One fall Saturday a quarter-century ago the Armstrong High School football team piled onto a flat-bed truck and sputtered off toward what would be an historic athletic event in Washington.
"We had no idea what we were going to do or where we were going, or even where we were once we got there," said John Burroughs. "It had been kept secret from us. But once we knew who we'd be playing we realized why it'd been kept a secret."
They would be playing a white team.
Fortunately, almost an entire generation now has trouble coming to terms with athletic Washington before Brown vs. Board of Education, with the fact that students would come together at street-car transfer points and the whites would go one way to their schools and the blacks would go another to theirs.
There had been integrated teams before 1953, but almost nothing beyond the playgrounds, although the high school coaches association had been mixed as early as 1942 in an unsuccessful attempt to get pay for its members.
So when the John Carroll coach, Tuffy Leemans, picked up the phone and arranged a scrimmage with the Armstrong coach. Theodore W. (Mac) McINtyre, it was the first time a predominately white school would play an all-black school.
Carroll was much less excited about the event, because it had been integrated from its beginning in 1950 and one of two blacks played on the football team. But a halfback on that team, Bill Hessler, now a vice president with Riggs National Bank, recalled:
"I do believe some of the Carroll kids were a little afraid the black kids would be superior. There was a little hesitation on the part of some of the players, but that stopped once the scrimmage started."
For Burroughs, now a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department, "it was the first time I'd ever lined up against a white guy. I guess I was surprised by how easily we moved the ball up and down the field."
Memories are often clouded by age. But everyone contacted agrees it was a scrimmage rather than a game, with officials in uniform but one team controlling the ball either for a set number of minutes or plays, or until it scored a touchdown.
Everyone agrees it was an excellent, as well as a memorable morning at Carroll, the final tuneup for two fine teams that would begin their separate seasons in a week or so. Although no score was kept, everyone agrees Armstrong was the better team, possibly by as many as two touchdowns.
"I think everyone hit harder because of the circumstances," said Leemans, inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame earlier this year. "I had nothing in mind about black-white when I called Mac. What I wanted was a good scrimmage. And they taught me some lessons."
Hessler vividly remembers one halfback, probably the gifted Mike Hagler, who with Burroughs played on back-to-back Rose Bowl teams at Iowa, and one play.
"He gained about 10 yard on the play, but the coach (McIntyre) told him he'd run it wrong," Hessler said. "So they ran it again, with the coach telling us exactly where it was going. And he still gained about 10 yards. And the coach still told him he'd run it wrong.
"So they ran it a third time - and this time I guess it was right, because the guy went the whole way for a touchdown."
From the mid-'30s through the mid-'50s, McIntyre's Armstrong teams rarely lost - and when they did, it usually was to the equally successful Cardozo teams of Sylvester R. (Sal) Hall. McIntyre would play black schools as far away as Delaware and Richmond, because his efforts to play white Washington schools failed.
"Once (John) Jankowski, the coach at Eastern, and I tried to arrange a game," McIntyre said, "but when we took the plan upstairs to the powers in the school system they made us wash our mouths out."
One reason McIntyre kept the Carroll scrimmage a secret until almost kickoff, why he would say. "I put my job on the line," took place two years or so before, during a game with Parker Gray in Alexandria.
"I had a kid on my club, very high skinned and with blond hair," he said. "You couldn't tell him from a white kid. During the game, there was a commotion on our end of the field. Seems the police came over and arrested a friend of mine, who looked like me.
"They thought he was the coach - and he was arrested for having a white kid play with blacks."
Burroughs said the Armstrong players did not realize the significance of the scrimmage until later, when we talked about possibly making history. But it was no big deal at the time. It was like another game.
"What strikes me now is how many players simply never got a chance to play beyond high school because of segregation. They never got a chance to be noticed, especially by the press. I know there were (white) players at Iowa, with big-city reputations, who couldn't have made my team at Armstrong."
Bob Dwyer, the Carroll athletic director at the time, arranged for the scrimmage and said it helped smooth the way for the first black-white basketball game later that year. That was Carroll versus Spingarn, another historic moment for Hessler.
"Elgin Baylor had something like 44 points," he said. "He did things I'd never seen on a court before. I once saw him jump over one of our players. That was an amazing experience, too."
Dwyer, arguably the area's pre-eminent high-school basketball coach for decades, said McIntyre "was the best high school football coach of his era, like the guy at Tech. Hap Hardell, was the best of his."
By 1955, Cardoza was able to play Gonzaga for the city championship. There was no longer any need to whisper the site and game time, to in fact keep a game among youngsters hidden, as there had been more than two years before.
"There was no bigger man who ever walked the face of the earth than Tuffy Leemans," said McIntyre. "I don't know how much hell Tuffy would have caught, but I would have caught a lot.
"About two or three weeks later, my people hadn't raised an issue and the other people hadn't raised an issue but my principal called me in and asked me if what he'd heard was true about the game.
"I said it was. He said that if the issue was raised we'd have to get together and fight it the best way we could. Then he gave me hell for not telling him earlier, so he could have seen the game himself."