High school graduation is a time for reflection. In interviews with staff writer Donald Huff, three D.C. area coaches discussed their feelings as they watched senior athletes shed helmets, pads and uniforms for caps and gowns.
Paul (Red) Jenkins often thinks of his own high school days at Mount Vernon when caps and gowns are distributed at W.T. Woodson. It is a joyful but painful experience.
"Never missed one graduation, either here or at Annandale (where he taught three years) or Gonzaga (one year)," said Jenkins, the school's basketball coach. "You're sorry things have to end and you'd like to have the same group of athletes again but you can't, so you smile and wish them well.
"This time of the year is special for everyone - the kids, teachers, parents and the coaches. You just hope, as a coach, you've helped them in some small way."
Each graduation, Jenkins gathers his basketball players and the cheer-leaders and takes a group picture. He keeps each picture in a small room at the school, along with dozens of other clippings, awards and mementoes.
"I go in there sometimes and just sit and look at the pictures, he said.
Jenkins, who has been at the Fairfax school 16 years, remembers one special evening at the senior class awards banquet in 1964. He was asked to say a few words. Jenkins, who had just enjoyed his first winning season as a head coach, received a standing ovation. He broke down and cried.
"There's nothin wrong with crying. Coaching is a people business, and you feel good when your kids have grown up and are ready to move on," he said.
The West Virginia native is a happy-go-lucky preacher of love and team-work. He has excellent rapport with people, especially his players. Many seek out the slighty built, red-haired George Washington University graduate for advice on everything from romance problems to what color car they should buy.
Jenkins has been something of a pioneer in helping Northern Virginia gain recognition in an area in which the District and Carholic schools have dominated. He was the first coach to bring his all-white across the bridge to play in most of the everything-goes summer basketball leagues.
"Basketball is basketball. If you want the best team, you have to play the best," he said.
Jenkins proudest achievement was helping two black transfer students from Luther Jackson in Alexandria get into college.
Walter Hawkins and Skip Brandon were vocational students at the all-black school before it closed. According to Jenkins, "they had never even taken an achievement test."
"People told me to forget about them." Jenkins said "I refused. Both were exceptionally good players, but no one had taken the time to force them to apply themselves academically," said Jenkins, with a bit of anger.
With Jenkins' help, both Hawkins and Brandon went to Chanute (Kan.) Junior College. Hawkins went on to Utah, playing with Mike Newlin of the Houston Rockets, while Brandon enrolled at Oral Roberts.
Brandon now is a regional manager of a shoe company in Maryland and Hawkins a playground director with the Fairfax County Recreation Department.
"I know I wouldn't have a degree or be where I am today if it wasn't for Red," said Hawkins. "He was honest and fair with us. He didn't have to play us. With things the way they were then, Red had no hangups with color. He gave us the opportunity and then convinced us to go to school. I had no intention of going, but he kept insisting."
"I want my players to be good people first. Good people make good basketball players," he said. "And they are good people."
Jenkins gets a special feeling when his former players graduate from colleege. When John Picorak (Davidson) and Mike Sheehan (William & Mary) finished medical school recently, Jenkins commended them and insisted on "a free physical exam for life."
"I've had great players and hated to lose them. The pain is there when they leave but you start to forget a little when the new ones come in. Those are the ones you must worry about now."