50 Years Ago, The Washington Post Started One Of The Biggest Controversies In D.C. Basketball History


The Washington Post released its very last rankings for the 2018-2019 excessive school basketball season in advance this week. DeMatha, a school with perhaps the most storied application in the usa, ended up inside the pinnacle spot in the traditionally hoops-loopy D.C. Vicinity for what was officially the twenty eighth time.

But there has been a 29th No. 1 finish for DeMatha within the prestigious poll, one which most effective lasted briefly and is more often than not forgotten. Fifty years ago this week, editors on the Post took that one away—although no longer due to everybody’s wins or losses on the court. No, road protests at some point of a racially charged technology inside the nation’s capital prompted the paper’s editors to rethink its ratings, and in the end rescind the name from DeMatha, a majority-white Catholic private prep and basketball manufacturing unit placed simply outside the city, and hand it to McKinley Prep, an all-black, inner-metropolis squad with a roster so deep at the time that the group turned into nicknamed “The Magnificent Seven.”

The story behind No. 1 that were given far away from DeMatha is as interesting as all of the titles that didn’t.


McKinley and DeMatha played each other two times within the 1968-1969 season. McKinley beat then-top-ranked DeMatha, 68-55, inside the M Club Classic match at the University of Maryland. DeMatha’s Ray Hite remembers feeling overpowered through a McKinley lineup that included four future All Mets (Michael Bossard, Ronnie Hogue, Randolph “Apple” Milam and Tim Bassett), and says he never felt like the sport was as near as the scoreboard indicated.

“That become the first-class group I don’t forget gambling in opposition to in high faculty,” says Hite, a DeMatha junior at the time. “They beat us by means of only [13 points], but it regarded a lot worse. They had been loaded. They were super.”

That defeat left an influence on DeMatha’s all-American captain (and destiny TV sports commentator extraordinaire), James Brown, that lingers to this day. Brown tells me he become these days requested to name the greatest crew he confronted in high faculty.

“Without hesitation, I stated, ‘McKinley Tech!” Brown says. “From a ballplayers perspective, there was no hesitation in my thoughts. So lots of talent.”

Brown grew up inside the McKinley Tech neighbourhood, and would have long past to the general public college had he now not been recruited to the Catholic League overdogs with the aid of DeMatha educate and future Hall of Famer Morgan Wootten.

McKinley went undefeated in its public school league for the rest of the season after the M Club win, and DeMatha won the Catholic League. But DeMatha were given an unexpected shot to reclaim the pinnacle spot whilst McKinley typical an invite to the Knights of Columbus event, an eight-group postseason occasion held at Catholic University.

And, the hopes and dreams of DeMatha backers and every basketball fan in the metropolis have been found out: The tournament’s top seeds and the highest ranking groups inside the town made it to the finals. A McKinley-DeMatha rematch clearly became going to appear.

Wootten could later admit that he went into the event best focused on retaking the No. 1 ranking. He told the Post that of all the KofC entrants, he’d best sport-planned for McKinley. He’d even hooked up a gimmicky defence in practices leading up to the occasion, which he’d named the “blitz lure,” specially designed for that one opponent. The scheme is known as for his guards to double team the McKinley ballhandler at all times, thereby making it extra hard to bypass internal to the large men that killed DeMatha the primary time around.

But despite all of the guidance, matters seemed misplaced for DeMatha even earlier than the championship recreation tipped off. In the semifinal recreation against a St. Thomas More squad from Connecticut (led by destiny Providence legend Ernie DiGregorio), Brown signaled to Wootten to take him out. “James got here out and collapsed in my lap,” recalls Wootten, now 87.

Brown changed into admitted to close by Providence Hospital and recognized with exhaustion. Brown, whose recognition within the D.C. Vicinity over the last half-century has never been less than saintly, now says seeking to decide in which to go to university, at a time whilst each school inside the use was seeking to get him, had worn him out physically and emotionally.

“It was a signal of how humbled I become by way of all the attention,” he says. “The recruiting stress became quite extreme, and I didn’t need to disappoint all and sundry. I internalized all that, and just exceeded out at the bench.” (He subsequently chose to wait for Harvard in a near name over playing for Dean Smith’s North Carolina squad.)

Brown says he later heard from his neighbourhood buddies that McKinley players thought the KofC championship changed into theirs with him in a sanatorium mattress.

“They’d whipped us while we were at full electricity,” Brown says, “so my Tech pals stated they knew [when he was declared out] that they had that recreation inside the bag.”

To encourage the squad, Wooten placed Brown’s warm-up jacket on a chair subsequent to him on the bench. “And we saved it empty all night,” Wootten tells me. The impact of Wootten’s gesture apparently didn’t register straight away: McKinley won the whole tip and scored right away, then stole the inbounds pass from Hite and scored again to take a 4-zero lead simplest seconds into the contest. “We’re down so rapid and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh!’” says Hite, who went on to play for Coach Dean Smith at the University of North Carolina. “And I was looking at our senior leaders and that they looked more scared than I was, so I’m going, ‘Alright. Alright.’”

So Hite took matters into his personal arms. He shot on the subsequent five possessions, and made everyone, putting DeMatha up 10-four. The Stags in no way appeared back. Wootten’s freak defence worked just as he’d drawn it up, and kept McKinley’s bigs from placing up large numbers. The very last turned into 95-sixty nine.

