Thursday, May 14, 1987

It was the annual McKinley sports banquet, a night to celebrate the successes of the past year, and 142 student athletes and their parents had gathered at the Officers Club in the Navy Yard to eat, drink and listen to a special guest speaker -- John Thompson, the head basketball coach at Georgetown University.

Thompson had his own reasons for celebrating. A month before, he had won the recruiting battle for McKinley star Anthony Tucker, an All-America who was pursued by more than 200 colleges. But when he stood to speak, he said he had other things on his mind. He wanted to tell them about Sametta Wallace Jackson, his sixth-grade teacher at Harrison Elementary School in Northwest.

She was strict, tough and strong. She was hard on Thompson, and he didn't like it. He couldn't wait to graduate so he could go on to junior high at nearby Garnet-Patterson, where he would fit in better (he was the tallest kid in his class) and where he could "show his latest moves" to the junior high girls.

But Sametta Wallace Jackson changed all that. She flunked him because he couldn't read well. "It was not a popular decision for me," Thompson said. Over the years, he learned to accept it and now believes "it was the best thing that happened to me."

He paused. "All those folks who stroke you on the back may be good to you, but not for you," he said. "I was lucky enough to find one person in my life who told me this is what you will do."

He concluded: "You have to take the responsibility for your own education. You can't blame your teacher, your coach, McKinley Tech . . . . If you want it, you better go get it. The challenge is yours."