A First-Person Plea: Save the District’s Struggling Athletic Program and Its Children.

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Four decades later, Harold Bell is still making children first (1981-2021)!

Recently there has been talk about dropping or cutting back athletics in the D.C. public schools for the obvious reasons: personal cutbacks and a lack of available money to support the programs.

I hope it doesn’t happen.

For many of our inner-city youngsters, participating in athletics is still to some extent the main avenue to a better way of life. And the D.C. public schools have produced a long and distinguished list of student-athletes who have gone on to bigger and better things, in sports and other professions.

Many of these men and women, black and white, are now doctors or lawyers or professional football, basketball and baseball players. They used athletics and didn’t allow athletics to use them. There are thousands of success stories.

I’m not just talking about people like Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Maury Wills and Willie Wood, who are some of the city’s all-time great athletes. I’m also talking about Cecil Turner of Spingarn, who played for the Chicago Bears in the early 1960s and now is a special agent for the FBI, and Dick Drummond, a former all-Met running back from Wilson who is now a doctor, and Craig Anderson, who went from Anacostia High School to pitching for the New York Mets and now works as the business manager at Le-high University.

Let me tell you about another athlete, a young man whose junior high school principal, William B. Stinson of Brown Junior High School, once predicted would not live to finish high school.

That athlete went on to play football, basketball and baseball at Spingarn High School, but it never came easy.

During his senior year, his mother was hospitalized after a nervous breakdown and he and his three brothers were separated from each other, scattered to other families around the city.

The athlete literally lived in the streets, sleeping in cars and washing in public restrooms, carrying all his possessions with him because everywhere — and nowhere — was his home.

Many times he thought about dropping out of school, but because he was an athlete, because he loved the challenge of competition, he stayed in school.

The athlete was always in hot water with his coaches. Baseball Coach Leo Hill kicked him off the team because the athlete thought he was Willie Mays, trying to do it all himself. Football Coach Dave Brown once locked him on the team bus at halftime of a game against Phelps because the athlete chewed out his quarterback for not throwing more passes his way. Basketball Coach William Roundtree dropped him from the team for a selfish and self-centered attitude. He always wanted the ball when the game was on the line–he plays the Game of Life with inner-city youth the exact same way.

The athlete found himself playing musical chairs with his education. He transferred to Eastern High School and then to Fairmont Heights high School in Prince George’s County, where he finally graduated. But he always stayed in touch with his old football coach, Dave Brown, at Spingarn. And Brown talked Clarence (Big House) Gaines, the legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach at Winston-Salem State, into giving the athlete a scholarship.

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Harold Bell and DC Mayor Walter Washington pay tribute to Coach Dave Brown on his retirement.
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In Chicago in 2006 Harold Bell was named the recipient of the first Clarence ‘Bighouse’ Gaines Community Service Award.

The athlete, if you haven’t figured it out by now, was me, and everything that’s happened ever since — most of it good — I can honestly say I owe to the D.C. public school system and its athletic program.

By Harold Bell, recently named the 1980 Washingtonian of the Year by Washingtonian Magazine for his work with DC youth.  He is also the host of a radio sports talk show, “Inside Sports.” Washington Post May 17, 1981

He was a footprint in American Education: Joe Clark dies at 83/ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUWyTT0nX_c

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