TRIBUTE TO GEORGE LEFTWICH
The sound of a basketball snapping cleanly through the net is unmistakable, and it startled me as I walked up the stairs leading from the boys’ locker room to Kenworthy Gymnasium. The varsity’s practice had ended half an hour earlier, and I expected the gym to be empty.
But someone had clearly stayed late and was shooting on the basket closest to the east stairwell.
Shooting quite well from the sound of it.
I reached the landing and took one step toward the gym’s double doors when I froze in my tracks. Through the thin, rectangular window I could see who was shooting on the near basket, and as startled as I had been to hear that leather ball snapping through the net, I was even more startled by the shooter. In more than five years coaching basketball at Sidwell Friends, I had never seen George Leftwich shoot a basketball before.
No less a basketball authority than Morgan Wooten, the legendary former DeMatha coach, has said of George Leftwich: “He was as good as they come, as a player and a coach.” At Archbishop Carroll—from 1958 to 1960—George was the point guard for a squad that won 55 games in a row and a pair of city titles, including the 1960 team, which many consider to be the best in the history of D.C. basketball. He starred at Villanova, leading the Wildcats to a pair of NCAA tournament wins in 1962 and an NIT title in 1965.
He was drafted by the Detroit Pistons, but George eschewed the NBA for a career in coaching, a career that spanned five decades and included stops at Carroll, his alma mater; Gwynn Park High School, where he won a pair of state titles and was named coach of the year in Maryland; Georgetown University, where he assisted his former high school teammate, John Thompson; the University of the District of Columbia; and, ultimately, Sidwell Friends, where he coached the Quakers for 13 years.
During this span, George coached future NBA players and coaches; doctors and lawyers; politicians and venture capitalists. He won more games that he can count, picked up a few technical fouls (mostly undeserved, he insists), and walked the sidelines in just about every gym in the D.C. area.
And while he can tell you what is the most effective offensive set to beat a 1-2-2 half-court trap, he can’t identify his favorite team or pinpoint his proudest moment. (“That’s like asking a parent which child he likes best,” he says.)
When he’s asked how he felt about being inducted into the Washington Metropolitan Basketball Hall of Fame (he entered the Hall last summer, along with longtime Gonzaga coach Dick Myers and Maryland Terrapin coach Gary Williams), he acknowledges that he was honored and thrilled, but he adds that it was a pair of letters he received from two former SFS players that meant the most to him. One was from a young man who played on his first team at Sidwell; the other was from a seldom-used reserve, a member of one of George’s final teams, who wrote that he was proud of his former coach and that he would never forget his time wearing the maroon and white.
If you coach long enough, George will say, you’ll acquire a little bit of wisdom just by dumb luck.
Luck, however, can’t account for these gems, just a few lines in the canon of wit and wisdom, according to George Leftwich.
On coaching longevity: “Each generation is different. If you remain locked into your generation, you lose.”
On handling officials: “Never show him up. If you have something to say, walk away from him as you’re saying it. He’ll hear you, and he’ll appreciate the fact that you didn’t embarrass him.”
On religion: “I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic high school and a Catholic university. But at Sidwell, I coached kids who represented at least four different religions—not sects of Christianity, but different religious faiths. That was eye-opening to me. Before, I had always led teams in a recitation of a Catholic prayer before games. At Sidwell, I chose a moment of silence. And each time, it was powerful beyond words.”
On his hardest lesson as a coach: “Balancing winning with life. It gets easier to do as you get older.”
On being named one of the D.C. area’s 50 greatest players: “On my most arrogant of days, I couldn’t touch Baylor or Bing (Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing, who were one and two, respectively). But the rest….(laughs).” George was 8th on the list.
On what he misses most about coaching: “The players. The close relationships you form.”
The ball snaps through the net again and bounces along the baseline. Slowly, George walks from the top of the key to the end line, retrieves the ball, dribbles out 18 feet or so, squares up and faces the basket.
The form, the release, the follow through, the rotation of the ball—all textbook. All perfect.
I stood there on the other side of the door for several minutes, watching through the tiny window, mesmerized.
When I first started coaching with George, I remember thinking that it was odd that I never saw him shoot around—before practice, after practice, with the guys. Foolishly, I chalked it up to age or ego or both. I guess if he can’t do it like he used to, he won’t do it at all. (This brilliant theory coming from a guy who possessed hardly any skill at all.)
