A note from a friend brought about a flashback from childhood. A local high school was honoring a number of teams from the 70’s and 80’s, inducting them into a new school Hall of Fame, and remembering their coach.
If you followed high school basketball in the Washington Metro area during that era there were names that inevitably came up.
DeMatha. Coached by Morgan Wooten and lists as alumni Adrian Branch, Kenny Carr, Danny Ferry, Sidney Lowe, and Bernard Williams. DeMatha played Power Memorial High School in a National Championship game in 1965, a game that many refer to as the “Greatest High School Game Ever.” DeMatha beat a Power team that was led by one Lew Alcindor, later to become Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Coach Wooten was there for almost 50 years and amassed a record of 1,274-192. He turned down some pretty sweet offers to go to the college ranks (Georgetown, Duke, Wake Forest), but stayed at DeMatha. It was his home. The Basketball Hall of Fame has an award named after him.
St. John’s College High School. Led by Joe Gallagher, he was one of the first high school coaches in the country to amass 900 wins. Gallagher started at St. John’s in 1947, returning to his alma mater. He coached at St. John’s for decades, and for 21 years was also their football coach. A two-sport coach! In 1987, he coached in the first match-up between two 800-win coaches. Who did he face? DeMatha and Coach Wooten.
This flurry of nostalgia wasn’t brought about by the boys, or by DC Metro sports. The high school honoring their teams and coaches was the Academy of Holy Cross in Kensington, Maryland. The Academy of the Holy Cross is an all-girls Catholic school. In 1975, Debbie Sheahan talked her dad into becoming the basketball coach.
In 1975 Debbie and her teammates were playing in one-piece jumpers. Bill Sheahan coached his first team to a 27-3 record. His next year saw a 27-1 record. In 1977 the Holy Cross Tartans started winning every game. They did this for the next five years. Coach Sheahan led his girls to six consecutive International Association of Approved Basketball Officials Championships, five consecutive Catholic League Titles, and his program recorded an unthinkable 115-game win streak. Coach Sheahan led the Tartans to championships, titles, and tournaments all over the country (and a few games in Europe!) He taught his girls to play hard, play smart, and to use assets to their advantage. He coached a team, not a bunch of tall girls. His son, Brian, remarked that his dad was proud of the fact that in 45 years of coaching he had never had a technical. Brian knows a thing or two about basketball; he played for Coach Wooten at DeMatha and came here to play for the University of Richmond until a heart condition pulled him off of the paint. It may have been something in the genes, but the Spiders kept him as a coach.
And Coach Bill? No stranger to area play. He was a graduate of Gonzaga whose archrival was…St. John’s College High School.
Rivalry and camaraderie go hand in hand in a community like that and childhood memories bring back preparations for summer camps. Coach Bill would join forces with Coach Wooten and Coach Gallagher, and we would see people like Lefty Driesell (University of Maryland Coach 1969-86), Patrick Ewing, John Lucas, Len Elmore, and all sorts of Washington area alumni who had gone on to college or NBA success. These Metro-area basketball kingmakers would open their hearts and charts to kids from all over who wanted to learn how to win.
Back in those days we all lived and breathed basketball. Some of the best games to watch were not, however, at Cole Field House, the Capital Center, or Georgetown’s McDonough Arena. They were in the small, crowded gym at Holy Cross.
Maybe the next time you get a hankering for some sports you’ll head over to St. Gertrude. If you need some hoops, perhaps you’ll see the Godwin girls. A glance at Collegiate? A hint of Hermitage?
Our area is chock-full of great athletes in both our public and private schools. Over the past 40 years the girls have become as good as the boys. The games are emotional, fun, competitive, and exciting. It won’t cost you a lot, and you won’t be helping to make the payment on a new Bentley. You should check one out. Who knows; maybe you will be the one to see history in the making.