For as long as I can remember, I've been curious on why things the way they are. I used to quiz my friends on "why they do what they do" in an effort to learn more about them. An old buddy answered one time that he was always looking for the next adrenaline rush, which makes sense as he's in flight school right now studying to be a Naval Aviator.
So this spring, I would read in the papers how Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr.'s baseball team took the Maryland 4A South Region. This was Dr. Wise's third regional title this school year alone. And what my high school English teacher taught me: "Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend."
If he finished that statement, I'm sure it would be "three times is worth you getting your butt over to campus and learning how in the heck this trend started at school only five years old."
It's not often that a school only open for five years is able to compete at the big-time sports - football, basketball, baseball - that often require many years of building goodwill in the administration, hiring the right coaches, and developing players.
In this academic school year alone, Dr. Wise's boys basketball team was league champ, the girls basketball team was a Maryland state finalist, the wrestling team was south county champ, the football team repeated as a state finalist, the baseball team surprised everybody as region champ, and the cheerleading squad was grand county champ. You can't pull in that kind of hardware without serious enthusiasm starting with the student body and going all the way to the top of the ladder.
At the top of Dr. Wise's athletic ladder is the only athletic director in school history, O.J. Johnson. The administration, coaching staff, and players mentioned earlier are elements that Johnson has in spades. Not only does Johnson have spades, but he has the hearts, diamonds, and clubs to boot.
Dr. Wise has become a Maryland 4A South power partially due to the structure put in place by Johnson. In two instances, Dr. Wise has had the same head varsity football and head basketball coaches (Johnson himself), providing a continuity necessary for an athletic program to grow and be successful.
Another suit that Johnson has in the deck is Dr. Wise High School itself. The bill to build Dr. Wise was north of 90-million dollars and it shows. Before my visit with Johnson, I never visited Dr. Wise's campus. The campus' impressive visage that faces the road is built entirely out of windows. Impressive indeed (then again, I'm a sucker for buildings made up of windows...and I'll argue all day that the Verizon Center is the best building in the District).
Now that kind of massively, beautiful campus needs some students in order to function and Dr. Wise's student body taps out around 2,500 students. With that many students, you're bound to find loads of talent in the whole spectrum of sports from incoming freshman to students who just want to be a part of Dr. Wise's fairly new tradition of winning.
"I think because of the success we've had in so many sports, it encourages the other kids to go 'We are a brand new school, I want to be successful like the football team, like the basketball team,'" said Johnson.
Because of where Dr. Wise is located in Upper Marlboro, Md., they don't face too much direct competition for students between neighboring schools 2A Frederick Douglass and Largo High Schools. Dr. Wise's main competition for athletes is in the area's private schools (Upper Marlboro resident and sophomore two-guard Romeo Trimble attends and plays for Bishop Denis J. O'Connell High School...all the way in Alexandria, Va.), which historically have had better facilities and competition.
Now that Dr. Wise is beginning to establish a winning tradition in all arenas of sport and combining that with Dr. Wise's 4A classification allowing for better competition and shiny facilities, Johnson is noticing area kids deciding to stick near home for school.
"When it comes to students and their parents deciding on sending their kids to Wise or to a private school, I believe our facilities play a major role. I think in the end of the day, it also pushes our kids to take pride in their school and the atmosphere and what we have here and I think that pushes them to do more and want to live up to what the school is. And when kids see the banners, they want to be a part and have their name on that banner as well," said Johnson.
We can list the myriad of differences between public schools and private schools. But a public school is public and a private school is private for a reason: money. Private schools are not hindered by county zoning that affect the type of kids can attend Dr. Wise. In the past, private schools were able to "recruit" student-athletes and offer them financial assistance in the form of full or partial scholarships. But after sitting down with Dr. Wise principal Carletta Marrow, I learned the market can't bear full-scale recruiting anymore.
"When you're going to these private schools, they say they're going to pay for your tuition, but many of them don't pay the full tuition, so you still have to pay to attend those programs and if you're not on a scholarship, that impacts what you're able to do," said Marrow.
All issues with the economy aside, you still need to prove it out on the field to earn creditability in the community. Your local public school becomes a lot more attractive to send your child to when it's bringing home championships regularly. Marrow has noticed how Dr. Wise's meteoric rise has begun to convince parents to actually remove their students from the private schools and send them to Dr. Wise.
"Some parents had to see what was going to happen within the five years, going from a zero-win season in football to going to state championships," said Marrow.
Now I don't want to use hyperbole and say Dr. Wise went from "zero-to-hero" overnight because that would be a total cop-out. It takes an ridiculous amount of hard work (along with the right ingredients, namely with Dr. Wise being located in talent-rich Prince George's County) to build a blueprint for continued success.
As Johnson finished up my tour through the rest of Dr. Wise's campus and walked me to the visitor's parking lot, I began to figure out the "why" to Dr. Wise's success. Why was this relatively brand new school legitimately dominating so quickly?
Stability. The administration at Dr. Wise recognizes how important and how huge athletics is to a student body and to the community and did the necessary steps to build a stable structure to allow students to excel on the gridiron, the hardwood, and even the cheer tumbling mats.
When Johnson walked me through the halls and introduced me to the different coaches that we'd run into, I'd tried to ask if that was the first coach in Dr. Wise's history. Johnson would confirm and as we stayed on our tour, it became pretty clear that the continuity between coaches, even if they've only been coaching at Dr. Wise for five years, is essential to build trust in the administration, the students, and the community.
Once is a coincidence, twice is a trend.