I chuckled at my stupidity. George never shot around with his players present for the same reason he rarely spoke of his scholastic and collegiate exploits: how would they ever relate? How could he teach, if they were focused on George the legend, rather than George the coach? How could he embrace the present, if he was living in the past?
I opened the door, cleared my throat, and walked into the gym. George had just retrieved the ball and looked up at me, surprised.
“Uh, I was just leaving,” he said.
“Me, too,” I replied. “See you tomorrow.”
Pete Sisitsky, class of 1993:
Coach Leftwich arrived at Sidwell at the start of my senior year and did not take long to establish who was boss. Memories of the first few pre-season sessions with Coach and the exhaustion that came with it are still vivid fifteen years later. By his account, none of us could so much as tie our shoes right and we paid for these shortcomings with endless suicide drills. At the time I thought he was crazy, but with hindsight I understand it was all part of his grand plan. For Coach Leftwich, each season was a journey - a journey through which he guided his players with tough love. Early in the season the emphasis was on tough.
He worked hard and worked us hard to rid us of our bad habits, to improve our fundamentals, to increase our endurance, and to sharpen our execution - the key factors a coach needs to focus on to improve the play of his team. He scheduled scrimmages against some of the toughest teams in the city and, if we played poorly, would have us running more suicides after the game was over. He watched the game videos at home and pointed out each and every fault, imploring us to improve. With his remarkable knowledge of the game Coach Leftwich was able to teach us nuances of basketball to which none of us had ever been exposed. By the time the official season started, we were as prepared in a basketball sense as we could possibly be.
To Coach Leftwich however, this was only a small part of his job. He was most focused on our development as people. This is not to say that he did not care about winning - he did and he was tremendous at motivating us to that end - but he seemed to derive the most satisfaction from our maturation under his watch. One had the sense that we could have won the City Championship, but Coach would have still considered the season a failure if we had failed to grow as men.
He was our coach, but he was also a teacher, a friend, a father figure and the lessons we learned on the court were relevant to our lives off the court. We learned about ourselves - what each of us was capable of if we were challenged and needed to dig deep. He showed us the importance of sacrifice, teamwork and loyalty. At a critical time in our lives he unlocked our inner strength, gave us great confidence, and taught us how to pour our whole selves into that which we choose to do. Coach was fond of saying that in ten years none of us would remember the scores of the games we played in, but the lessons learned would last a lifetime. Almost fifteen years later, it is easy to see how right he was (except maybe about the 60-48 loss to St. Albans!).
Lastly, it is hard to write about George Leftwich the coach without praising George Leftwich the man. Despite great success, Coach Leftwich carries himself with tremendous modesty. If someone else didn't tell you, you would never know that Coach played on the greatest high school basketball team in the history of the District. He is slow to brag about the two sons that he raised who were stars on the Princeton basketball team and have gone on to achieve great success in the world of business. And I bet today you would have to look it up to know that he has been inducted into the DC Basketball Hall of Fame. Beneath his quiet exterior, Coach Leftwich possesses great strength and compassion. He made it his business to know about our business off the court and he was always available to provide sage council on life's most difficult issues. Despite the early shock, it didn't take long to learn that his tough love approach is really mostly about the love. He cares deeply for his athletes and, in return, he has earned the love, admiration, and respect of countless colleagues, friends and players.
Anne Renninger, Athletic Director
George Leftwich came to Sidwell Friends in 1992 from the University of the District of Columbia as head of the men’s basketball program. In high school he played basketball for Archbishop Carroll High School where he was a legendary player on one of the best high school teams ever (51 consecutive wins). After playing college basketball at Villanova, he coached with John Thompson, Sr. at Georgetown University. In 2005 he retired from Sidwell Friends and returned to Carroll as the Director of Athletics.
George was a Physical Education teacher and Head Boys Varsity Basketball coach for 13 years at Sidwell Friends School. He was a well respected coach who was famous for his great stories and his belief that every basketball player should have a commitment to family, God and basketball, in that order. His love for the game always guided his practices to be interesting, challenging, and fun for his players. George has truly been an ambassador for basketball all of his life and this spring he was named to the Washington, DC Metropolitan Basketball Hall of Fame.
Brendan Williams, class of 2002
Never have I met a man as humble as Coach Leftwich. During my eight years playing basketball for him at Sidwell, I rarely heard him mention his playing days, let alone his legendary accomplishments in the sport. It wasn't until high school that I found out I had been playing for one of the greatest basketball players to ever come out of D.C. His modesty was evident in his coaching style. Coach Leftwich stressed team above all else. There was no room for any superstars at Sidwell - egos were set aside. Though we were never feared as a basketball powerhouse, our grit and hustle won the respect of every team we faced. Opposing coaches often praised us for our sportsmanship, but we were simply following the example set by our own coach. Not only did we become better basketball players under Coach Leftwich, we became better men.
