FRANK HART AND ELGIN BAYLOR: WHEN DC BASKETBALL WAS KING!
Two Peas in a Pod: Frank and his best friend Walter Miller–class acts.
In the early 50s 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 week-day 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 talking faceless teenagers without names hanging out on the side walk 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.
He told my mother after her third visit, “Harold will not live to get out of high school.” He saved my life, because he made me determined to prove him wrong.
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 corridor was patroled by one cop Ray Dixon, and he could smell a wanna-be like me a mile away. The only opportunity I got to see Elgin, Ed Wells, Terry Hatchell, Gary Mays, Frank Hart and others was during the summer on the playgrounds around the city. I would travel during the summer to the Boys Club, Bannecker and Park View to watch Elgin, Frank, Willie Jones, Daddy Grace and enforcers like Swingarn and Lester Lewis.
“Education Hill” was patroled by one cop–officer Ray Dixon. It seemed like he knew every student on the corridor and what school we attended. When me and my crew tried to weasel our way into the Spingarn gym during games he would sniff us out immediately. You did not want to get on the wrong side of Dixon and so we kept our distant.
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. I am a big fan of legendary DeMatha High School basketball Coach Morgan Wooten. He was a great coach and a gentleman in every sense of the word, but he was no Charlie Baltimore or Dave Brown.
The best high school basketball in DC was played in the early 50s 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 11 Division Championships in row.
Coach Baltimore had his eyes on Frank while he was making a name for himself at Bannecker. Frank was destined for high school and college stardom and all the coaches in Division Two wanted his services. He decided to go to Dunbar with “The nice kids” according to Ed, but Coach Baltimore pulled off one of the great heist in high school basketball when he literally kidnapped Frank from his neighboring school and rival without a shot being fired or a call to 911. Before anyone knew it Frank had disappeared out of a side door into the front door of Armstrong High School. It is rumored that Coach Baltimore assigned Big Dub Robinson and several football players as security guards to keep an eye on Frank for the first month of the kidnapping. Why Frank changed his mind and chose Armstrong over Dunbar is still up for debate.
There was an interesting trait that Ed Wells remembered about Frank. He says, “Frank was a hell of a foul shooter!” Coach Baltimore had a drill after every practice where each player had to make 50 foul shots in a row before heading to the showers. Frank could make 50 foul shots in a row with his eyes closed,” Ed said.
Ben Dixon, the Captain of the 1952-1953 team said, “Frank was a great high school teammate. His energy warranted him his place of distinction in our high school and playground basketball history. Hopefully, he will be rewarded generously for all of the good that he did. We can’t ask for anything more.”
Frank was a member of the 1951-52 team that won 20 games and lost 5, and the 1952-1953 Division Two Championship team that won 17 and lost 3. The team featured Dixon, Gary Mays, Walter Jones, Ed Gilliard, Ted Boderick, George Dill, Carl Jackson, William Burton, Leon Glover, Charles Allen, Leon Glover and Welford Rice.
Elgin was attending Spingarn in 1953 when he went on a mission and set a new high school scoring record with 63 points against Phelps. Armstrong split two games with Phelps, but lost to Dunbar and Phelps backed into and won their only Division Two championship under the great Dave Brown. The next two years Armstong took up where they left off winning the next two Division Two Championships. The 1953 team included Captain Ben Dixon, Gary Mays, Walter Jones, William Burton, Ted Boderick, Carl Jackson, Welford Rice, Charles Allen, Leon Glover, and Frank Hart.
In 1954 Armstrong again found themselves in the Division Two finals against Spingarn and its star player Elgin Baylor. Coach Charlie Baltimore knew they would be in big trouble if he did not come up with a way to stop the Rabbit. In their last meeting he scorched them for 39 points. Coach Baltimore went into his hat of tricks and it was not a rabbit he pulled out, it was a bandit name Gary Mays. Despite having only one arm Gary was considered by many to be the best all around athlete in the city. Coach Baltimore’s instructions to Gary was to play Elgin man to man the entire game (box in one). The other Armstrong players would play a zone defense. In one of the biggest upsets in DC high school basketball history Armstrong prevailed–the final score, Spingarn 54 and Armstrong 53. The One Arm Bandit had done what many thought impossible, held the Rabbit to 18 points.
Elgin would later play in the two of the most important All-Sar Games in the city’s basketball history. The first, was played at Terrell Jr. High School on March 12, 1954. The oponents were the all white Division One group All-Stars. They were led by their “Great White Hope” a high school scoring machine, Jim Wexler. Wexler held the DC Public High School scoring record, 52 points until Elgin shot the lights out against Phelps.
