Frank Hart and Elgin Baylor: When D.C. Basketball Was King by Harold Bell
In the early 1950’s I use to sit on “The Hill” watch and admire athletes I wanted to be like once I got to high school. ‘The Hill’ was known as Educational Hill. It was one the most unique school settings in America. I remember while attending Brown Middle School, I would take the street car from my NE housing project every weekday morning to attend school. “The Hill” was located on the corridor of 24th and Benning Road in NE Washington, DC.
What made “The Hill” so unique was the walk from the bus stop to my Brown Middle School which was the last school on that 24th street corridor. We took “The Hill” for granted. To get to Brown we had to first walk by the historical Langston Golf Course on our right, the newly open Spingarn High School was on the left. We then had to walk through a bunch of smiling and loud laughing faceless teenagers without names hanging out on the sidewalk of the school. The next schools on the horizon were Charles Young Elementary, and hidden behind Charles Young was Phelps Vocational High School and at the end of the street was Brown Middle School and the Principal from hell, I thought, William B. Stinson.
The athletes attending Spingarn and Phelps were my first heroes. I would sit on “The Hill” after school and watch them practice and play football and baseball, and dream I would do the same one day.
Basketball was the glamour sport (girls) and that is where you would find brothers like Elgin Baylor aka “Rabbit”, Frank Hart, Ed Wells, Doug Robinson, Earl Richards, Terry Hatchett, Ben Dixon, and John Syphax, but to me they were only whispers among the students I sat with on “The Hill.” High school basketball games were under lock and key as far as I was concern. The only opportunity I got to see Elgin, Ed Wells, Terry Hatchett, Gary Mays, Frank Hart and others was during the summer on the playgrounds around the city.
This brings me back to Frank Hart who went home to be with the Lord on April 16, 2018. He was a native Washingtonian and a high school and playground Basketball legend here in the Nation’s Capitol. He attended Bannecker Middle School where his legend first took root. Ed Wells, another high school, college and playground basketball legend remembers playing against him when he was a student at Brown Middle School. He said, “Frank and his teammates put on a basketball clinic and sent us back to Benning Road with our tails between our legs.” Frank played on those great Armstrong teams (1951-1952) with the likes of Captain Ed Wells, Arthur Kay, Big Dub Robinson, Art Van Brackle, Gary Mays, Andrew Dyer, Walter Jones, Bernard Braddock and Ben Dixon. They were led by their great coach, Charlie Baltimore who was “The Wizard of Oz” of high school basketball in DC.
The best high school basketball in DC was played in the early 50’s in so-called Division Two. This division was established to separate black schools from the segregated white schools in Division One. Playground and high school basketball was played above the rim in the black community. In the white community players were still shooting two hand set-shots and the fast-break was still being run at a snail’s pace. In Division Two, jump shots, hang time and show time were the norm. Armstrong “ruled the roost” before Rabbit they won 7 Division Championships in row.
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