Douglass has Ducks in a row

High schools: There is a place at Douglass where old-school traditions meet youthful zeal - at No. 1, where the boys basketball team is for the first time.

January 08, 2002|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

They see things in a different light, mostly because they are generations apart. But they both agree that having the No. 1-ranked boys basketball team is a good thing for Douglass High School.

"When you rank high in a sport, you can get kids motivated and develop school spirit," said Roy Cragway, 73, a retired former basketball coach and administrator at Douglass. "It gives you great hope for the school."

Gerald Brown has a more teen-age approach.

"The girls, they love us. It's a lot of fun, being No. 1," said Brown, a 6-foot-4 junior. "Walking around school, people are like, `good game,' and they tell us they're going to be at the next game. We love the accolades, but we know we can't get big-headed about it. We've got to stay focused, carry ourselves better and make sure we keep everything straight, on and off the court."

The Ducks are 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in The Sun's Top 20 boys basketball poll for the first time in school history. Douglass earned the top spot with a come-from-behind 69-68 victory Dec. 20 at then-No. 1 Walbrook in a battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2 before a crowd of about 1,200.

Douglass was ranked as high as No. 4 last season, but there's nothing like being No. 1.

"The community support has been really great, and the students are really starting to pay attention," said Douglass' Miguel Rikki Sye. "We've had meetings with the players about stepping up their image, telling them that people are watching and that you have to watch what you do."

Sixth-year coach Rodney Coffield, a police officer at the school, reminds his players of the responsibility of portraying a respectable image. He requires them to wear a tie on game day, something he was taught more than 20 years ago by Bob Wade, his former coach at Dunbar High.

"They had to be presentable. I would not allow them to wear tennis shoes or jeans. The day of contests, it was sweaters, shirt and slacks. They wore ties to away games," Wade said. "I saw them against Walbrook, and some of the things they do on the court were of the same concepts Rodney was used to as the sixth man on two of our championship teams.

"Like Dunbar, Douglass has rich alumni traditions, but it has kind of fallen off," Wade said. "I've talked to Rodney, and he realizes how important success is to this team and the school, and that the kids have to recognize how strong, overall, their sports programs were."

Part of that realization meant a recent 10 a.m. practice on New Year's Day. "I got up at 9 today," said Tyler Smith, the team's 6-2 standout point guard. "I don't know how many other teams are up practicing this early."

"We've got 12 kids here this morning, and I don't know if they'd be here if we were 4-4. But we're winning, the kids are accepting their roles, and the kids are happy," Coffield said. "I told the kids it's 2002, and we're 0-0 right now. The only thing that matters is winning the state championship."

Amid his emphasis on winning, Coffield constantly asks his players to show pride in Douglass' tradition. They know they are under scrutiny, he said, if not by the general public, then by Douglass alumnus such as Gilman athletic director Johnnie Foreman, Edmondson football and basketball coach Pete Pompey and Dunbar football coach and athletic director Ben Eaton.

"Now that we're winning, a lot of the alumni are coming back to give back to our school," Smith said. "Our success is bringing more attention to our school. Nobody used to want to come see Douglass play."

Former Douglass basketball coach and athletic director John Nash, 67, said being the area's top team "presents these kids with a whole new opportunity to carry themselves as good athletes, citizens and students. There's a history behind Douglass that these kids need to be taught."

Between them, Nash and Cragway, who were associated with Douglass for 34 years combined, can recall only two seasons during which Douglass basketball teams won championships. The Ducks won a Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference championship in the early 1980s under Nash. In the 1993-94 season, Nash earned The Sun's Coach of the Year honors when his Ducks rebounded from a 1-6 start to win the Class 3A North regional title. They lost in the state final to DuVal, 60-58, and finished the season 13-10.

"Transfers, lack of enrollment, bad attitudes - the school has gone through problems too numerous to spend time on," said Nash, who retired in 1995. "With all the things that can keep kids from participating, I congratulate [Coffield] for having kids who still come out."

In 1998, Coffield's second season, the Ducks earned the city title with a 78-74 victory over Dunbar. Their finish was enough to keep Smith - then an eighth-grader - from taking his talents to an area private school.

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