One step inside of Coach Leftwich's office at Sidwell made it clear what mattered most to him. For a man so accomplished as a player and as a coach, the room was devoid of the expected trophies and plaques. Instead, pictures of every team he had coached covered the walls. The wins and losses of each season came and went, but the young men he coached stayed with him forever. The team bond, however, grew to reach far beyond the realm of the basketball court. I cried at the end of my last game at Sidwell, not because we lost, but because of what I felt I was losing. Fortunately for me, I was wrong. Sidwell basketball was a family in every respect. Coach Leftwich stressed this, tattooing the word on the backside of our practice shorts. Even after running four years of collegiate track and field, I still feel a closer bond with my Sidwell basketball brothers, some of whom I only played with for one year. It is remarkable that after so many years, generations of Sidwell basketball players still gather on the weekends to play pick-up. I think I speak for many of my past teammates when I say my basketball family is one of the things I cherish most about my experience at Sidwell. And it is for that reason that I will forever be grateful to Coach Leftwich.
Evan Le Flore, class of 2002:
George Leftwich, or “Coach” as he is fondly known to his players, spent his career at Sidwell helping young men learn and enjoy the game which had brought so much joy to his own life. I was fortunate enough to meet Coach Leftwich at a very young age, and over the years Coach played a pivotal role in helping me and many others develop themselves physically and personally. And as any one of his players will tell you, his drive to win and his love for his players made us into better people than we would have been otherwise.
After starring as a player at Archbishop Carroll and then Villanova University, Coach learned from the best and played with the best. As he has done with so many young men over the years, Coach brought his skills and experiences each year to develop these groups of young men. On the court, his competitive fire and desire to win was infectious, as he brought his passion for the sport to every game and practice. Off the court, Coach invested numerous hours in sharing experiences from his own life, in addition to developing our game through participation in various summer camps and leagues. Coach’s selfless nature would come through in such instances as driving his players everywhere from New Jersey to Virginia so that we could share in team-bonding experiences and learn about life beyond Sidwell. On more than one occasion, he would use his contacts from his playing days to take his students to various college campuses, and he even got us the opportunity to play at the MCI Center after a Georgetown Hoyas game.
I have had many basketball coaches in my life, but I learned more about life and the game I love from Coach Leftwich. I feel privileged to join the long list of men who have been lucky enough to share part of their life with this man.
CAROL BORUT'S LIFE AFTER SIDWELL
by Pam Selden
“Be sure to write this so that it doesn’t sound like I am dead. I am just no longer at SFS,” Carol jokingly chuckled while being interviewed for this piece. Carol’s response raises important questions, “Is there life for teachers while at SFS? Is it possible to enjoy a life while teaching?” Many harried teachers, busy with students, classes, reports, committees and curriculum plans, ponder this serious question. Carol Borut most certainly juggled many balls and enjoyed her busy, busy life during her twenty-six years of teaching, first in the second grade and then as a fourth grade teacher at Lower School. Carol gave SFS her all!
Ever positive and affirming, Carol always “found the pony,” and she always was able to take those sour lemons and turn them into lemonade! She welcomed challenges and was constantly learning and growing. During her sabbatical year Carol traveled to China alone, making videos and taking photos that she would later use to bring the Lower School Asian Studies Program alive for her students. As we simulated a flight to Beijing during the first weeks of school, Carol donned her pilot’s hat, explaining to rapt fourth graders at what altitude we would be flying and what to do in case of airsickness!
Carol gave herself completely to her students and to the school. She headed up and served on countless committees, was always helpful, worked with humor and grace, and was ever able to see both sides of an issue. By opening her home for dinners, she brought Middle and Lower School teachers together. Carol was always eager to experiment with new ideas - just how could her students best understand those new math concepts?
Yet, after her extraordinarily busy school day, Carol still found time for life. She tackled French lessons; she mastered vocabulary words in her car at stoplights on the way to school; she again took up the piano. And Carol sang in the Washington Chorus for thirty-five years, touring Europe in the summers. (Carol, how we miss your beautiful voice). During busy concert series times, she attended rehearsals until ten p.m. four nights a week. Yes, Carol did it all!
