By John Kelly
Two years ago, an Arlington reader wrote to Answer Man with a question: What was up with the Washington Hall of Stars, a collection of D.C. sports greats whose names were displayed in RFK Stadium and then in Nationals Park?
Well, Answer Man responded, to be honest it’s kind of moribund.
On Monday, the Washington Nationals will announce that the hall is being revived, with a new name — the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame — and six new members. In a pregame ceremony before the team’s March 31 opener against Atlanta, these D.C. sports figures will be inducted: CBS “NFL Today” host James Brown, Olympic gold medal gymnast Dominique Dawes, former Washington Redskins running back Brian Mitchell, former Anacostia High head football coach Willie Stewart, former Post columnist Michael Wilbon and former DeMatha High head basketball coach Morgan Wootten. They join Wes Unseld, Sonny Jurgensen and Walter Johnson.
Answer Man asked James “JB” Brown to talk about his exploits and whether it was his prowess on the basketball court (he was twice an All-American at DeMatha) or his work in the TV studio that earned him a place in the hall. “I’m not real comfortable talking about myself,” JB said, laughing.
Okay, then. Walk us through the inductees.
Of Wilbon, an ESPN and ABC analyst and co-host of the sports show “Pardon the Interruption,” JB said: “It goes without saying, he’s still a shooting star in terms of how high he’s going.”
Of Stewart, who coached Anacostia and, before that, Eastern to a combined seven Interhigh/D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association championships and a record 13 appearances in the Turkey Bowl: “Talk about sustained excellence at the public school level — and probably more importantly, think of the number of young men and young women that he helped to steer to success in the game of life.”
Brian Mitchell? “He was Mr. Tenacity personified,” said JB, just as willing to push himself to the limit on a preseason practice field as he was with a playoff game on the line.
What about Dominique Dawes, the Silver Spring native who competed in three Olympics and is now co-chairman of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition? “Her accomplishments speak for themselves. And what a wonderful professional, regal presence she is, an awesome inspiration for men and women.”
As for Morgan Wootten — five national high school championships, holder of a .869 winning percentage, Basketball Hall of Fame inductee — he was Brown’s coach at DeMatha, the Hyattsville Catholic school.
“Coach Morgan Wootten is someone who quite simply walked the talk,” JB said. “He preached to us what our priorities should be. God was first. Family was second. School was third. And basketball was fourth. If we met the mark in each of those areas, we would indeed be champions.”
JB certainly has been. Wootten helped Brown sort through the 350 colleges that expressed interest in the basketball standout. (It was Brown’s mother who insisted he go to Harvard.)
Dawes is the third woman to be inducted into the hall, which was founded in 1980. The other women are 1946 Wimbledon champ Pauline Betz Addie and 1972 Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Melissa Belote.
More people, Dawes told Answer Man, need “to voice their opinion and say they want to see more women be recognized, not just as athletes but as reporters, coaches and people in the industry who are leaving a legacy and making a difference.”
Brian Mitchell told Answer Man he was appreciative of the fans. “From the day I came into town here, in April 1990, people knew who I was,” he said. “It basically showed me that people here were students of the game.” That affection, the Louisiana native said, is the reason he chose to settle here after retiring from the NFL.
Charlie Brotman, the local PR exec who is co-chairman of the hall with Comcast SportsNet’s Andy Ockershausen, said it was Answer Man’s query in 2009 that spurred him to resurrect the hall.
The D.C. Sports Hall of Fame is not a physical space but a mythical one, a way for triumphs to be filtered through the warm glow of nostalgia and enjoyed once again. It also speaks to the continuity of sports, how children who grew up watching ended up playing, coaching or commentating.
Coach Wootten told Answer Man about the days he spent working at Griffith Stadium as a teenager, watching teams such as the Senators and the Homestead Grays.
“It’s mind-boggling for a kid who used to usher at old Griffith Stadium to get to see his name up there at the new Nationals Park,” he said.