As the last graduates of Washington-Lee High prepare for their diplomas (over the summer comes the switch to Washington-Liberty), I’ll submit another tribute to the school’s heralded heritage.
No, that legacy will not fade away because of a one-word name change.
Last month I received a call from Blanche Kirchner, the mother of a brood of Arlington’s top athletes. She was excited that she had uncovered a long-lost scrapbook that chronicled the sports feats of her husband, Vincent Kirchner, from W-L’s Class of 1941.
(The find comes, coincidentally, as Blanche’s son Bernie Kirchner, known as the best all-around athlete in Yorktown High School’s history, on June 5 will be announced as one of the new class of inductees into the Arlington Sports Hall of Fame. He will join his father, along with newly inducted W-L football opponent and Super Bowl veteran Reggie Harrison.)
The scrapbook, which Bernie told me he had not seen since the late 1960s, enshrines memories of W-L glory days. Vinnie Kirchner — who died in 2012 at 91 — collected yellowed clippings of his feats as a three-sport athlete who starred on W-L’s undefeated 1939 football team before serving in World War II.
The items also capture a time when W-L’s sports notoriety spread across state lines.
“The bone-crushing blocking” of Kirchner and others helped beat the team from the District of Columbia’s Central High, said one Evening Star write-up. Vinnie — featured in cartoons — was also a quarterback, hoopster and star hitter on the Generals’ baseball squad.
“Washington-Lee Defeats Presidents, 21-7, Before 10,000” shouted the account of “Ye Olde Oaken Bucket” football game against Alexandria’s George Washington High in 1939. “Grid Season with Perfect Slate,” read another, accompanied by a cartoon by the famous Jim Berryman celebrating W-L Coach Johnny Baker’s victories over regional powerhouses such as Calvert Hall, St. John’s and Fredericksburg High. (A team photo of the undefeated 1939 pigskin team before the Oaken Bucket includes future Arlington County Board Chairman Leo Urbanski.)
It wasn’t all waltzing toward victory.
In basketball, the Washington-Lee “basketers absorbed the second shellacking in two days” as a team from Richmond’s John Marshall High “dealt the Little Generals a 39-21 trimming at Ballston, Va.”
But Vinnie, before shipping off to the war in 1942, signed a baseball contract with the St. Louis Cardinals farm club in Tennessee. He returned to Arlington, ran an electrical firm and made his mark as a manager in Arlington youth sports. In 2001, he was among the original 13 inducted into W-L’s sports hall of fame by then-Principal Marian Spraggins.
Vinnie’s five children included Joe, a three-sport star in Bishop O’Connell High School’s class of ’65 who played on the Knights’ three-year undefeated baseball team. And daughter Jane, O’Connell ’80, was a hall-of-famer in girls’ basketball and softball.
Equally fascinating, I found, is the vintage newspaper mention of Vinnie’s younger wife Blanche (nee Downs), whom he met while in W-L’s Pearl Harbor class. Blanche, of course, was a supportive mom to her athletic offspring, I was assured by Bernie. But she didn’t follow sports enough to know the differing rules and game objects.
W-L’s notable alums obviously extend beyond the jock world to prominence in government, science and the arts. Blanche, you see, is in her 60th year as an Arlington art teacher, and at 97 is still teaching three classes.
Some 1,000 nostalgic alums of Arlington’s one-of-a-kind H-B Woodlawn program reassembled May 25 to say goodbye to their funky Stratford building being converted to a middle school.
As the free-form education experiment launched in 1971 prepares to move to the new Heights Building in upper Rosslyn, the multi-era graduates sang, packed in for a group photo and bought a color book on their famous controlled graffiti walls.
All three principals — founder Ray Anderson, Frank Haltiwanger and incumbent Casey Robinson — led the ceremony, with Robinson remarking, “Vacation Lane served as a classroom for life.”