David Butler, the 6-foot-8 all-America basketball player at Coolidge High School who is not playing this semester because of academic problems, hopes to rejoin his teammates late next month.
"I really miss being out there but I'm the team's biggest cheerleader," he said. "Right now, I'm maintaining a good average and I see no reason why I shouldn't play the second semester. I know I've disappointed my teammates, my friends, my coaches and I let a lot of people down.
"I'm upset and disappointed in myself. Maybe I had a case of the big head because I was selected all-America and let down in my grades. I could have played the first semester, but after talking with the coaches and my principal, we decided it would be in my best interest to sit out and concentrate on my studies."
He said he hasn't selected a college yet but knows what he must do at Coolidge before he begins to think about next year.
"I want to attend a top college and, to accomplish that, I know I need to develop better academic habits," he said. "I want to get my average up and get a good score on the SATs. We have discussed the Proposition 48 proposal and I've seen too many guys walk in a college and walk out. I don't want to be one of those guys."
He averaged 16 points and 12 rebounds a game in leading Coolidge to a school-record 25-6 record and second place in the Interhigh League last season. He was selected first-team All-Met and went into this season regarded as one of the top inside players in the nation. As a sophomore, he averaged 15 points in helping Coolidge to a 22-6 mark.
"In the 10th grade, I did fine, grade-wise," he said. "I did more concentrating on academics than basketball. I started to slip last year and this year I did that and got behind. I really didn't want to jeopardize my senior year but, if the same thing happened again, I would make the same decision."
Technically, he could have played first semester. The District Board of Education requires athletes to pass four academic subjects. That means they can play with four Ds. The board is considering a proposal that would require a 2.0 average on a 4.0 scale for extracurricular activity eligibility.
But the team's coach, Frank Williams, and the school's principal, James Campbell, became concerned early in the school year that Butler was having problems and advised him to sit out and get his grades up. Williams and Campbell say his grades have improved enough for him to play next month.
"We are more concerned with David being successful as a person in after-basketball life," Campbell said. "When he leaves here, we want to make sure he has the academic skills to be successful in whatever he does. This was a stop-gap measure and certainly he could have played. But he wasn't working up to his potential and we thought he should take a hard look at what he was doing."
Williams is looking forward to Butler rejoining the team for the second half of the season (Jan. 27).
"It's been rough without him," said Williams, whose team is 5-2. "We've lost two players, David, and Andre (Jackson, who was shot and killed earlier this year), and it has had an effect on the team. It's hard when you take away your leading scorer and rebounder. I know he's working on his academics and we are anticipating getting him back."
Said Coolidge's assistant coach, Len Farello: "David is a potential professional player but he certainly wasn't going to get there or anywhere else if he didn't do the things necessary. We think the decision was for his benefit."
Butler said he is staying in shape by running, lifting weights and shooting baskets. He says many of his adult friends won't allow him to pick up a basketball at the Boys Club or on neighborhood playgrounds.
"They told me to come back when report cards come out," he said. "I understand what they are trying to do."
Coach Ed Tapscott of American University, said Butler could solve a glaring weakness on the Eagles.
"He's a talent," Tapscott said. "He can score inside and we certainly need more of that, as was shown in our game the other night against Georgetown. We would be interested in him. We have to see if he straightens out his academic problems."
Said John Kuester, George Washington's coach: "Butler can really play. He has great talent, quickness up and down the court and makes a difference when he is on the court. He just has to set his priorities."
Butler insists his priorities are in the right place now.
"I am working hard now on the academics and I want to come back to show people I can succeed," he said. "I don't want to be branded as someone with academic problems. I feel I'm getting a second chance. I'm glad this happened to me now instead of later."