Commentary Washington departs as role model
By RICHARD JUSTICE
Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
May 16, 2010, 11:29PM
Milton Washington is one of those kids who reminds teachers and coaches why they do what they do. He"s forever in their hearts, forever in their thoughts.“I recently met a lady at the junior high that taught him, and as we talked, she started to cry,” Waltrip High School boys basketball coach Dan Kelly said. “She said, ‘He was such a gentleman." That"s the kind of thing you hear all the time. His teachers rave about him.”
Kelly has shed some tears these past few weeks as he thinks about the things his point guard has overcome and considers the hole in his heart that will be left when Washington walks out the door at Waltrip for the last time as a student.Washington grew up in tough circumstances, in a dangerous neighborhood, with a disabled father, Paul, a retired U.S. Army man, and 10 brothers and sisters. The family survives on government assistance and a mom who keeps things organized.
Yet Paul and Sandra Washington instilled discipline in the home and an expectation about the importance of school. Homework is done every night. Lights are out at 9.“He could have very easily gone the other way,“ Kelly said. “There was a killing right down the street from his house. Gang-related. Drug deal gone bad.“
From the time they met, Kelly saw that Milton Washington was different.“They don"t have a whole lot,” Kelly said. “You"d never know it. He"s upbeat, positive. He"s that quiet leader. When he does talk, his teammates listen. So do I.”Attracted to West Point
He"ll leave Waltrip with a 3.74 grade-point average and ranked 31st in his class. He was voted Most Likely to Succeed by his classmates and got a standing ovation at the school awards banquet.“It was a goose bump moment,” Kelly said.
In a few weeks, he"ll be off to the U.S. Military Academy Prep School in New Jersey to play point guard and study for a year before entering West Point in 2011. Washington became interested in West Point last year when he listened to a recruiter discuss all the things he"d overcome in his own life and why West Point is special.“It"s how the kids that go there turn out,” Washington said, “and how great the brotherhood, the connection, is. Students become leaders, better men, and successful. It got me.”
In the weeks that followed, Washington and Kelly spent hours together preparing for interviews and tests. Kelly drove him to the University of Houston and to Ellington Field several times for interviews and meetings.In one of their interview practice sessions, Kelly asked Washington to “Define adversity.” He chokes on the words and the emotion as he repeats the answer.
“He said, ‘Coach, when I was younger, my dad"s sister, my aunt, turned my mom and dad in to CPS (Child Protective Service)," “ Kelly said. “CPS grabbed "em and dispersed "em from their family. He was apart from his family for three, four months. He told me, ‘Coach, during that whole time, I was able to keep my grades up." Even at a young age, he understood the importance.“I get emotional when I think about it. Everything he does, he does hard. When you talk about playing hard, playing smart, he takes it seriously.”
This is that time of the year when the high school coaches and kids who"ve invested so much in one another, who"ve laughed together and suffered together and triumphed together, who"ve influenced one another in ways they might not know, begin saying their goodbyes.Kelly will have other kids come into his life. He"ll have others he loves, others he admires and appreciates.But as another school year winds down, he has trouble thinking there will be another one like Milton Washington.
“He wants to be the best in everything he does,” Kelly said. “He"s kind of quiet about it, but he strives to be the best. His mom and dad are responsible for that.”
Unassuming leaderWashington speaks softly, slowly, forcefully. His is a quiet confidence.
“It"s hard growing up without having enough money or income like other children, just barely getting by every day, barely making ends meet,” he said. “But it motivated me to work hard.”
He was an all-district point guard the past two seasons and is coming off a year in which he averaged 15 points, four rebounds and three assists. Waltrip won 57 games in his three varsity seasons.But basketball is just one of the things they"ll remember him for at Waltrip.“Coach Kelly taught me to be positive, be a stand-up guy, a leader and to think about the consequences of what you do,” Washington said. “He taught me to be a leader, not a follower.”
At Waltrip, they"ll remember him for all those things and for so much more, for being one of those kids who was a joy to motivate and teach. And love.