The assignment surely was not an easy one: From more than 25 years of covering high school sports in Washington--an area that has produced some of the world's greatest high school athletes, coaches and teams--I should select a most memorable moment.
An immediate thought was of Chris Warren, the current Dallas Cowboy who, as a 6-foot-2, 205-pound running back for Robinson High School in 1983-84, was clearly the most dominant and intimidating football player on a Washington-area field in the past two decades.
There were visions of how Grant Hill, as a freshman at South Lakes, was showing why he was destined to be an NBA star.
There are endless memories of DeMatha basketball coach Morgan Wootten calmly watching from the sideline in the final minute of a close game. When all the crowd simultaneously waited for the Stags to call time out, he refused. And yet, he almost always came away the victor.
And then there were people such as Willie Stewart and Bob Headen, football coaching legends of the D.C. public schools. There is nothing more mesmerizing than listening to how they salvaged the lives of kids apparently headed for destruction, but who instead found direction through a coach not too proud to beg them to come out and play football.
Through all of this and much more, however, there is one moment that had everlasting impact for me. Having covered a significant share of professional and collegiate sports, it was a personal belief that high school events should be covered with an equal zeal. My thinking followed that a story with a professional flair would add more credence to a high school event.
And then came a point that, if it was not the most memorable of my career covering high school sports, is surely the hardest to forget.
On Oct. 13, 1984, unbeaten No. 4 Robinson defeated No. 20 Chantilly, 28-2, in a Virginia AAA football game. While the game was still close, Robinson's Andy Davis threw a 65-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to Chuck Ehlert. My story mentioned the name of the Chantilly cornerback whom Ehlert beat on the fly pattern for the touchdown.
The following week, I covered another Chantilly game; during warm-ups, I was approached by Coach Fred Welch. He was not scolding, just passing on words of wisdom I wrote down that night and never discarded.
"That was just not right, what you did," he said. "When you cover the Redskins and Darrell Green gets beat for a touchdown, you can write his name because he is getting paid a lot of money to play. And when you cover Howard University [my regular beat at the time] and one of their cornerbacks gives up a touchdown, you have every right to print his name because he is getting a scholarship and you can find anything you want about that player in a press guide.
"But what do you know about that kid who got beat last week? Let me tell you about this kid you wrote about. He has never had anything good in his life. He barely has a family and has no self-esteem. I have had to beg him over and over just to give football a try, and he has been doing pretty good. Football is the first good thing ever to happen to him and he even likes coming to school now. He is never going to be a great player, but this is a start. And then he picks up the paper one morning and sees that he lost the game for his team. What good have you accomplished? That is not what high school sports is all about."
Never known as one easily accepting criticism of my professional ethics, I gave his words several days of thought. But this message was clear. From that point, whenever I wrote about high school sports, and whenever I edited the writing of others covering high school events, an objective was to work around the identities of those who made major mistakes.
The gamut of students participating in high school sports, ranging from future millionaire athletes to those highly challenged by physical coordination, all seek to perform at a high level for nothing more than pride and a chance to add to their lives. None of these youngsters deserves to be criticized for their effort. A reporter rarely can know how important a simple athletic event might be to a fragile teenage psyche. It was a lesson taught to me by Fred Welch that I will never forget.
Neil Greenberger covered high school sports at The Washington Post from 1980 until 1998. He currently is a communications specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education.
CAPTION: Chantilly defender, left, breaks up pass intended for Robinson receiver in 1984 Virginia AAA game. Chantilly won, 28-2.