It's not quite clear who gave Oxon Hill's boys basketball team permission to play in yesterday's DeMatha Invitational at MCI Center. But one thing is certain: Plenty of people pleaded their case before Prince George's County officials made an exception to county rules that prohibit students from participating in extracurricular activities if bad weather forces schools to close.
Oxon Hill parents and DeMatha Coach Morgan Wootten made personal appeals to county officials to allow the game to be played as scheduled. By 1:30 p.m., Oxon Hill Coach Bill Lanier had received word that the No. 4 Clippers could take the floor against No. 19 Gonzaga. The event's organizers even sent a chartered bus to pick up Oxon Hill's players.
Wootten said the event's charitable mission was reason enough to allow Oxon Hill to play. "We explained the importance of the game," said Wootten, who said he spoke to a county official yesterday. "Exceptions have been made before. This isn't something that could be played another day. I was ready to call the governor."
The event's first scheduled game did not receive such dispensation. The slated matchup of the second-ranked St. John's girls and Hammond was canceled because the Columbia school was closed because of the weather in Howard County.
Holy Name's 7-foot-6 center Neil Fingleton, a native of Durham, England, got his taste of two Washington area institutions yesterday: a tour of the White House and a game against No. 1 DeMatha. All in all, Fingleton graded the trip a success despite his team's 69-55 loss to the Hyattsville school.
Fingleton has been playing basketball in the United States for the past three years. He will play next season for the University of North Carolina, where he says he feels "comfortable with it as a place for me to develop as a player."
Fingleton said his favorite moment on the trip came when he and his teammates attended the Washington Wizards' game against Dallas on Wednesday night. Then he was able to catch a glimpse of Michael Jordan.
"It was a phenomenal experience to get to see Jordan," he said.
Ready, Willing, Not Able
St. John's Coach Patti Langworthy did not try to hide the disappointment of missing yesterday's event. She is all too familiar with the importance of organ donation and the Mid-Atlantic Coalition on Donation, which will receive the proceeds from the one-day tournament.
Langworthy's father, Frank Gilmore, has been in the hospital the past three weeks suffering from emphysema and heart disease. She said doctors are evaluating whether Gilmore, 69, is eligible for a heart and lung transplant. Langworthy had looked forward to her Cadets (12-1, 3-0 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) playing in support of organ donation.
"It's been difficult playing over the past several weeks with my dad so ill," Langworthy said. "My father keeps up with our team."
Langworthy's family has been friends with Wootten since her father coached football and basketball at Georgetown Prep for 35 years. Langworthy remembers Wootten visiting her family's home often when she was a child. She named one of her stuffed animals after the coach.
"The game, the timing couldn't have been better," said Langworthy of the tournament. "Organ transplants have come so far. . . . When Morgan had his [a kidney transplant in 1996], he was back at camp that summer. That's why we wanted to play." . . .
The snowstorm that blanketed the Washington region yesterday took its toll on attendance at the event, as the announced total was 3,058. The cancellation of the girls game, coupled with the weather, led event organizers to institute a ticket-exchange policy: unused tickets for last night's event can be exchanged for tickets to the April 11 Capital Classic, an all-star game featuring local and national players, also at MCI Center. Tickets can be exchanged at the MCI Center box office.