Just like the Philadelphia Eagles, the George Washington High School Eagles achieved great success with an underdog status.
Rick Whitfield loves playing basketball.
But there was a time he didn’t love playing high school basketball.
The George Washington High School senior didn’t have a lot of fun last year when the Eagles finished with three wins.
“The worst part was we were playing in the A Division and every game we were getting blown out,” the combo guard said. “It was good because we were getting better by playing great competition, but when you lose every day, we were losing by 30 points every game, it was really hard. Every game, we just didn’t have a chance because we were good, but the other teams were great.
“When you lose every game, you start to get down. Basketball is supposed to be fun, but when you’re losing, losing by a lot, every game, you stop having fun. No matter how hard we worked, we just couldn’t win.”
The growing pains might not have helped during the season, but it paid off this year.
The Eagles moved down to the B Division this year and saw competition closer to their skill level, and the results were better.
Washington won eight games and advanced to the semifinals of the Public League 6A playoffs. There, the Eagles ran into a talented Frankford team that was one of the better teams in the Public League. Frankford scored the first 10 points of the game, but the pesky Eagles wouldn’t go away and even had a chance to tie it as time expired. The Pioneers held on to win 53–50 to advance to the finals, and while they moved on, the Eagles wrapped up their season.
But unlike last year, Whitfield wasn’t happy to clean out his locker.
“We played good today and Frankford is really good,” Whitfield said after the setback. “It felt good to play them so tough. They’re good. I think we came a long way this year, and we played better than a lot of people thought we would.”
Whitfield certainly did his part.
The swingman scored 18.3 points per game, pulled down about five rebounds per game and handed out more than two assists per contest. But he also brought intangibles to the team while helping the Eagles get better not only this year but in the future.
“We set some goals for our team this year, and we accomplished some of them and some we didn’t, but overall I was happy with the season,” said second-year coach Jeremy Beatrice. “The seniors did everything for us, they really did a great job, not only by playing hard and scoring a lot of points, but giving us leadership.”
That was one of the best parts for Whitfield, who lives not far from the school.
According to Whitfield, the Eagles’ seniors didn’t want to just get the team to play better this year, but they wanted the program to get back on track so they’ll enjoy success down the line.
“After last year, I thought about transferring to go to a place that was going to be good, but I really didn’t want to leave here,” Whitfield said. “I didn’t want to go because I knew we were really close to being good. We have good coaches, we were working hard and I knew that if we played in another division, we could be better.
“We worked hard as a team and I think they’re going to be even better next year because even though they’re losing a lot of good players, they should be all right. We showed them what they need to do. The younger players, the underclassmen, they got better, and they’ll work hard during the summer. That’s when you get better.”
Whitfield intends on practicing what he preaches.
Whitfield, who stands 6 feet 3, has drawn interest from a few colleges, but right now he’s leaning toward getting better and seeing if more offers come rolling in after a year of playing at a prep school.
“I’m trying to figure that out,” Whitfield said of his college choices. “I think prep school would be good to get more experience. I definitely want to play in college. I think if I go to prep school, I’ll keep getting better and maybe that will give me more opportunities.”
And when he exits Washington in June, he’ll do it with his head held high.
Sure, he wanted more out of his senior year, but the improvement the Eagles showed this year compared to last year gives him a sense of pride.
“This year was so much better,” Whitfield said. “I didn’t know how much better we’d be, but we played so much better as a team. We put in a lot of work and just wanted to see results. I’m happy we saw them.”
In the Public League Class 6A championship game, Lincoln defeated Frankford 64–53, which avenged the Railsplitters’ regular season loss to the Pioneers.
Lincoln will now meet Catholic League champion Roman Catholic on Friday at South Philadelphia High School in the 6A city championship. The winner will be the top District 12 seed in the state tournament.
Frankford has work to do before making the state tournament.
The Pioneers will battle St. Joe’s Prep on Thursday night at Archbishop Ryan. The winner will advance to the state tournament. The loser will be eliminated.