As a basketball player since childhood, coach and sport historian, Dr. Chad Carlson of the Hope College kinesiology faculty found much to admire in the legendary 1965 match-up between DeMatha Catholic High School of Hyattsville, Maryland, and Power Memorial Academy of New York City.
Going into the contest, Power Memorial had a 71-game winning streak and was widely considered the best high school team in the country. Its line up included a stand-out player named Lew Alcindor—who would go on to fame in the NBA as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. DeMatha, in the meantime, had a 29-game streak that extended to just after its previous meeting with Power Memorial a year before, when it had lost 65-62. Both the 1964 contest and the 1965 game played before capacity crowds of 12,500 at the University of Maryland. DeMatha won the rematch, 46-43.
Even at the time, the game was recognized as something special. The Washington Daily News devoted a front page to an advance story about the January 30 match-up, which was also covered by national media such as Sports Illustrated.
Carlson, who is an assistant professor of kinesiology and head coach of the men’s junior varsity basketball team at Hope, finds the game no less compelling five decades later, not because of the statistics but because of its impact on the sport and the way that it related to its racially charged times.
He explores the topic in his chapter “The Greatest High School Basketball Game Ever Played: DeMatha vs. Power Memorial, 1965,” written for the book “DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play,” which was edited by Chris Elzey and David K. Wiggins and published by University of Arkansas Press.
“This game was significant for three reasons,” Carlson said. “First, it was one of only a handful of losses that Alcindor experienced throughout the entire decade of the 1960s—a period that included his high school and collegiate careers. He was the most prominent high school basketball player ever at that time, and he went on to become one of the greatest collegians and professionals of all time.”
“Second, the game included two racially integrated high school teams and an integrated crowd that occurred without incident in one of the hotspots of the civil rights movement—our nation’s capital,” Carlson said. “And yet this game also displays how race relations in Washington have played a significant role in carving out different existences for black and white residents.”
“Third, this game put Washington high school basketball on the map as a hotbed of talent—a legacy that has grown immensely and includes Kevin Durant and more than a dozen current NBA players,” he said.
The book “DC Sports: The Nation’s Capital at Play” has itself recently received recognition, named the year’s best edited collection by the North American Society for Sport History (NASSH) during the group’s international conference, held on Friday-Monday, May 27-30, at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
As described by NASSH in its online citation, the book “explores the multi-faceted ways in which sport, both amateur and professional, female and male, forms an important part of urban life. It addresses race, class, gender, and in addition ‘fandom, the power of the press and politics.’ It acknowledges sport as an entertainment spectacle, but also shows how it is part and parcel of the ways people decided to live together in this geographical space, amid the myriad tensions emerging from those relations.” The book features 17 essays including Carlson’s chapter.
Carlson’s research is focused broadly on the socio-cultural aspects of sport. He is the author of several articles published in referred journals, essays in books and book reviews, and has made numerous presentations at professional conferences across the United States as well as abroad. He is currently researching the history of intercollegiate basketball and writing a book on the creation and early years of college basketball post-season tournaments.
He noted that he particularly enjoyed working on the chapter about the DeMatha-Power match-up for “DC Sports.”
“This was a very satisfying project for me,” he said. “The more I dug into archived material, the more significance I realized this game had. Further, the interviews I conducted with players and coaches were fascinating. The DeMatha players and coach, the winners of this game, were very cooperative and loved discussing their victory. However, I couldn’t find one person from Power who would speak to me. I am amazed that even after 50 years, they are still hesitant to talk about it. The loss hurt them that much!”
Carlson has been a member of the Hope faculty since 2014. He also coached at Hope between 2003 and 2006.
He graduated from Hope in 2003 with a degree in special education-social studies. He played basketball for the Flying Dutchmen for four years, and served as team captain during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. He played at Holland High School prior to enrolling at Hope.
He completed a master’s degree in physical education pedagogy at Western Michigan University in 2005, and a doctorate in kinesiology-history and the philosophy of sport and physical activity at Pennsylvania State University in 2010. Immediately prior to coming to Hope, he was a member of the faculty at Eastern Illinois University for two years and taught at Pennsylvania State University for three years. In addition, he played professional basketball for the Grand Rapids Flight and Holland Blast teams of the International Basketball League in 2005 and 2006.