HYATTSVILLE, Md. – DeMatha Catholic High School has produced a number of successful alumni who remember a school that instilled lessons valuable to their careers.
The all-boys school counts among its alumni professional basketball players, an orchestra conductor, a business president and Olympic gold medal winners.
In recent interviews, they credited teachers’ determination, dedication and interest in them for helping them succeed.
“It was a great place to learn,” said John Marselle, 42, a 1972 graduate. “When you came out of that place you thought you could accomplish anything in life.” And he did.
In 14 years as president of SunMicro System federal division, Marselle helped turn the fledgling computer company into an $8 billion business. The company is based in Silicon Valley, Calif., but Marselle works in the company’s Virginia office.
“If I had an interest in almost anything there was somebody there to help me,” Marselle said of his school. “I can remember staying after school and talking with teachers.”
The teachers encouraged analytical thinking, Marselle said.
Dr. Charles “Buck” Offutt, an English teacher who has taught at DeMatha for more than 40 years, would assign novels and classics for the students to read, Marselle said.
“It wouldn’t be enough just to read a book,” Marselle said. “He cared what your thinking was about it. … He wasn’t looking for a right or wrong answer.”
Others said the school taught them the respect and discipline needed to survive in the adult world.
“They didn’t take any crap,” said William Collins, 46, a 1968 DeMatha graduate and former minor league baseball player for the Milwaukee Brewers organization. “[They’re] very strict about how you treat other people.”
Students are required to wear a uniform to school, which principal John L. Moylan said creates a business atmosphere. Students also are held responsible for all their actions and are expelled for repeated instances of fighting and truancy, Moylan said. If a student is caught stealing, or possessing drugs or alcohol during school or after, he will be immediately expelled, Moylan said.
“We stress men of integrity and character,” Moylan said. “And if you don’t [embrace those qualities], you’re out of here.”
Collins, now chairman of Virginia Baseball, a group designed to bring major league baseball to the D.C. area, remembered teachers who taught him about dedication and commitment.
“It certainly laid the framework for me to succeed in life,” Collins said.
Peter Bay, music director for the Erie (Pa.) Philharmonic, agreed. Bay used his experience as a student conductor of the DeMatha band to propel himself into a career conducting orchestras. He is the principal guest conductor for the Rochester (N.Y.) Philharmonic Orchestra and appeared as a guest conductor for the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C.
“There’s a commitment from every faculty member to giving the very best possible education,” Bay said.
He singled out band director John Mitchell for praise.
“He’s the one that built the band program from nothing to a nationally recognized program,” Bay said. “He’s a first-rate musician with high standards.”
But DeMatha may be best known for its winning tradition in athletics — much of it attributable to the motivational skills of varsity basketball coach Morgan Wootten, varsity football coach Bill McGregor and varsity baseball coach Charlie Sullivan. Wootten, who has coached for 40 years at DeMatha, has won more varsity high school basketball games than any other coach in the country, except for one, retired coach Bill Krueger of Clearlake High School in Texas.
“The bottom line is, they just have these guys that are world-class leaders,” said Marselle, who didn’t make the baseball team but became its team manager.
Since the school was founded in 1946, it has won more than 50 conference championships in basketball, football and baseball and has produced a few dozen professional athletes.
“It has an incredible reputation for producing champions,” Collins said. “I travel all over the country, and people talk to me about DeMatha high school.”
Seventeen of its graduates went on to play professional football in the United States and Canada, and one – Steve Farr – went on to play major league baseball. Farr, class of ’74, was picked up by the Boston Red Sox.
The National Basketball Association has picked up 12 DeMatha graduates. Danny Ferry, a 1985 graduate, is playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Adrian Dantley, a 1973 graduate, was a seven-time NBA All-Star. Kenny Carr, a 1974 graduate, played as a forward for a number of NBA teams, including the Portland Trailblazers.
Carr retired from the NBA in 1987 with back and knee injuries after 10 seasons. Dantley retired in 1992 after a 15- year career, but remains active playing pick-up games around the world with fellow NBA retirees.
But Dantley and Carr gained national acclaim even before their NBA careers. They won gold medals as teammates on the U.S. Men’s Basketball team during the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal.
They weren’t the school’s only Olympic winners. During the 1996 summer games in Atlanta, Derek Mills, a 1990 Dematha graduate, won a gold medal in the 4 x 400-meter relay.
In order to keep up with the athletes, DeMatha has produced a few sports writers. James Brown, host of Fox television’s National Football League pre-game show, was a 1969 DeMatha graduate. David Aldridge, a Washington Post writer and ESPN Network analyst, graduated in 1983. And Mark Maske, a 1986 graduate, covers the Baltimore Orioles for the Post.
“Obviously, like in any family you’re very proud of the achievements of a family member,” Moylan said. “And when you’re alumni, you’re still a member of the family.”