The coronavirus pandemic sidelined most of the DMV high school sports scene this year, but even in an abbreviated state, the region’s student-athletes made the most of their opportunities. The athletic community, at large, found a way to endure and ultimately navigate these unchartered waters.
Here’s a look back at the 5 most memorable moments of 2020.
Hall of Fame coach Morgan Wootten dies
On Jan. 21, nationally-renowned coach Morgan Wootten died in his Hyattsville home. He was 88.
Wootten was at the helm of the DeMatha basketball program for 46 years, leading the Stags to 1,274 career victories, more than 30 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships, and his teams were considered national champions on four occasions, earning Wootten a spot in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
When news about his death surfaced, Wootten’s life was celebrated both near and far. A bevy of former players and coaches paid tribute to the coach in interviews and social media posts alike. At home, the current iteration of DeMatha basketball bore the burden of taking to the court in a match-up with Archbishop Carroll just a day after learning of Wooten’s passing.
With heavy hearts and under the direction of coach Mike Jones, the Stags crushed the Lions 76-34 while playing in their home gymnasium, aptly named after Wooten and his wife, Kathy.
In coach Morgan Wooten’s memory, the Stags finished the season with a record of 30-3, winning their 41st WCAC championship.
The Roosevelt Roughriders knocked off arch-nemesis Wilson 66-63 on Feb. 17 to win the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association conference championship.
The Tigers had won the previous three DCIAA titles, defeating Roosevelt in the championship game each time. Despite the frequency of their finals match-ups, the two were hardly rivals, as Wilson won those tilts by a combined score of 220-145, including a 92-48 drubbing in 2019’s championship game.
Roosevelt wasn’t the only school being bullied by Wilson. Coach Angelo Hernandez’s Tigers dominated the DCIAA, running roughshod over the competition to the tune of a 37-1 overall conference record, dating back to 2016.
This was the backdrop coming into the 2020 contest. Though Roosevelt was in the midst of its own magical season, few believed it could compete with Wilson when it really mattered. So, when coach Rob Nickens’ Roughriders overcame a double-digit deficit to slay the proverbial giant, he and his student-athletes were understandably overcome with emotion.
“This is a dream come true. I’ve prayed about it, continued to work hard and believed in the vision,” a visibly emotional Nickens said. “This has been a five-year chase, everybody gave up on us, but we didn’t give up on each other.”
St. John’s stymies Sidwell’s upset bid
On March 1, Azzi Fudd and the St. John’s Lady Cadets held off up-and-coming Sidwell Friends to win their fifth consecutive District of Columbia State Athletic Association crown.
In a game soaked with significant sub-plots, many billed the game as a one-on-one duel between Fudd, the consensus national No. 1 player in the class of 2020 and sophomore Kiki Rice, the D.C. Gatorade Player of the Year -- a title Fudd held the previous two years. But the match-up between the Quakers and Cadets was about more than just Azzi vs. KiKi, it was SJC’s attempt to extend its reign as best in D.C.
Entering the season, the Lady Cadets were the gold-standard for DMV hoops, having won three consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships coupled with four straight at states, but 2019-20 was different. Fudd spent the season finding her rhythm after recovering from a torn right ACL and MCL. Fudd’s injury in tandem with the graduation of fellow SJC legends Malu Tshitenge-Mutombo and Carly Rivera left coach Jonathan Scribner’s squad vulnerable for the first time in a very long time. The Lady Cadets finished the regular season with eight losses and ultimately fell to rival Bishop McNamara in the WCAC semifinals. St. John’s entered the DCSAA championship game needing a victory in order to hold onto one of its crowns.
Coming into the match-up, Sidwell had won seven of its last eight games. Its young roster, consisting of five freshmen, five sophomores and one junior was beginning to gel -- wings Jadyn Donovan and Khia Miller meshed with the talents of Rice to give coach Tamika Dudley’s Quakers a formidable foe -- and a victory over St. John’s could set them on a path to their own dynasty.
After trading baskets early, the Cadets used their size and experience to separate from the upstart Quakers. Senior Kelis Corley scored in transition, while underclassmen Taylor Napper and Delaney Thomas dominated the interior.
Rice and the Quakers put forth a valiant attempt to seize the throne, but in the end, Fudd’s court-generalship proved to be too much. She engineered the Lady Cadets offense, drawing double-teams before kicking to open teammates for quality shots. She drove to the rim at will and knocked down contested jump shots from long range, once hitting from just inside half court. When the moment called for it, she was once again vintage Azzi Fudd.
Fudd finished with a game-high 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, leading the Cadets to their sixth DCSAA state championship in seven years, and in the process, held off Sidwell… at least for one more season.
The day it all stopped
On March 12, the coronavirus pandemic brought the Maryland and Virginia state basketball playoffs to a screeching halt and ultimately shut down a vast majority of DMV high school sports indefinitely.
The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association’s state semis and finals were slated to be played at SECU Arena at Towson and Xfinity Center at University of Maryland, Thursday-Saturday, while the Virginia High School League was set to hold its Class 3-6 basketball championships at the Siegal Center in Richmond on Friday and Saturday. None of which ultimately took place.
Following the initial plans of the NCAA, which was gearing up for March Madness, both playoffs were to be contested with no fans in the stands. But as concerns grew pertaining to the novel coronavirus pandemic, state officials placed safety over sport with the MPSSAA postponing the remainder of its schedule and the VHSL canceling it outright, designating each class finalist a co-champion.
Maryland’s unprecedented decision to postpone was so sudden that student-athletes from Northeast and Howard got the news as they were mere moments away from loading their respective buses for the stadium.
Confusion rained down from the coaching ranks and student athletes were understandably disappointed, as the basketball community wondered if and when games would be rescheduled. They were not.
St. Charles senior Tremaine Chesley, whose team would have been in the semifinals of the MPSSAA boys basketball state tournament, expressed his frustrations.
“To know my senior season is over and all the hard work I’ve been putting in since my 9th-grade year is over with, my season doesn’t feel complete,” Chesley said. “My team and I had a goal from the beginning of the season and that was to make it to the Xfinity Center at the University of Maryland. We were right there, and we couldn’t play.”
Only a sparse number of high school sports have been played since March 12. Less populated areas of Maryland, as well as some private schools have returned to action -- many of which have faced cancellations resulting from positive COVID-19 tests. Accordingly, there have been zero high school competitions of any kind held in Washington. Each have tentative plans for a full return to play in February.
The VHSL loosened restrictions on Virginia’s high school sports, as many counties in the commonwealth began their winter seasons in late December.
Caleb Williams wins Elite11
Gonzaga’s Caleb Williams earned MVP honors at the Elite11 quarterback competition held in Nashville, Tenn., on July 1.
The annual three-day event showcased 20 of the top senior QB’s in the nation, competing in myriad drills designed to determine who is the premier signal caller in the country. Williams outlasted Georgia commit Brock Vandegrift and Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy, amongst others, to take the crown.
Williams was already a 5-star entering the competition, but with his performance, he cemented his stature as the consensus overall top-ranked quarterback in the 2020 class.
Elite11 began in 1999 and has served as a launchpad platform for would-be NFL standouts Matthew Stafford, Tim Tebow, Andrew Luck and Kyler Murray. In recent years, Dwayne Haskins (Bullis) and Sol-Jay Maiava (St. John’s) partook in the competition, but Williams is the first from the DMV to be named MVP.
He committed to Oklahoma on July 4.