When I played youth sports in Arlington, our seasons culminated in an awards banquet. Those rubber-chicken assemblies in some church basement that required jock kids to wear a necktie to collect their trophies were stiff but satisfying. (Indeed, I would later feel entitled to such ceremonies celebrating all of my life’s pursuits. Turns out they’re kind of rare.)
But as an adult, I’m pleased to note that such local sports awards banquets are alive and kicking, thanks to the Better Sports Club of Arlington.
For 55 years, this part-men’s lodge, part-community-builder has recognized athletic prowess, raised funds for scholarships and aid to disadvantaged youth, and nurtured a network of hometown sports enthusiasts.
Brian Hannigan, finishing his second term as Better Sports Club president, is a friend who last year waived me in to one of the club’s yearly half-dozen dinners held at the Knights of Columbus. (The food, I can report, isn’t rubber.) The big annual awards banquet in May “is unique and unifying,” Hannigan says. “It is the one time of the year that Arlington’s outstanding student-athletes-and, unlike the NCAA, we really do meanstudent-athletes-from all four Arlington high schools come together, with their parents, for a very special evening.”
Past banquet speakers have included Washington Wizards game announcer (and Washington-Lee High School graduate) Steve Buckhantz, Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise, pro-team owner Ted Leonsis, Olympic swimmer (and Yorktown High Hall of Famer) Tom Dolan and Washington Redskin Trevor Matisch. Memory tells me the late Clay Kirby, the early ‘60s W-L graduate who went on to pitch for the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds, came back to address the club.
Just this February, the after-dinner remarks came, as they have many times, from famed broadcaster Johnny Holliday, the “Voice of the Terps” play-by-play announcer for Maryland football and basketball since 1979.
The banquet’s postprandial highlights include naming the young female and male Athletes of the Year, based on sports feats but also on academic achievement and personal character, Hannigan says. “Scholarships are awarded only to those not receiving `full-ride’ athletic scholarships.”
The club’s website presents the roster of the Arlington Sports Hall of Fame-players of all ages as well as coaches and leaders. The first inductee, in 1958, was Arlington sports shop owner George McQuinn, a Major League Baseball player in the ‘30s.
Many names I recognize as dads from my youth; former Sheriff J. Elwood Clements, car dealer Bob Peck and late-1930s “multi-sport athlete” Vincent Kirchner, whose son Bernie was Yorktown’s three-sport star in the late ‘60s. There’s also W-L’s Princeton-bound hoop stars Ed and John Hummer, and pro-football tight end Eric Sievers. Last year’s inductee was Yorktown football coach Bruce Hanson.
Until 2005, the club was all-male,” Hannigan says. “Several attempts to amend the bylaws to allow women members failed before a concerted effort by reform-minded members succeeded. Today, about 10 percent of our 150-200 active members are women.”
Current goals include raising funds from the civic and business community for scholarships and grants to youth baseball, soccer, softball, basketball and football programs to help needy families afford equipment. The club also plans to honor awardees with plaques at the four high schools. “I think the awardees and their parents appreciate the Better Sports Club,” Hannigan says. “But we are largely invisible to the larger student body.”
Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at [email protected]