BLACKTOP ROOTS SERIES PART III: COLUMBIA PARK REC
Updated: Dec 16, 2017
Paul Jackiewicz, Legend Coalition Staff Writer
Columbia Park Recreation Center has been ground zero for some of the area’s most well-
known basketball legends. There is Len & Jay Bias, Michael Morrison, Brian “Ice” Waller, Clint Venable & Henry Hall, who claimed it as their home. When other legends wanted to test their skills against maximum competition, they would stop through. This included John Turner, Johnny Dawkins, Melvin Middleton, Sherman Douglass, Curt “Trouble” Smith & Clarence “Bootney” Green.
I had the pleasure of catching up with some of greats that played at Columbia Park to get their story on how it helped them become better players.
Clint Venable is a Prince George’s County basketball legend who played his high school ball at Northwestern High School. He graduated in 1987 and was named a first-team all-metropolitan player.
After high school, Ventable, attended Alleghany Community College. He then went on to play college basketball at Bowling Green University. He was a part of their team that beat the #5 ranked Michigan State Spartans lead by future NBA Star Steve Smith. He was in the Sacramento Kings rookie camp before playing overseas.
Clint told me that while he was growing up, he wasn’t one of the better athletes and that going to Columbia Park really challenged him as a ball player and helped him get better by playing against better competition.
Venable says that guys like Johnny Dawkins and Brian Waller helped him become a better player.
“I was one of those guys that was lucky to be in that group. They would work with me and made into a pretty decent basketball player,” said Venable.
“Back then they had basketball clinics, but they didn’t get paid for doing it. They did it because they loved the game. And John and Brian took all of us under their wing,” he said.
Tremain Rowles attended Parkdale High School and graduated in 1997 as a 3rd team all-metropolitan player. He ended up move on to play college basketball at Western Kentucky University.
Rowles said that Clint Venable and Brian “Ice” Waller coached him in high school and that they told them to come to Columbia Park on Sundays at 8am and went there for eight months straight in order to get better. He said they didn’t win a game until maybe the sixth month.
Rowles said told me what he learned from playing at Columbia Park.
“It taught you toughness. It taught you to be relentless, resilient. It’s hard to get a win. Every point counts, every win matters,” he said.
The two guys that really stood out to Rowles was Venable and Henry Hall.
“Clint Venable would be in the gym 30 minutes before a basketball game started, jumping rope, running up and down the court and running sprints. We thought he was crazy,” Rowles said.
“He (Venable) has no brain farts. He’s just as solid as they come and as tough as nails,” he said.
“Henry Hall was so strong and never missed his shots. You would think you were going to win and then he would come down the court and hit two shots,” he said.
Bernard Rankin is a true Columbia Park legend and he says that growing up and playing there was of the best experiences of his life.
“Playing at Columbia Park was one of the best experience of my life growing up,” said Rankin.
“It helped me improve my game because I was much younger than the older guys when I was in there playing with them. Clinton, Henry, Ice, Ace, Jay and Kirk. That’s some of the names of the guys I played with,” he said.
Henry Hall is another PG County Legend. He was a nightmare from beyond the three-point line.
Hall averaged 28 points per game as a junior in high school, With the three-point line added in 1988, his averages points per game shot up to 38.
Hall was a 1988 first- team all-metropolitan player and capital classic all-star. He was also third in the nation in scoring that year. Hall committed to Georgetown university before playing at the University of Texas El Paso along with former NFL players Antonio Davis and Jeff Foster). They ended up making an NCAA tournament run in 1990.
“It was so much competition in the gym, you had to get better,” Hall recently said when talking about Columbia Park during an interview on The Red Cup Hour (Hosted by DC Legends Curt Smith & Charles Harrison).
“I watched Len Bias and Johnny Dawkins come to the rec for pick up, and Mr. Mack made myself and Jay Bias leave out the gym. We had to earn our stripes to be in there,” he said.
Michael Morrison played at Northwestern High School and then his college ball at Loyola University. He ended up being drafted in the second round by Phoenix Suns in 1989 and
played one year for them. Morrison then moved on and played 18 years overseas.
“Playing at Columbia Park was where fundamentals, talent, and heart collided,” said Morrison. “Being athletic wasn’t enough. Everybody in Kentland had athleticism. You had to know how to play. The biggest thing about Columbia Park was Mr. Mack. He loved seeing us play and would open the gym up any time for Us. He loves his job of giving us an opportunity to live our dreams.”