In the match up with the all white all-stars it was no-contest. Elgin scored 44 points and Wexler scored 34 points. Wexler would later say, “Baylor introduced me to a basketball world I never knew.” In Baylor’s book “Hang Time” it sounds like he and Wexler were the only players on the court for that historical showdown. I was not there, but we know for sure there were at least 4 more players who played in that game, including Frank Hart.
Elgin would pick up where he left off with the Stonewalls when he dropped out of school in 1952. The Stonewalls would meet a group of all white college all-stars in the finals of a tournament at Turner’s Arena. The all-stars included University of Maryland star Gene Shue. The Stonewalls beat the college all stars by 22 points. Shue had 34 points and Elgin had 38 points. He called Shue, “The Real deal” but again in his book “Hang Time” he again sounds like he and Shue were the only players on the court, but again we know there were other players on the Stonewalls, including, Frank Hart. “Hang Time” was a great read with the exception of Rabbit’s short term memory when it came to his coach and his teammates that played with him.
Elgin is the most decorated and dominant basketball player to ever come out of DC. He ruled all that he surveyed despite the snub by the white media as it related to space allowed for the exploits of the black athlete. Basketball was still a T-E-A-M game and Armstrong took no prisoners as Elgin played musical chairs between Phelps and Spingarn High Schools during his tenure. Two years at Phelps and one at Spingarn, Elgin’s hang time was limited in the won-lost column. Ed Wells, Ben Dixon, Frank Hart and their Armstrong teammates played a major role in that one blemish on his fabulous high school career.
The only local news story on the exploits of Rabbit’s high school oddessey was found in the Washington Star Newspaper dated March 25, 1954:
LOSS TO BAYLOR IN TOURNAMENT NO COST TO GENE SHUE’S PRESTIGE! The Evening Star March 25, 1954
Gene Shue of Maryland joins the College All-Stars on Sunday to begin the tour against the Harlem Globe Trotters and there is a good chance he may run into a familiar face before the circuit is completed.
Shue, rated the top basketball player in the area in recent years met up with Elgin Baylor last night, in the final game of the Capitol Invitation Tournament at Turner’s Arena. The Maryland ace lost no prestige as his College Park Merchants’ team dropped the championship to the Stonewall A C 90-68 it can’t be said that Baylor got the worst of the duel either. The scoring Wizard from Spingarn high outscored Shue 38 points to 34, while facing probably his toughest opposition of the year. While Baylor has little to say on the matter, the suspicion is that the next team he will play for will be the Harlem Globetrotters, unless the Army steps in.
The tournament proved what the Globetrotters and others already knew Baylor attracts the crowds. The three day tournament among mostly pick-up teams attracted around 3,000 fans and was a moderate success, according to Dave Carraso. Carrasco who is the Director of athletics and basketball coach at Montgomery Blain High School, gives Baylor 90 percent of the credit. Shue has a great following to, but it was Baylor who had the drawing power, he admits.
As for comparing their abilities, Carrasco may lean toward the college boy, “for steady basketball there is no one like Shue, he has more finesse and won’t make the same mistakes that Baylor will,” he says. But Baylor has the makings of a terrific player in fact he is terrific now. I’d never seen him before this tournament. He was off the first night (29 points) but on the next night he made some unbelievable shots.” Baylor got 47 points.
The Merchants were only behind 47-43 at half-time of the final game before the team work of the Stonewall outfit began to take affect. Ernie Warlick helped Baylor in the scoring while matching Shue’s 34 points, Drew Shauffler was the only other Merchant player in double figures, he chipped in with 10 points. Baylor’s coach at Spingarn, Dave Brown concedes Baylor maybe headed for the Globetrotters, but he has strongly urged him against it. “For one the U. S. Army will get him before the Trotters do” Elgin has received offers from about 10 colleges including a very good one from Seton Hall. I am trying to look at the overall picture, but it is his life, Coach Brown says.
Elgin Baylor (Spingarn), Gary Mays (Armstrong)and Warren ‘W.W.’ Williams (Dunbar) would continue their basketball odessey by packing their shopping bags and head out to parts unknown, Idaho. All they had to go on was a first-hand visit by W.W. a year earlier. Idaho was located in the northwestern part of the U. S. known for its mountains and wilderness. The closest thing to a moutain and wilderness these three players ever experience was Rock Creek Park and walking from 13th & U Streets up the steep hill to Cardozo High School.
The academic mystery of Elgin and Gary traveling out to Idaho was neither had grades to go to the bathroom. This made W. W. the lone scholar among the three.
Frank decided to take his chances by joining the U. S. Army after graduating from high school. Shortly after basic training he was spotted on base playing pick-up basketball and one of the players told the Base Commander about a “Hot Shot” player from DC. The Commander checked him out and made him an offer he could not refuse. The offer, to play “Special Services” in the Hawaii Islands. He would shoot the lights out in his new assignment and became the leading scorer and star player during his tour.
