When Billy Wright sank a desperation 18-foot jump shot to lift Coolidge to a 73-72 upset win over the Trojans in a summer basketball league playoff game Wednesday night at jelleff Boys Club, his teammates and a group of fans poured onto the court to salute their hero.
One would have thought the two teams had just finished playing for the City Championship at Cole Field House.
No one seemed to mind the muggy weather or warm cokes, especially the assistant college coaches, dressed in bright shorts and sandals. Every visiting coach seemed intent on watching the others, just making sure a rival wasn't getting the upper hand for the winter season.
Area high school coaches were also busy keeping a watchful eye on league colleagues, making sure any conversations between their star players and a rival coach weren't too friendly.D.C., school transfer rules are notoriously lax.
Is summer basketball just as competitive and serious as winter ball?
"It sure is. We play just as hard," said De Matha point guard Sidney Lowe. "We do play a little more relaxed, free-lance more. The coach (Morgan Wootten) isn't out here to jump on us."
Some jurisdictions prohibit their coaches from coaching school teams during the summer months. However, it's not uncommon to see a coach sitting in the stands, yelling out plays or words of encouragement.
"It's loosely knit. There's very little organization out there. It's fun," said Dunbar Coach Joe Dean Davidson, whose league allows him to coach. "It's a good chance to see some kids play."
Some coaches feel the "fun" aspect of summer basketball takes on a different look when their colleagues sign their teams up for three and four different leagues.
"The kids don't get any rest. They play basketball almost 10 months a year," said one area coach. "I can't play in one without hasssle.
"Most coaches tell you the kids don't have to play. Don't believe it," he continued. "They use that subtle intimidation such as, "If you don't play summer ball, your chances of making the team in the fall won't be good," or "This is the best time to improve so you can start in the fall." Just nice suggestions, you know."
The players, however, don't seem to mind the car-hopping from one gym or outdoor court to another.
"It helps you in the long run," said Lowe. Sometimes we have conflicts of time. When that happens, we split the team up. When one game is over, the team that finishes first, rushes to the other place."
Davidson, who placed his team in three leagues, said the traveling didn't present any problems.
"We have 20 kids and one of the leagues was on the weekend," said the Interhigh's most successful coach over the last four years. "I just make the leagues available to them. They don't have to play. But most do."
The 22-team Jelleff league is the most competitive in the area. The strongest teams, the Stags (DeMatha) and Trojans (Mackin), as along with many as nine or 10 Interhigh teams are usually entered. This summer, the two Catholic schools and five Interhigh teams made the eight-team playoffs, which conclude tonight.
"The competition was always here. No one had to make the good players play," said Adrian Dantley, formerly All-America at De Matha and now a forward with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"You got a chance to play teams you wouldn't meet during the year," said Dantley, leaning against a fence, watching the Stag-Trojan game "Good competition helps your game and you have to sacrifice."
Despite the relaxed atmosphere, area coaches can't resist the urge to take friendly jabs at the fellows in the stripes.
"They were fouling my kids inside and you didn't call anything," said Davidson to an official, minutes after his team was eliminated by Spingarn in overtime.
"Aw, no fouls. Good game," said the referee. "Both teams had chances to win."
Davidson wasn't the least bit angry. After all, this was summer ball and no one really takes it seriously. Almost no one.