Spingarn High would leave behind a rich basketball history

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Sports,Brian McNally

John Wood does not return often to Spingarn High anymore. He graduated from the school in 1958 and later taught and coached there for years before retiring. But the image of the school's gymnasium lingers in his memory still.

It is the place where NBA Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing played as young men. It is the place Wood coached boys' basketball for 13 years, leading the Green Wave to a 31-0 record and a city title in 1985. It is where all those championship banners for basketball and football and track and field, among other sports, hang in the rafters.

But if a proposed plan announced by D.C. Public Schools on Tuesday goes through, as expected, memories are all Wood and his fellow Spingarn alumni will be left with. The school is slated to close next fall and with it a tradition of athletic excellence unmatched in the District.

"To see all this come to a close, it's devastating," Wood said.

Since it opened in 1952, Spingarn has served the community in Northeast Washington surrounding Benning Road, less than a mile north of RFK Stadium. As enrollment dropped dramatically and violence in the area grew, the athletic programs struggled to compete even in the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association (DCIAA), the league for public high schools in the city. But even as recently as 2002, Spingarn's basketball team played in the City Title Game at Verizon Center. That was the third consecutive year the Green Wave made the championship. They last won the event in 2000.

Bing, 68, a star guard at Syracuse University and later in the NBA with the Detroit Pistons, is now the mayor of Detroit. Baylor, 78, remains arguably the greatest basketball player the Washington D.C. area has ever produced, an 11-time NBA All-Star. Banners with their images hang in the Spingarn gym along with Sherman Douglas, the point guard on that 1985 championship team and himself a star at Syracuse.

"All of these things that we accomplished over the years -- where does all that information go?" Wood asked. "Do we just get rid of it? It's such a tradition. The school has been here for so long. It's helped the community. It's served the community."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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