He returned home to play for the Stonewalls in the late 50s and then he moved on to team up with Donald Lipscome (realestate), Harold Dean, Rabbit Gaskins, Roosevelt James(?), Jay Peterson (DC COP), Kermit Banks (DC Public Schools), and Gil Hoffman. These guys all made up the 1964 Kerlips a dominant recreation team who were unbeatable led by Frank Hart. These players went on to have distinguishing careers in real Estate (Lipscome), DC Public High School & college coach (Dean), Educator DC Public Schools (Banks), DC Public Schools Athletic Director and Ass’t Superintendent (Hoffman).
Black Americans are given little or no credit while they live and no credit at all when we die. The Washington Post is the best example, Roland Fatty Taylor a young street dude from NE DC against all odds made it all the way from Watts and Kelley Miller playgrounds to the ABA and on to the NBA where he became “Captain” of the Denver Nuggets. He played alongside, Julius Irving aka Dr. J and George Gervin aka the Ice Man (the nick name given to him by Fatty). Gary Mays was aka the One Arm Bandit, he lost his arm as youngster growing up in West Virginia to a accidental blast from a shotgun. Despite his one arm he was given a try-out as a catcher at a Major League Baseball camp in his hometown of Washington, DC.
It was the early 50s and the camp was held at old Griffin Stadium on the Georgia Avenue corridor. Gary was the only player to hit a home-run out of the stadium, and he didn’t allow a stolen base. Despite being named MVP of the tryout camp Major League Baseball played the Race Card and never offered him a contract. Fatty and Gary died in February and Frank died in April of 2018. The common denominator, their living and dying received little or no fanfare in the Washington Post or the Afro-American Newspaper.
National correspondents like James Brown (CBS), Kevin Blackistone (Washington Post), Michael Wilbon (ESPN), Colby King (Washington Post/Dunbar grad) all have ties to DC, but have no clue about the community or sports history. David Aldridge (NBA TNT) has a clue, but he cannot cover it all. In 2007 ABC News recognized Gary Mays in a 2 minute blur in a Black History Month forum produced by Inside Sports.
Black History is being oppressed and given little or no recognition. The proof is in the pudding for example; Washington, DC is the only public high school system in America that can lay claim to having two DC Public High Schools with four athletes in the NFL and the NBA Hall of Fames. They are Len Ford and Willie Wood of Armstrong High School (NFL) and Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing of Spingarn High School (NBA). The common denominator, both institutions of higher learning are now shut-down–lost history. It gets worst, the founder of the DC Hall of Fame is a capetbagger by the name of Janette Holston Harris and guess where she is from–Kentucky. She is allowed to make up her own rules for inductees; for example, “If you are a native Washingtonian and you now live in Maryland, you are not eligible for the DC Hall of Fame.” Are you kidding me–history lost. To get around that stipulation with folks who act and look like her, there is a ‘Regional Award’ she gives out to other frauds and capetbaggers like radio and TV personalities, Donnie Simpson and Joe Madison, Simpson is from Detroit and Madison is from Dayton, Ohio. Their knowledge of the DC community you could put on the head of a needle.
We all should be asking the question, why is it that our DC Public High School Coaches like, Charlie Baltimore, Ted McIntyre, Dave Brown, Jesse Chase, Biff Carter, Sal Hall and athletes, Avatus Stone, J. A. Preston, Ralph “Daddy Grace” Paige, Cecil Turner, Reggie Lee, Frank Hart, Rock Green, Peasie Jordan, John Syphax, Ben Dixon, Ed Wells, Shorty Sumlin, Red Mike Hagler, Doug Robinson, Ollie Johnson, Dave Bing, are not in the Washington DC Hall of Fame? These coaches and athletes laid the foundation for our academic and athletic success.
The most important thing that I remember about Frank and his side kick, Walter Miller, the word “Player Hater” can never be associated with their names. They always had a kind word of encouragement for a young brother like me and they had each other’s backs. I looked up to them. RIP Frank Hart.
The Memorial Service for Frank Hart will be held on Monday May 14th at 11 a.m, St Gabriel’s Church, 26 Grant Circle NW, Washington, DC.
Harold: Glad to see you are still at it. Keep the faith!!
Judge Ted Newman, DC Court of appeals, Retired
What’s up Judge? Thanks for all your support when brothers like you, Luke, Harry T, Ugene, and Henry help make DC a better place to live for everyone.
great informative commentary, enjoyed learning some of history of athletes I watched and admired. keep writing the good stuff, butch wilson
Great photo. I remember them distinctly! Right around my time… how does one see All the players in the photo???
Hi Francis I have not forgotten u. I have been locked down trying to finish a TIMELINE for my book! http://www.theoriginalinsidesports.blog