High school graduation is a time for reflection. In interviews with staff writter Donald Huff, three D.C. area coaches discussed their feelings as they watched senior athletes shed helmets, pads and uniforms for caps and gowns.
Colston (Lanky) Stewart took his usual place at the door passing out programs at the Eastern High School graduation on June 5.
"You know they always put the physical education teachers on the doors," said Stewart with a laugh.
Since Stewart started teaching 42 years ago, he hasn't missed a graduation. In one sense, the tall Lynchburg, Va., native, with the features of an Indian and the manner of an English Due, is glad to see the students walk across the stage. On the other hand, Stewart is very sad.
"You watch them walk and you're not sure some will make it in life. Others, you know will be successful," said Stewart. "They're all like children to me and you can't help but become attached to them. You feel for them."
Stewart's long career as a teacher, coach, counselor and father-in-residence began at Lynchburg High in 1936. After seven years, he moved to the District to coach football, basketball and track. He began at Armstrong, moved to McKinley and came to Eastern in 1963.
"I've been around. I've taught grandchildren of some of my students." Stewart added. "That's why graduation is special. After three years, you've seen them (students) grow up. They come up me to hyg me, say thank you or just goodbye.
"When you hand out programs to the parents, they say nice things too," he continued, "they remember, I taught them too."
Like many coaches, Stewart tends to forget the bad years and remember the good ones. His track teams have won a total of 16 championships, six straight at Eastern in the '60s. Many of his runners received track scholarships.
Last week, Stewart watched another talented crew walked out of Eastern, located at 17th and East Capitol St. SE, possibly for the last time.
"You know graduation is coming and you mentally prepare for it. But the key is to keep a team built up, have a lot of underclassmen," said Stewart. "You feel a little down when your best sprinter is gone, but somehow the next year, the young kids grow and fill the gaps."
Eastern didn't have the overall strength to challenge this year's Interhigh champion McKinley or runnerup H.D. Woodson, but Stewart's 440 and mile relay teams were the most impressive foursomes at the Penn. Relays.
Stewart has always had the knack of putting together excellent relay teams. Track experts feel Armstrong's 1952 440 team of Arthur Smith, Gus Marshall, Delware Barbour and John Simpson was the fastest and most durable foursome ever assembled in the area.
Stewart also excels, according to friends, coaches, and former athletes, is motivating students.
Many troubled and problem-ridden students have turned to the man they affectionately call "Daddy" and found solace. Stewart remembers athletes who incurred drug problems, but managed to kick the habit.
"Some kids get in trouble and you can't help them. But two I recall wnated help," said Stewart."I'm proud to say one of them became a captain in the Army and the other graduated from college."
Ray Hammond, a student at Armstrong when Stewart was coaching there and now the vice principal at Eastern, says Stewart "hasn't aged a day or changed his attitude toward helping students better themselves."
"Many kids headed in the wrong direction were turned around by him," said Hammond. "If he was working on a problem, you didn't know it. He was a quiet, unassuming individual. And you know, he's an astute student of Greek mythology."
Stewart has turned down many offers to move into adminstration. He still teaches his full load in addition to coaching.
"It's an emotional experie ce each time (he watches a class graduate)." said Stewart, "but it's time to move on."
Hammond says he often teases Stewart, "but his time to move on."
"It's a year-to-year thing. I've told the principal I'll be back next year," Stewart said.
And undoubtedly, if he returns for a 43rd year, Stewart will take his familiar place at the door, shaking hands and wishing the graduates well.