This crowning glory long time coming

Not known for athletics, Ducks' ascent to top slow, not always steady

March 10, 2002|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

COLLEGE PARK - Next to the Douglass basketball players, Tracey Howard was the hardest working person during the Ducks' state Class 3A championship game at Cole Field House yesterday.

From the time the No. 1 Mighty Ducks hit the floor for warm-ups to the final buzzer, she was on her feet holding a stuffed duck in her right hand and shaking a blue and orange pom pom in the other.

"I'm beyond words, this is a magnificent victory for the young people," said Howard, who's a social studies teacher at the west Baltimore school. "They're magnificent on the court, magnificent in the classroom. We are No. 1."

Howard was among the hundreds of supporters who trekked to College Park to witness Douglass conclude its first unbeaten season in school history with a 76-72 victory over Gwynn Park of Prince George's County.

"They've been behind this team since Day One," said Douglass football coach Bernie White. "These kids worked really hard with Coach [Rodney] Cofield pushing them. For the sake of rebuilding Douglass' programs, this is excellent."

Until this season, the lone caveat for the Ducks' athletic program was the basketball team that won the Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference championship in the late 1980s. In the 1993-94 season, the second of city public schools participating in the state tourney, Douglass made an unlikely trip to the state 3A championship game. Still, that wasn't talked about in the same breath as longtime city powers Dunbar and Lake Clifton.

The Ducks began gaining respect in the 1997-98 season, upsetting No. 1 Dunbar, 78-74, in the city championship game. Four seasons later, they went to the Poets' fabled home turf and dominated twice within an eight-day period last month.

Joe Ison was a member of the 1997-98 city title squad, and has followed the Ducks' impressive run this season. Wearing a head band with Douglass spelled in blue and orange letters, he said he still feels like a part of the team.

"They've looked good all season and I love them," said Ison, sitting in the front row as the final seconds ticked away. "We made it here and we were unstoppable. I feel good right now."

Since Douglass claimed the top ranking after a thrilling 69-68 comeback victory over then-No. 1 Walbrook in late December, the climate around the hallways has been electric.

"I think this is the greatest thing to happen to Douglass High in a long time," said Douglass principal Isabelle Grant. "The young men worked very hard to get to this point and they had to have skill in order to do it. They're not only as skilled academically, but also athletically and we're proud of them today."

"Douglass is a school that doesn't get a lot of recognition and had a reputation of being a bad school," said teacher Joe Connelly, who directs Futures, a program that focuses on at-risk students. "The basketball team has brought a lot of attention to the academic and extracurricular programs, like the band."

Many players said they started believing an unbeaten season could be a reality after the win over Walbrook. After sweeping to the city, region and state championship, they still seemed a little taken aback about the concept of being trailblazers at the school.

"Everybody has said this is the best thing that has happened to Douglass," said senior forward Darryl Edwards. "Everybody has been kind of emotional about it."

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