The once-young Lions came home. They were older, grayer, fatter and thinner, but they were, unmistakably, the players from Archbishop Carroll High School's remarkable 1958-60 basketball teams that won 55 straight games. They were America's first dominant schoolboy team of modern times.

If anything, they are today more wondrous than ever. They include a recreation director at Attica (N.Y.) state prison, the manager of an up-and-coming soul singer, the president of Notre Dame, the United States' Olympic basketball coach, a chaplain at the Naval Academy, a Washington banker and real estate investor, two high school coaches and teachers and a onetime Navy pilot who flew cargo planes in and out of Vietnam in 1966-70, who was shot at but never hit and is happy to be alive.

How rare, for so many to be so gifted in both their former and present lives. "The one thing I remember was the strength of personalities on the team," said George Leftwich, who was considered the team's best all-round player and who is best known for a game-saving jump shot that kept the streak alive at 51.

"As players, they were all unselfish," said Billy Barnes, sixth man on the 1960 team who, as tenaciously as he once guarded opponents, searched the whereabouts of old schoolmates and organized Wednesday night's reunion dinner.

Almost uniformly, their personalities and pride led them beyond high school basketball to individual success. Now, after all these years, they returned -- joyfully, full of handshakes, embraces and laughter:

Big Tom Hoover, who played professionally for four seasons for three teams, on his way home to New York after just arriving from Chicago; the Rev. Edward (Monk) Malloy, the new president of Notre Dame, who flew in from South Bend after a recent trip to China, and brought his mother, who lives here; Kenny Price, once a dazzling player and now a banker in the District who "shot around today" at the Y; Doug Barnes, Billy's brother and predecessor as sixth man, on the 1959 team, here from Attica; Billy, 23 years a teacher and coach at Carroll; Leftwich, respected as one of Washington's greatest high school players, who this past season coached Gwynn Park High to a Maryland state title; Walt Skinner, a starter both championship seasons, who loves to fly C-130s and this week is driving his family from Avalon, N.J., to Ontario, Calif., to take a job as a C-130 test project engineer.

"I'm afraid I don't . . . " said the man who was their coach, Bob Dwyer, extending his hand to the big, gray-haired fellow coming through the Touchdown Club's entrance.

"Walt Skinner."

"Jiminy Christmas. Walt."

Walt Skinner. It was Skinner who had the presence of mind to flip Leftwich the ball so Leftwich could make his shot that was heard around the town. A photographer snapped the picture in 1960 and some of the players have a copy of it, the frozen image of Leftwich high in the air, the instant that confirmed this team was something special.

And the redhead in Navy whites? The team's second priest, the Rev. Tom Moore, a 1959 substitute and now a chaplain at the Naval Academy, who would say the blessing: "Our lives have gone down different roads {but} we thank you for this moment."

The only absent starters from either the '59 or '60 teams were John Thompson, the Georgetown and 1988 Olympic coach, and John Austin, who transferred in 1960 to DeMatha after a spectacular sophomore season at Carroll. Thompson, according to friends, chose not to attend for personal reasons, and could not be reached to elaborate. But their feats were recalled, and Hoover, who manages singer James (D-Train) Williams and remains close to his 235-pound playing weight, said, "I'm just proud to be mentioned with guys like John and Monk."

Two have died -- Julius Shelton, a junior in the '60 team picture, and Archie Moore, '58. They were remembered. Several players from the '57 and '58 Carroll teams were there -- "models," said Malloy, for the '59 and '60 teams.

Malloy's elevation to Notre Dame's presidency, succeeding the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, had prompted the gathering. Many of them -- Malloy, Hoover, Leftwich -- were playground heroes at Turkey Thicket in Northeast; Malloy recalled shooting basketballs "thousands and thousands" of times "and passing seldom."

"Very seldom," interjected Hoover, who once had a nightclub act and was billed as "the world's tallest stand-up comic." At 6 feet 9 -- Thompson was even taller -- Hoover had been an indomitable high school force, a great rebounder and shot-swatter and one of the first who was said to play the game "above the rim."

Bill Barnes said that Malloy, whose classroom expertise is Christian ethics, first learned ethics "in discussions with my brother Dougie in three 12th Street Northeast bars." While that was doubtful -- everyone said Monk Malloy was the straightest of arrows, straight as his still-effective jump shot -- this, indeed, was an essentially neighborhood team. They were largely Northeast kids; the Barnes family -- there were six boys -- lived at 12th and Kearney, and when the family moved it was to 13th and Kearney and then to 18th and Kearney. In those rooted days, down the block was a big move.

It was a team of rare character. Malloy cited the "harmony" of this racially mixed team, unusual for its time; they often stood tall together, walking out, for instance, of a Delaware restaurant that would not serve the black players. Young as they were, they all knew they were school leaders and, as it turned out, by their mid-40s they would be more than that.

"Do you know George was one of the most popular guys?" someone said of Leftwich. Popular then, now a local legend.

While he carries much weight now, Leftwich once was slender and often unstoppable. He could jump, shoot, dribble, play defense. He was a defensive innovator who taught teammates how to double-team opponents and steal the ball. It's commonplace now.

When he went to Villanova, Leftwich was hailed as one of America's finest prospects. But after his sophomore season, a car accident almost took his life. It tore up his leg, and he was never the same player. "People have told me they felt sorry for me," said Leftwich, "but there was nothing to be sorry about. I was a long time recovering and my interests changed. I became interested in school life and academics." He eventually got two master's degrees. "I never would have done that if it weren't for the accident."

Within the last year, "pressure" made him give up a rug-dyeing business, but he loves high school coaching. "I'm making one-fourth of what I got," he said, "but I'm four times happier."

Everyone got a turn to say something after dinner, but Skinner was almost overlooked. From the back of the room came a booming voice, "Hey, I still have to fight for everything." He stirred a Rodney Dangerfield kind of clamor.

He deserved to speak. "I got the rebound for George."

True enough, Dwyer said, and Skinner called timeout in the last seconds so the team could set up the winning shot in game 51. Skinner, who "saw a lot of my friends killed in Vietnam," was happy to see faces from earlier days. Leftwich sat near the door, unassuming. Who could have dreamed how lithe and lovely a player he had been?

Similarly, Malloy had saved a tournament game the previous season, in Newport, R.I. He shot from a corner, from almost beyond the backboard. Carroll's athletic director, Maus Collins, then an assistant to Dwyer, recalled the coach's reaction on the bench: "No! No! No! Great shot!"

"They were a great team," said Skinner's wife, Sue, looking at an old photo. "They still are."

As they had arrived, the old Lions went their ways separately, and none could say if they would come together like this again.