McKinley celebrity Apple Milam confirms what Brown recalls about his crew’s state of thoughts. “What went incorrect became we have been overconfident,” says Milam, who still makes most lists of the exceptional high college gamers in D.C. History. “Our men concept that with James Brown out, we had been going to win.

As Hite, who ended up with a game-excessive 31 points, was being named event MVP, Brown made an look and joined with his joyous teammates on the trophy rite.

“I had sneaked out of the hospital,” Brown says. “I had to be there.”

Wootten advised the Post the win over McKinley became the most important victory of his career, topping even the sport against Power Memorial in 1965 in which DeMatha snapped Lew Alcindor’s squad’s 71-sport triumphing streak. The paper right now named DeMatha No. 1, and referred to the rout of McKinley as evidence of Wootten’s squad’s superiority. There had been no greater games for either crew scheduled. The season turned into over. That turned into the 8th time in 9 years DeMatha completed on top.

McKinley backers cried foul as quickly because the ballot becomes posted.

The McKinley side contended that the crew most effective every day an invitation to the match due to the fact they idea they’d already wrapped up the top spot inside the ratings, and consequently had not anything to lose. That argument made a few sense: Turns out that the Washington Post had indeed historically placed out its very last ratings prior to the Knights of Columbus event. This becomes the primary time that the maximum essential poll became published afterwards.

McKinley supporters argued that inaugurating a post-tournament ballot in a yr whilst it helped DeMatha and harm McKinley reeked of racism. McKinley turned into founded in 1926 as an all-white college and, like any D.C. Public colleges weren’t racially included till 1954 when the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education rendered such segregation unconstitutional. By the cease of the 1950s, the college had become basically non-white. (I counted two white college students in McKinley’s 1969 yearbook, out of an enrollment of around 1900.)

And the season-ending scores had turned out to be a completely large deal in D.C. In the 1960s, for terribly racial reasons. Up until 1963, the matter of basketball bragging rights had traditionally been settled on the court docket, on account that an annual town championship match added inside the 8 top teams from the area’s public and personal colleges, and the winner proclaimed “We’re No. 1!”

But that opposition was deserted after a awful race riot at D.C. Stadium on the give up of the 1962 metropolis championship football recreation. The KofC event, even as a best occasion, wasn’t considered something near a right replacement for the metropolis match, because it continually covered numerous out-of-city squads. The cease of the metropolis tournament supposed the Post efficaciously managed who could claim bragging rights for the season via their ultimate ballot. Come out on the pinnacle in the final ballot, and also you’re immortal.

To show how a great deal they didn’t like being bumped right down to No. 2 so overdue, McKinley backers drew up a petition that said that the Post ballot found out an “obvious bias in opposition to the general public excessive college teams,” and had “unwittingly contributed to the fund of evidence now held apparent by means of black youth, that no matter how hard a black character tries, he can by no means desire to outrank a white man, even if the facts are on his side.”

A document inside the Post stated “about 1600” college students, or approximately eighty-four per cent of the college’s entire student frame, had signed the report.

McKinley Principal William H. Rumsey confirmed up on the paper’s downtown workplaces to supply the petition to Post editors an afternoon after the ballot became posted. He become joined by means of a collection of about 200 McKinley students, teachers, and directors, chanting “Not the following day, no longer these days, we want action right away!” and wearing signs that blasted the school’s No. 2 ranking as racist. Rumsey mentioned on the rally that the Post had confirmed “a CYO, suburbia, closed-keep kind of bias.”

Apple Milam became a few of the picketers. “I went to the protest however I truly didn’t think it was worth doing,” Milam tells me. “I concept it becomes an accomplished deal. DeMatha changed into No. 1. I’d already visible it inside the paper. But I had no concept that many humans could display up.”

The editors invited leaders of the protest inside for a meeting. Post officers attempted explaining that the ruin from protocol about publishing the remaining prep poll earlier than the postseason tournaments had not anything to do with an anti-McKinley or racial bias. The selection to feature a post-event ballot , the paper’s bosses defined, were made months earlier, at the start of the basketball season, and become an try to replica university soccer polls, which in recent years had broken their own way of life by publishing a final ballot after the the bowl video games had been played.

That argument aside, the McKinley backers’ activism positioned the paper on the defensive. The Post’s headquarters become best blocks far away from the town’s 14th Street corridor, major portions of which have been burned out less than a yr in advance in riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination. So race turned into an even pricklier matter than common in D.C. And the scores dispute had clearly grown to be racial. A tale about the protest that ran within the sports segment cited that DeMatha’s group “had three white starters,” whilst McKinley “had no white gamers.

So the editors’ clarification approximately why they moved the last ballot didn’t sway McKinley advocates. Editors only were given the protesters to % up their placards and cross home most effective by way of agreeing to recommend a rematch among McKinley and DeMatha. Then the Post observed through on its commitment to the protesters by way of taking the very extraordinary step of writing an unsigned editorial, actual property typically reserved for topics of national or global import, calling for a playoff among the metropolis’s top two excessive school hoops squads.

“To our thoughts the state of affairs appears to cry out for a third meeting, a playoff, to settle this year’s scores as soon as and for all,” the editorial read. “We urge all the government involved to take whatever steps are important to settle this depend via giving the game—and the scores—again to the players who could appear to us to be inside the fine position to decide.”