More than 50 years later, the names still evoke magical and majestic memories for long-time DC basketball fans. The Archbishop John Carroll Lions of the late 1950’s arguably still reign as this city’s best-ever high school hoopsters.
They reeled off a 55-game winning streak against high school competition and totally dominated over a three-year period from 1958 through 1960.
Most significantly, however, the Lions’ racially-mixed team was on the front lines of racial integration in this area, ”We caught a lot of hell from people,” coach Bob Dwyer said years later at the team’s 40th anniversary reunion.
The Lions’ performance on the basketball court was amazing by any measure. Their composure off the court in the face of sometimes ugly threats and challenges was even more impressive.
Their collective accomplishments in basketball and beyond add another dimension to the story. One became a Hall of Fame basketball coach, another president of Notre Dame.
George Leftwich, a smooth ball handler and the team leader on the court, unquestionably was instrumental in holding it all together even though others grabbed most of the headlines. He’s the athletic director at Carroll today.
The 6-11 center John Thompson and 6-10 Tom Hoover were the twin towers. Thompson, the legendary Georgetown coach who played at Providence College and for the Boston Celtics, is in the basketball Hall of Fame.
Hoover starred collegiately at Villanova, played pro basketball for seven seasons, then worked in the entertainment business as the road manager for Richard Pryor and Natalie Cole. He later served as a New York state boxing commissioner and started the Adopt-a-School program for Gov. Mario Cuomo.
And Edward ‘Monk’ Malloy starred at Notre Dame, then became a priest and one of the nation’s leading educators as president of that prestigious university. The fifth starter on the ’58-’59 team was defensive specialist Walt Skinner who had a successful business career.
Carroll’s Lions not only romped through the high school competition, they also beat the Maryland, George Washington and Georgetown freshmen teams often by wide margins.
The 1958-59 season may have been their best. They beat a strong Cardozo team, 79-52, on March 7, 1959 at the old Uline Arena to win the city championship.
They went on to defeat three strong out-of-town teams in the Knights of Columbus tournament at Georgetown’s McDonough Gymnasium, then swept through the Eastern States Catholic Invitation Tournament at Newport, RI to finish the season 31-0 against high schools and 33-2 overall with two wins and two losses against college freshmen teams.
Seniors Hoover and Malloy graduated in 1959 and went to Villanova and Notre Dame, respectively. With the addition of sophomore John Austin, the Lions again captured the city title in 1959-60 defeating Spingarn in the championship game at Cole Field House.
Carroll’s ’58-’59 team had three black starters at a time when nearly every opponent was pre-dominantly white or predominantly black. The ’59-’60 team had four black starters.
It was a close-knit group which practiced in the off-season with pickup games at the Turkey Thicket playground in Northeast (where Malloy was the ‘Mayor’) and at the Chevy Chase playground where famed Celtics’ General Manager Red Auerbach (a DC resident) occasionally stopped by to watch .
Dwyer, who died in 2007, recalled in an interview posted several years ago on the school’s website that on trips north the team was unable to find restaurants on the Delaware or New Jersey Turnpike that would serve the racially integrated team.
“We got a chance to see that real racism has no face and no color,” Leftwich recalled. “People say I’m sorry it happened. I’m glad it happened.”