In Washington, DC in 1954 there were two important Supreme Court decisions reached on the same day in May. The decisions were Bolling v Sharpe and Brown v Board of Education. The two decisions changed how public school education was practiced in America.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was the President of the United States and Earl Warren was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
The lead plaintiff attorney on Bolling v Sharpe was George Edward Hayes. The case was argued on the 5th Amendment (Equal Protection Clause), thus setting up the theory of “reverse incorporation”.
The lead attorney for the plaintiffs in Brown v Board of Education was future Supreme Court Justice, the great Thurgood Marshall . Mr. Marshall graduated first in his class from Howard Law School in 1933. In 1934 he became the lawyer for the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP.
The Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” public school education was unconstitutional. The court ruled that public schools could never be truly equal with blacks attending one school and whites attending another. This would be Mr. Marshall’s battle ground and field of play.
If Attorney Thurgood Marshall had been a NFL quarterback, a three-point shooter in the NBA or a Designated hitter in Major League Baseball he would have no peers. He won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court. Mr. Marshall was a Superstar in “The Game Called Life.” It is the only game being played in today’s America where the title of Superstar really counts.
If Black America is looking for a hero and role model we have to look no further than Thurgood Marshall, He literally set the bar of how we should measure our heroes and role models in our community. We should be able to go to Webster’s Dictionary and look up the definition of “Unselfishness” and see his picture.
When the Supreme Court finally rendered a decision in 1954 declaring segregation in America’s schools unconstitutional, Archbishop Patrick O’Boyle picked up the ball and ran with it.
The Archbishop played a significant role leading up to the decision that would set the stage for the 1954 All-Star game. He implemented a follow-up action plan. He authorized a scrimmage between all black Armstrong Technical High School and integrated Archbishop John Carroll High School. Carroll had ONE black player, but had several black students enrolled at the school.
The scrimmage took place in August, 1953. The Coach for Carroll was George Washington University legend and NFL Hall of Famer Tuffy Leesmans. The Armstrong High School football coach was the equally talented Ted McIntye. Willie Wood was only a sophomore but he was all over the field. His greatness could not be denied. He would go on to become an NFL Hall of Fame player for the Green Bay Packers.
The real star of the scrimmage, however, was “Red Mike” Hagler who went on to become a star running back at Iowa. He played in two Rose Bowls (1956-1958) for legendary Iowa Coach, Forrest Evashevski. In the second Rose Bowl he scored two TDs. The second TD was a spectacular weaving 66 yard inside reverse. Mike would end his football career playing semi-pro football in New Jersey. He was definitely a legend in his own time.
In 1954 the two All-Star football teams met at old Griffith Stadium in Washington, DC. The number one ranked, undefeated and favorite was St. John’s. The DC Public High School All-Stars were a collection of black and white players. The white players were from Division I (Anacostia, Coolidge, McKinley Tech, Western and Wilson ) and had 22 players named to the team. The black players were from Division II (Armstrong, Cardozo, Phelps and Spingarn) were represented by 11 players (separate but equal).
There was a joke going around during preparations for the game that Division I coach Stewart thought it best to select twice the number of white players in case trouble broke out. The fight odds would be 2-1 (separate but equal).
This was the first ever integrated high school athletic contest played in Washington, DC. There were close to 9,000 fans in the stadium to witness this history making athletic event.
Dave Kane is a native Washingtonian and a 1960 graduate of DeMatha High School. Dave played running back and safety for the stags. He was in town recently to meet with players who played in that game. His brother Jim was a running back and scored the only TD for St. Johns in the 1954 All-Star game. His father was the team doctor.
Mr. Kane is exploring the possibilities of making a documentary film of the historical event. During his visit to DC from his now hometown in Phoenix, Arizona he met with several players who participated in that game.
The interested parties met at the home of Chink and Gladys Hawkins in Upper Marlboro, Maryland a DC suburb. Gladys is the sister of former Armstrong High School and NFL Green Bay Packer hall of fame player Willie Wood.
The DC Public High School All-Stars in attendance were George Carlos, Olin Robinson and Charlie Queen (Spingarn), Willie Wood, and Lowell Wheeler (Armstrong), Frank Sullivan and Alphonso Brooks and John Simms (Dunbar), Kenny Dunlop (Cardozo) Willie’s close friend and jump shooting basketball teammate Frank Smith was also in attendance.
There are so many stories and twist and turns that came out of this game there is not enough time and space to list them all.
For example, the lead plaintiff in the 1954 Bolling v Sharpe was Spotswood Bolling. He was my high school basketball teammate at Spingarn. The legendary DeMatha High School basketball Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wooten was an assistant football coach at St. John’s.
Coaches Sal Hall and Biff Carter, Cardozo and Phelps respectively, were assistant coaches for the DC Public Schools. Mr. Hall was one of the greatest football minds to ever come out of DC. Kermit “Zu Zu” Stewart of Anacostia was chosen to be the Head Coach (separate but equal).
The offense installed for that game was the Single Wing the same offense run by the Anacostia High School football team. The best way to describe the Single Wing offense is to watch today’s NFL’s version of “The Wild Cat Formation.” It is used by several NFL teams. The quarterback is missing in action.
The best player on the field that day was Armstrong QB Willie Wood. He never got a chance to take a snap from under the center, but his presence was felt that day. He was all over the field again. He played defensive back, ran back punts and kick-offs. The final score 12-7 was misleading.
Everyone to a man (player) says “If Willie had been the quarterback that day it would have been no-contest.”
