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Winter sports wrap-up

(Published March 22, 1999)

By DAVID COSTELLO

Special to The Common Denominator

City high school basketball and indoor track teams recently celebrated the end of the winter sports season with strong performances in two weekend tournaments. Athletes from five D.C. schools competed against nationally ranked indoor track runners in Columbus, Ohio, while the D.C.I.A.A. boys and girls basketball champions faced the neighboring Washington Catholic Athletic Conference leaders in the annual City Title Basketball Championships.

The Ballou indoor track team faired well in Ohio, as Antonio Gray sprinted to a fourth-place finish in the 800-meter event and then joined fellow seniors Emem Akpan, Darius Alston, and Max Walker for a third-place slot in the sprint-medley relay.

"It was a national meet," Dunbar coach Fletcher Tinsley said of the event. "It gives our top runners a chance to be exposed to other athletes around the United States."

At MCI Center, the Dunbar boys edged out Gonzaga High School, 45-43, after the H.D. Woodson girls lost to St. John’s, 54-47.

The final tournaments mark the time when senior athletes turn toward college recruiters, leaving coaches to analyze the past season and strategize the upcoming year:

• In recapping the D.C. Inter-scholastic Athletic Association regular basketball season, Dunbar boys coach Gary Lampkins dubbed 1998-99 "the year of the underdog" after his team beat several favored high schools.

"No one expected us to be here," said Lampkins, whose team finished the season with a championship-winning 25-5 record.

The Crimson Tide rallied at least three times this winter, beating Coolidge, Baltimore’s Lake Clifton, and, in their come-from-behind championship victory, Spingarn. In the final game against the Spingarn Green Wave, utility man Ronald Smith went on a shooting spree for Dunbar "right when we needed him the most," Lampkins said of the junior.

Senior Brian Chase contributed his 19-point game average in his last high school match — the graduating Dunbar captain has already signed a letter of intent to play for Virginia Tech.

According to Lampkins, each D.C. basketball team began the season with the same chances of winning. The challenge, said Lampkins, was getting the individual players to work as a team.

"Our chances were as good as anyone else’s," said Lampkins. "It’s more like a race when you’re talking about a team and getting them to play as a unit. No one expected us to be here. It’s good to see."

• In girls basketball, H.D. Wood-son senior Antoinette Reese led the Warriors to a title, averaging 14 points a game. Reese was selected for the Women’s Sport Foundation Athlete of the Year award.

In addition to her duties as team captain, Reese also plays volleyball, basketball, and runs the hurdles in track.

• When it came to indoor track, Dunbar senior runner Nakia Shepherd already knew who would win this year’s 55-meter hurdles championship. Living up to the prediction she made as a sophomore, Shepherd jumped five gates in 9.2 seconds — 1.2 seconds faster than the second place finisher — winning the event and contributing to the Crimson Tide’s first indoor girl’s track championship since 1984.

"My goal was to be a hurdler," said Shepherd, who began running as a sophomore. "It was a lot of hard work, but that was the goal I set."

Shepherd’s team can’t afford to get complacent in its success. When the senior leaves for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in the fall, Ballou runner Yasmin Fields will be a senior boasting record times in the 800 and 1000 meter events.

• Junior Ricardo Iracks is another up-and-coming Ballou runner. Iracks ran away with the half-mile and mile events, helping the Knights win the boys indoor track championship by 50 points over second place finishers, Eastern and Dunbar. The victory assuaged their narrow 3-point loss to Eastern last year.

Senior Antonio Gray also helped his team by winning every 500-meter race, breaking Ballou’s 1 minute, 6.0 second record and posting a national best, 1:03.54 run.

"We had a real balanced team," said Ballou Indoor Track Coach Noel Cyrus. "Everyone contributed."

Cyrus attributed his team’s outstanding performance to the tough precedents set by previous athletes.

"The past schools were so good, they had set all the records," said Cyrus. "It motivated our athletes even more."

• Of all the District’s high school sports, the downhill skiers deserve accolades for enduring the longest commute to practices — two hours each way for their twice-a-season snow regiment in Fairfield, Pa. The dedication paid off for the 15-member Eastern High School team, which won the championship.

Outstanding teammate Frederick Lawson, who has skied since the fourth grade, slalomed his way to his third straight year-end victory in the advanced category. Lawson will turn in his racing bib to pursue a career in medicine.

"There was a lot of camaraderie, it was a mature group this season," said Eastern Coach Kathryn Gray, who will lose 10 skiers to graduation. "Next year I will have to do a lot of rebuilding."

• The winter in swimming was a smorgasbord of events; while the meets displayed the best in teamwork and competition, the league was plagued by empty swimming pools.

Wilson won the championship in what Tiger coach Ben Graham described as a classic display of camaraderie.

Junior Lindsay Martin-McCormick swam her way to a record-breaking 1:20.0 in the woman’s 100 backstroke — her time registered three seconds faster than the previous District record.

Also pitching in to the Wilson effort were seniors Jabrie Lovelace, Anna Wasserstrom, and Olympic-hopeful Jeff Brown.

Coach Graham said he was proud of his most talented athletes because they swam well and were always willing to help instruct the beginning swimmers.

"The team is very team-orientated," said Graham. "Even if Jeff’s goal is to make it to the Olympics, he still took the time to help his teammates. The team works well together."

Graham sent the largest group to the Metro Championship this year, but for nationally recognized H.D. Woodson swimming coach Bruce Bradford, the winter months required patience.

Bradford and his team sat idle for most of the season, while maintenance workers took 19 months to finish minor pool repairs. Although now open, the H.D. Woodson pool was the third high school facility closed in the five-pool District. According to Bradford, the Cardozo and Theodore Roosevelt pools have remained dry for five and three years, respectively.

"It’s alive and well, but not as well as we can do it," said Bradford of the swimming program. "We just have to grin and bear it and we just have to promote swimming to students."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator