When Dorothy Showalter and Betty Dillon helped Gwynn Park win a state championship in girls' basketball in 1947, they never thought about the fact that schools were segregated and that the Yellow Jackettes, as they were then called, played against only all-white teams.
This past winter, as Kristen Boone led the Yellow Jackets to their third straight state title on the basketball court, she said she never thought about the fact that her team was composed of only black players.
"Right now, if there was a white person on the team, it would be unusual," Boone said. "But it wouldn't make anyone look twice."
Fifty years after the Supreme Court's landmark decision in the Brown vs. Board of Education case, Prince George's County has changed immensely. Once mostly rural and white, it is now predominantly urban, suburban and black.
In the case of the Gwynn Park girls' basketball teams, race is only one aspect of the changes that have occurred over time. Gender equality movements created more -- and better -- opportunities for girls to play sports.
When Gwynn Park won its first two girls' basketball state titles, in 1947 and 1948, interscholastic opportunities for girls were limited to basketball. The game was played on a half-court setup; three forwards played only on offense, and three guards played only on defense. Uniforms were different, too. The players wore yellow blouses and long black shorts they made themselves. Then, after the 1948-49 school year, schools did not field any interscholastic teams.
"There was a time when they stopped basketball for girls because they thought it was too strenuous," Showalter said.
But sports still were important. Showalter and Dillon still have the school yearbooks from their senior years, scrapbooks with newspaper articles and other mementos such as the sterling silver basketballs engraved with their initials for winning county championships.
"It was the highlight of our lives," Dillon said. "It really was. Back then, we didn't have anything else. Sports and church were the biggest things in our lives."
Race was not an issue teenagers thought about at the time.
"We knew there was segregation and took it for granted that black children would go to their school and we would go to our school," Showalter said. "We really didn't think about it. We had a black maid at the house, and several black men worked on the [tobacco] farm [that her father managed], and there were black members at our church. I've heard stories later, but as a child you didn't think anything about it, the life they did live. Which is sad now to think about it. That's the way it was, and you didn't even question it."
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, the lead sanctioning body in the state, was unaware of Gwynn Park's first two championships until 2002, when the daughter of a player on the team spoke up after hearing the Yellow Jackets' title that year trumpeted as the first in school history.
Even so, some current Gwynn Park players were unaware of the team's accomplishments or the climate in which they took place, Boone said, adding that she recently talked with one of her teachers about the Brandywine school's history.
"It amazes me how much it has changed," Boone said. "Sports are definitely a common ground. If you don't know anybody and you play sports and they play sports, that gives you something to talk about. You can meet a lot of different people and learn a lot of different things just through sports."
No one knows that more than Marvin Vann, the Yellow Jackets' longtime coach. He grew up in Seat Pleasant, graduated from Suitland High and eventually became a teacher in the county.
"Until I went to college, it was a segregated system," Vann said. "We used to watch the [black] kids from south county, Accokeek, come right by our school . . . to go to Fairmont [Heights]."
Now that he is a vice principal and coach at a school that has a majority of black students, Vann said race is something he, too, does not notice. Ability and traits such as enthusiasm and desire are what people see.
"In athletics, I think we've gotten beyond" race as an issue, Vann said. "I'm thankful. I would hate to have gone through this and never had the opportunity to know and coach all these fine people. I'll go to war with them. I know I can trust them. I hope they just accept me just as I accept them. . . . They're my kids. I'm proud of them and delighted to be with them."