Enter Dan Droze and Dave Harris forever linked together in Washington, DC sports history.
Dan grew up in SE and Dave in upper NW, Shaw/Cardozo (inner-city), they were two players from two completely different worlds only separated by the color of their skin (separate but equal). The All-Star game practices were held at Western High School in upper NW, DC (Georgetown). They had exactly one week to install an offense and defense for their opponent St. John’s.
I recently met with Dan Droze and Dave Harris the two heroes of the game at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. This was the first meeting between the two All-Star teammates since the game 55 years ago.
Dan and Dave agreed that things went pretty smoothly and there were no signs of racial tension or envy and jealousy among the players (Player Hating). When they walked on the playing field at Griffin Stadium on December 4, 1954 everyone was on the same page and they had one goal----beat St. John’s.
The game was a hard fought contest and the outcome was not decided until the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. St. John’s had the proverbial “Home Field Advantage.” The DC All-Stars were penalized 7 times for 35 yards and according to the game officials St. John’s played a perfect game resulting in no penalties (separate but equal).
Dan (first team All-Met) was a starting running back in the Single Wing offense and Dave (first team All-Met) was a starter at end (wide receiver). Dave played both ways on offense and defense. Dave was also a track star at Cardozo with lightning speed.
There was less than five minutes left in the game when Coach Stewart got smart. He decided to throw the ball to someone other than his Anacostia receiver Ed Vincent who had dropped and early TD pass from Droze.
December 4th was Dave Harris’s birthday. Little did Dave and his teammates know it would a birthday long remembered in the annals DC high school sports.
With less than five minutes left in the game St. John was leading 7-6. Dan got the play in from Coach Stewart to throw a “Down and Out” pass to Dave Harris. Dan took the snap from center and 30 yards down field he spotted Dave cutting to the left corner of the enzone. He threw a perfect pass and with two defenders draped all over him, Dave made the catch to remember. The final score was 12-7 and the rest is history.
The black and white players would leave the field and return to their own little worlds. It would take 55 years for the stars of the game to meet and cherish a memory that would be etched forever in their minds.
Dan would travel down infamous “Tobacco Road” to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to play for the legendary football coach Jim Tatum. Dave would travel to the University of Kansas for a culture shock. His first day in class he looked like a fly in a cup of milk. He would make the adjustment when he met another Jay Hawk student/athlete ‘The Greatest’ basketball player ever, Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt and Dave would go on to become great friends.
Dan would later become my teammate with the Virginia Sailors (minor league team for the Washington Redskins). Dave Harris has been my hero since “The Catch.” I would follow him to Griffin Stadium the next year as a freshman receiver for Spingarn High School. Ironically, we would meet Cardozo High School for the DC Public High School Championship. We had upset a great Armstrong team 13-7 with their legendary QB Willie Wood to earn the right to play in the game.
There would be no fairytale ending for me, because I was benched for discipline reasons (academic). I was lucky to be in uniform. My savior Coach Dave Brown taught me an early lesson, no one is indispensable.
I watched my teammates tie Cardozo 0-0. Cardozo was chosen to play in the City Championship game because of a ruling based on something called “Penetration.” The Cardozo team crossed our 50 yard line more times than we crossed theirs.
The great players who participated in that that 1954 All-Star game played a role in my spiritual and mental development as a young athlete. I was very fortunate, I was able to watch and touch my heroes and role models. The Spingarn players were, Olin Robinson, George Carlos, Bill Mayor, George ‘Nochie’ Green, Jessie Saunders, Charlie Queen, and William Peasy Jordan and Thomas Sumlin played for Phelps.
I would sit on “The Hill” after school and watch them practice. I attended Brown Middle School located on the same block as Spingarn and Phelps High school. These guys were athletes from my own neighborhood and school community. I grew up in the same NE housing project (Parkside) as Sumblin and Saunders. They treated me like a little brother and they led by example. In today's inner-city these type of role models are non-existent.
I admired Willie Wood, Dave Harris, Frank Sullivan, Alphonso Brooks, John Simms, Lowell Wheeler and Kenny Dunlop from the stands. Dave and Willie would later become loyal friends and mentors.
Dan Droze and Dave Harris 55 years later found out they were more alike than different (separate but definitely not equal).
Dan went on to have a successful career as a Financial Investment Banker , and has been married to his wife Rose Mary for 44 years they are the proud parents of four, two daughters and two boys. The daughters are housewives, Stasia and Desma and the boys are Drew (Computer Programmer) and Derk who graduated from GWU and played pro soccer in Chile and Denmark.
Dave had a successful career in Pharmaceutical Sales . He has been married for 50 years to his lovely wife Theresa and from that union they have 3 boys and a girl and 4 grandchildren. His son Erik is a graduate of the Naval Academy, David Jr. is a West Point graduate, Dr. Keith Harris is a graduate of Brown University and his twin sister Kim is graduate of Maryland University.
If there are two families who should and could write a book on how to successfully raise children in America, meet Mr. and Mrs. Danny Droze and Mr. and Mrs. Dave Harris.
Despite segregation, the DC Public Schools made a unique mark and contribution in American public high school sports history. Armstrong and Spingarn High Schools are the only public school system with bragging rights of having 4 athletes in the NFL and NBA Hall of Fames. Armstrong NFL inductees are Len Ford and Willie Wood and Spingarn NBA inductees are Elgin Baylor and Detroit Mayor Dave Bing. This story makes it hard to tell who was black and who was white, but Dan and Dave proved they might have been separate but they were equal.