Renowned local basketball coach Malcolm Battle announced recently that he would be leaving Bard High School Early College DC (BHSEC) to coach at his alma mater, Archbishop John Carroll High School.
The “tough decision” comes after Battle spent three years at BHSEC as the athletic director and head basketball coach and won the DC Interscholastic Athletic Association in February and the District of Columbia State Athletic Association championship in March.
“I didn’t want to leave,” Battle told his Bard student-athletes and several parents last month. “I was approached and offered two other high school positions that I turned down but when Archbishop called…I knew it was the right time and decision.”
Time at Bard
His time at BHSEC has been fraught with challenges despite the team’s overall success. BHSEC opened in August 2019 as a partnership between Bard College in New York and the District of Columbia Public Schools. The school was first located in Ward 7 in the Fort Dupont Park area of Southeast before transitioning to Ward 8 in a new state-of-the-art facility in January within the Congress Heights neighborhood on Alabama Avenue on the grounds of the former Malcolm X Opportunity Center.
“We didn’t have a home gym. We didn’t know until the last minute where we were going to practice some days,” the coach recalled while pointing out some of the difficult obstacles he faced at BHSEC. Battle and his assistant coaches often ferried the student-athletes to and from practices and games in their private cars.
Ward 7 Representative and Role Model
Battle is a fiercely proud, homegrown Washingtonian who lived predominantly in the Benning Heights community and knows Wards 7 and 8 like the back of his hand.
“I love being from East of the River. I wear it like a badge of honor. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in life.”
Although Battle adores his community and represents it well, that fact alone did not shield him or make life any easier as a teenager and young adult. On the contrary, Battle has had to overcome both physical and emotional scars he suffered in the past.
Two days before his 16th birthday, Battle’s father, Mike Battle, “a family member who struggled with chemical dependency,” murdered his mother (Battle’s grandmother) and then committed suicide. This life-altering tragedy occurred in Hampton, Virginia but had far-reaching effects on the teenager living alone with his mother in Ward 7. Although Battle has three siblings sired by his father, he is his mother’s only child. Gloria Battle, now 77, lived with her husband until their son turned four years old.
Then, while visiting family in the Northeast quadrant and simply sitting on a stoop, Battle was struck by a stray bullet that entered near his temple, went down his face, and exited on one side of his neck. He was rushed to Washington Hospital Center where he stayed for a significant amount of time. It was the second consecutive summer that Battle spent time at Washington Hospital Center. The year before, in 1990, he was involved in a car accident and had to recuperate at the center.
Basketball … the Saving Grace
Despite the growing pains or perhaps because of them, basketball has always been a redeeming influence on Battle as an adolescent, young adult, and now as a 50-year-old.
“It means everything to me. [Basketball] is the one constant in my entire life. It’s connected me with all sorts of people. I have traveled because of it. It has allowed me to be the best version of myself,” said the battle-tested coach. Having graduated from Archbishop Carroll in 1990 as part of the first co-ed class, Battle was raised in the Catholic faith but now studies the teachings of Islam. He currently resides with his partner, Terri Hankins, whom he refers to as “my saving grace.”
Listening to jazz musicians like Terence Blanchard, Norman Brown, and Joe Sample relaxes Battle while watching “almost any kind of documentary” stimulates his intellect. “I remember seeing a Johnny Cash documentary and thinking how amazing it was.”
The basketball whisperer has two biological daughters—Dyamond Battle and Dearra Hart and one, Pamela Banks, whom “I kind of adopted through DCPS.”
The self-described student advocate and disciplinarian reflected on his time as a young hoopster and admitted that “Coach Battle wouldn’t like the young Malcolm Battle, the basketball player” who had been kicked off two teams while at Archbishop Carroll.
It is learning experiences like that one that make Battle so relatable to the young men he coaches who have similar backgrounds and come from similar environments.
“He has always been a standup guy. He’s a tremendous coach. He’s a great connector with those young inner-city kids who may not have father figures in their lives, or he becomes an extended family member for those kids with two-headed households. He puts everything into those young men. I’ve seen him chauffeur them to games, feed them, and then take their uniforms home to wash,” said Duane Simpkins, the newly appointed head coach at American University, who has known Battle for more than 20 years and considers him “one of my best friends.”
From Lobos to Falcons and Returning to the Lions
Before BHSEC, Battle was the assistant athletic director at Cesar Chavez Charter School. Besides being the liaison between the booster club, school administration, and the sports program, he fought against youth/gang violence by organizing a Ward 7 task force that included parents, counselors, social workers, and school resource officers.
Now that he is leaving the BHSEC Falcons as an award-winning coach, he intends to do the same as an Archbishop Lion. The Catholic high school already has an accomplished athletic director, so Battle will focus solely on basketball.
According to Battle, he has assisted in placing more than 60 high school students from either Bard or Chavez into D1, D2, or D3 college basketball programs around the country.
“I’ve been knowing Malcolm for quite some time now. He knows everybody in the basketball community. The work he did at Chavez and at Bard speaks for itself. His biggest ability is to take those athletes and young men and put them in situations to be most successful. Washington, DC is the top basketball area in the country. Malcolm did what he had to do at Bard. He did what he had to do to put them [BHSEC] on the map,” said Edward Hill, former Howard University Sports Information Director, and current freelance writer. “Malcolm is that dude!”