Ge’Shanti Atkins takes Maggie L. Walker to state semifinals

Fred Jeter | 3/15/2019, 6 a.m.
Call it the return of the Green Dragons. The girls’ basketball team at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School came ...
Ge'Shanti Atkins

Call it the return of the Green Dragons.

The girls’ basketball team at the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School came so close to scratching a four-decade Green Dragons’ itch this season.

Under Coach Speedy Baughman, the team posted a 19-6 record en route to a regional title and the State Class 2 semifinals.

Despite a determined effort by junior Ge’Shanti Atkins, the season to remember ended March 5 with a 38-37 loss to Greensville County High School. One more victory would have sent the Green Dragons to the state final at the Siegel Center in Richmond.

It was easily Maggie L. Walker’s best season since the 1979 edition of the Green Dragons won the State Group AAA title — the highest enrollment classification at the time — under Coach Shirley Pinney.

Some clarification is in order.

For decades, Maggie L. Walker and Armstrong were Richmond’s high schools for African-American students.

On the male side, a lengthy list of great Dragons athletes included basketball star Bobby Dandridge, football legend Willie Lanier and tennis icon Arthur Ashe.

Maggie L. Walker High School was combined with John Marshall High School from 1979 to 1986 to form Marshall-Walker High, with the nickname the Cavaliers. There was also a time in which the building at 1000 N. Lombardy St. housed Community High School with no athletic program.

Since 1998, the “new Walker” — officially known as the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies — has served as a regional school for gifted students.

Still, according to the cliché, the more things change, the more they stay the same,

Maggie L. Walker, then and now, share the Green Dragons nickname and green and white school colors. Like basketball teams from the “old” Walker, current Maggie Walker teams practice and play home games in an extremely cozy second-floor gym, with a low ceiling and bleachers only on one side.

The “new” Walker has tried to maintain a link to the past with a third-floor museum celebrating feats from when the school was all African-American.

Also, some of the state championship banners won by the “old” Walker boys’ basketball teams now adorn the walls.

And while many remember the iconic boys’ teams at “old” Walker, not so much is known about the girls’ teams’ long-ago champs.

In 1977, the Green Dragons reached the state final before bowing to Robinson High School of Fairfax. In 1979, the Green Dragons took the next step, defeating Phoebus High School of Hampton 62-56 in the final.

Maggie L. Walker was Virginia’s first inner-city school to win a girls’ state crown since the merger of the all-black Virginia Interscholastic Association and the all-white Virginia High School League.

Which brings us to the present …

Under Coach Baughman, now in his 14th season on the sidelines, Maggie L. Walker has known hard times. There were too many seasons in which his team lost twice as many games as it won.

Fortunes started to change a couple of years back when a talented group of freshmen, including Atkins, came out for the team.