of the Archdiocese of Washington.

A year later, Moylan was named Maryland Administrator of the Year by the Maryland Music Educators Association. In 1993, he was named a Principal of Excellence by The Washington Post.

During a trip to St. Thomas that was part of the Post award, Moylan was bitten by a spider and spent a week hospitalized and two more recuperating. "I hadn't missed a day of school because of illness in 35 years until then!" he said.

No formal announcement of his retirement was made at the school, but word spread quickly after Moylan notified the faculty Tuesday during a meeting. Parents will be notified in a letter to be mailed out in a few days, Moylan said.

"He will be missed," said the Rev. William J. Sullivan, DeMatha's rector. "Because of him, the school is in good shape for someone else to take the helm and move forward."

Staff writer Camille Powell contributed to this report.

CAPTION: John L. Moylan, who helped build strong athletic and academic programs at DeMatha Catholic High School, talks to a teacher, the Rev. Damien Anuszewski.