Our Man in Arlington

April 18, 2018 12:54 PM0 comments

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My alma mater of Yorktown High School for six decades stood apart from its sports competitors across town at Washington-Lee, Wakefield and O’Connell. We Patriots had no alumni make it to big-league professional sports.

Our void is now likely to be filled. On April 26, the three-day National Football League draft kicks off. A prime candidate is former Yorktown star running back M.J. Stewart (class of ’14). He just completed four years of gridiron feats as a University of North Carolina Tar Heel, where, as a defensive back, he set the school record for career pass breakups.

Stewart is in the brand-new online and on-campus exhibit “Standout Athletes of Yorktown High School,” production of which I led in consultation with an array of coaches, staff and alumni. (Find it at yorktownalums.org.)

Though I pored through yearbooks, school newspapers and local sports-page clippings while also chatting up alumni from all eras, I never achieved Olympian confidence that my judgments were unchallengeable. That’s because the project required a myriad tough calls to separate the great from the very good.

The idea came when my local history reporting revealed that the “halls of fame” at other Arlington schools tended toward static head shots of students long gone, notes on their awards and perhaps a plaque. The Arlington Sports Hall of Fame kept since 1958 by my friends at the Better Sports Club provides names and lifetime bios, and more broadly honors coaches and contest officials.

But I wanted action photos, amazing stats, anecdotes and quotes that, when assembled, give the viewer a feel for the entire sweep of Yorktown sports history. I felt cross-generationally qualified in taking on the exhibit because I grew up in the Yorktown district beginning in 1961, the school’s first year. I was a Patriots sports fan in elementary school and junior high. I played football there as a student, followed the teams (intermittently) as an alum, and stuck with them as a Yorktown parent.

The process came with frustrations. Coverage of well-reputed athletes was inconsistent in yearbooks and newspapers. Some athletes had more success as sophomores or juniors than as seniors, so it was easy to lose track of their graduating year. (The yearbooks are not all indexed, and some text is more sassy than informative).

I imposed space limits for readers with short attention spans. And my desire for drama prodded me to play up spectator sports like football and basketball, while neglecting impressive but less popular field hockey, crew and lacrosse. I was biased toward individuals and teams that won state championships.

Most notably, the nation’s evolution from the ‘60s brought the rise of female star athletes. That required that the exhibit reflect — as it moves from black-and-white to color — the increasing presence of girls on the playing field.

I made the final selection after six months of preparation and a feeling that I’d become the worst judge of Yorktown sports excellence — except all others. As former Yorktown basketball coach Jim Price told me, “This is difficult! I still cherish the years of coaching `all’ my teams and `everyone’ of the players. Some were good and some not as good. But they all developed the effort to succeed. What more could a coach ask?”

I’m told current students have been spotted around the display arguing about my choices. Good for them.

***

Many Arlington commuters boil as they watch the electronic signs at entrances to I-66 to monitor the costs of using the new express lanes — as high as $47 to get downtown from East Falls Church.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that the fee designed to deter solo drivers that allows travel simply from N. Sycamore St. to Fairfax Dr. — about 2.3 miles — can be as high as $8.

What sucker would take that deal? A friend recently exclaimed. “You could practically walk it.”

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