So what is Carol doing now that she has retired? Is there life after Sidwell? Yes, there most certainly is. Up early each morning, Carol enjoys two leisurely cups of coffee with The New York Times and The Washington Post. She delights in now being able to read beyond the headlines. Carol exercises each day and she will now at last be able to organize all those wonderful travel photos. Finally she has time to read all those books that have piled up on her bedside table, among them, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and poems by Billy Collins. She can take her time practicing the piano, “going beyond the notes,” working on phrasing and voicing, playing her beloved Bach for an hour each day. Carol will also attempt to master Spanish, a new language. But wait, she says that she might once again be able to enjoy cooking now that she has a bit more time and energy at 6:00 p.m. Most importantly, Carol will have time to spend with her beloved grandchildren, Ariana, 22 months; Choloe, 10; and Alex 8. Her sons Ezra and Adam (both Sidwell alums) couldn’t be more pleased! Carol also plans to spend time with her father and with Don, her busy husband, who travels the United States and the world for his job.
Her latest adventures began this past summer when Carol and her family confronted a very large and hungry bear, fishing for salmon in a remote part of Alaska. Luckily, their floatplane pilot knew just what to do. Saved from the bear, there are now fifty-two pounds of salmon waiting in the freezer!
Currently, Carol is exploring the winding streets and bazaars of Morocco in search of treasures and more photos. She says she yearns to visit Egypt and Africa and she plans to visit a museum every week. She invites all her friends and colleagues to have coffee and conversation with her any day after school. More importantly, she wants to be sure do something for other people. As she says, there is “so much that needs to be done.”
Reflecting on her busy schedule Carol concluded, “One of the best things about retiring is not having to be accountable to everyone for everything on a daily basis.” We think that Carol will always be accountable, always learning, changing, and engaged! Yes, Carol, there is life after SFS and you most certainly are very, very, much alive! We can count on you to show us all how to enjoy life after SFS, how to live it, how to make the most of it! We thank you and we miss you.
by Liane Faermann
Throughout our lives we need coaches, people who will mentor us, inspire us, and help us identify the tools needed for success. From May 2001 when I joined the Sidwell Friends School staff roster, until her retirement this past June, Irene Diamond was my mentor and coach. Even more importantly, Irene was my best friend. So, it was with great ambivalence that I heard the news of Irene’s retirement. I was glad for Irene – how wonderful to be able to spend every day with Tony, the love of her life, and to look at each moment as an opportunity to do something different – go for a walk, travel, read! It sounds like paradise. I was happy for my friend. But, I was also selfishly sad, for I would no longer have Irene at Sidwell.
There are many attributes that I find inspiring about Irene: her commitment to excellence in everything she does, her generosity of spirit, her perpetual positive attitude, and her unconditional ability to listen. But there is more. Irene is analytical, articulate, and calm under pressure – she is a real diplomat.
Irene’s involvement in education started much earlier than her career at Sidwell Friends School. In Pennsylvania, she taught in the Northern District County. She was also a Department Chair and a member of the Middle States evaluation team. In 1969, after her marriage to Tony Diamond, Irene moved to the DC area. Here, she taught in the Maryland public school system while she pursued a Masters in Education at the University of Maryland.
Irene’s Sidwell journey started in 1988 when her sons, Brian and Mark, began attending the 7th and 5th grades, respectively. As Irene and Tony had always been strong supporters of public education, Brian and Mark spent their early elementary years at Horace Mann Public School in Washington, DC. However, as the public school system did not offer all that they wanted for their sons - a solid academic program, a commitment to community service, and exposure to athletics, Irene and Tony set out to find the right school fit for their children. Sidwell Friends School proved to be the right place for their children and for their family.
While her sons attended SFS, Irene was very involved in the life of the School. However, her professional background attracted her to the opportunity of being part of the School’s staff. In 1991, she started working part-time in the Head of School’s Office. She then moved to the Personnel Services Department. The last few years, Irene was back in the Head of School’s Office as the Director of Special Programs. In that capacity, Irene managed the School’s master schedule, coordinated the usage of all school meeting spaces, oversaw school-wide mailings, administered the rental program, and organized the Zartman House Meetings for Business and Meetings for Worship.
In January 2005, Irene’s husband retired after a long career at NASA. For much of 2005, those of us close to Irene heard Tony express his wish that Irene would also stop working. This past June, after 15 years of service, Irene retired from Sidwell Friends School.
Irene’s involvement in the School, both as a parent and as a member of the staff, brought her in contact with the entire School community. Her contributions to the School have been many. She is a role model to me and to others, who join me in saluting her service to our School.