Current Wakefield High boys basketball coach Tony Bentley recalls his days growing up in the Green Valley neighborhood of south Arlington and idolizing one of the area's great prep school basketball stars, Joe Lowe.
Lowe, a 6-foot-1 inch varsity standout for Wakefield and a resident of Johnson Hill — another south Arlington neighborhood — was idolized by a number of the local youngsters in the area.
During a three-year varsity playing career, Lowe, a 1987 Wakefield graduate, averaged more than 20 points per game for the Warriors and then-coach Bob Veldran. A shooting guard who could also play a small forward position, Lowe was one of the old Potomac District's best players. Game-in and game-out, Lowe was a consistent force on a Wakefield team that, at the time, was not among the Northern Region's elite.
For Bentley and his young peers, watching Lowe play basketball was always a treat.
"We could always look and see Joe Lowe have a good night," said Bentley, who two years ago led Wakefield to a region title. "He could score, hang in the air and had a great jump shot. It was great to see a guy in the neighborhood have that success. Everyone wanted to be Joe Lowe and wear No. 24. It wasn't just me. You can ask anyone my age or younger. He was definitely a guy I looked up to."
Lowe was never a loud, boisterous leader throughout his high school career, but he had a heart for winning and led his teammates by example.
Joe Tomb, a Wakefield assistant on Veldran's staff, was the Warriors' freshmen team head coach when Lowe was a ninth grader. Tomb, who currently coaches golf and tennis at Wakefield and was just recently named `Coach of the Year' by the Arlington Better Sports Club, remembers the first time Lowe really began emerging as a team leader. The Wakefield freshmen were playing a Saturday morning game at private school opponent St. John's in Washington D.C. Tomb, recalling the game earlier this week, said St. John's was unbeaten at the time. Early on, the home team dominated Lowe and the Warriors by jumping out to a 20-2 lead. But Lowe, according to Tomb, then took over the ball game and led Wakefield to a stirring come-from-behind victory.
"Joe Lowe just put up the whole team and put us on his back and said we wouldn't lose," said Tomb. "He played so hard that day and was able to spirit the team to a win."
Tomb said that game certified Lowe as more than just the program's top young player.
"We knew he was a tremendous player," said Tomb. "That game was when it was obvious he would be a [future varsity] star player in basketball."
Tomb said Lowe always played the game hard, whether it was a daily practice session or game day.
"He wasn't really a vocal leader," said Tomb, who was also a varsity assistant coach at the time. "He led by example and how hard he worked. He was a tremendous practice player. He would work hard on doing drills."
Bruce Bernhardt, another member of Veldran's coaching staff at the time, said Lowe had the ability to make plays going to the basket despite being a backcourt player.
"He had a knack of really getting to the hole," said Bernhardt, a current Annandale resident. "He was a real solid player — all skills and [solid] fundamentals.
"Joe, from the time I started coaching there, was probably the first real good athlete we had who also had great basketball skills. He could shoot the ball very well, could get to the basket, and rebound. He really wasn't a very big kid."
Added Bentley, "He was a shooting guard and a prolific scorer. He could score 25 a night against any given team. He could score, but he could also pass."
Tomb said Lowe's signature move was posting defensive guards up and scoring from close range — a strategy Tomb called the `duck move.'
"Joe was only about 6-feet tall but was a tremendous post-up player," said Tomb. "He loved to post smaller guards. He scored most of his points on the block. We called it a duck move."
Bernardt remembered Lowe totally dominating a district tournament game at Fairfax High School.
"It was against Fairfax or Annandale," said Bernhardt. "He was just fabulous and did whatever needed to be done. We weren't overpowering people [at the time]. He did everything [that game] that had to be done. He took over the game at stretches. When I think of Joe, I think of an all-court player. Defensively, he just battled."
LOWE, who scored over 1,000 points during his varsity career, is currently the third leading scorer in Wakefield basketball history. His highest scoring game came during his junior year when he tallied 34 points in the Warriors' 66-48 district win at Jefferson.
Lowe and the Warriors finally broke through and qualified for the region tournament in the 1986-'87 season when Lowe was a senior. The team began that season winning just five of its first 13 games before catching fire and winning nine straight. Ultimately, Wakefield finished second in the regular season district standings before reaching the finals of the district tournament where it lost to Chantilly. At regionals, the Warriors defeated West Potomac in a first round game before losing to Yorktown in the second round to finish the season 15-10 overall.
"He had a good attitude," said Frank Haddock, who was a student team manager/statistician during the mid-1980's of Wakefield basketball. "Joe always had the [belief] that Wakefield could win."
Lowe was named Wakefield's `Male Athlete of the Year' as a senior.
THE BASKETBALL court was not the only athletic venue in which Lowe displayed his athletic grace and leadership. He was also Wakefield's varsity football quarterback for two years.
"He mainly was a scrambler but could pass too," recalled Haddock, who currently volunteers as Wakefield's official scorer in football, basketball, and baseball. "He didn't have a great [deep ball]. He threw for 369 yards in a loss to Hayfield as a junior."
Lowe played under Jim Huffschmitt, who sometimes allowed the talented signal caller to call his own games.
"Joe called his own plays at times," said Haddock.
Behind Lowe, Wakefield qualified for the region football playoffs his senior season in 1986. The Warriors' season ended with a postseason loss to Edison, a team which went on to garner a state title that season.
Whether it was on the gridiron or hardwood, Lowe excelled. He worked hard to gain the success he did as a high school player and his teammates were won over by that work ethic.
"He was a very quiet kid, not a vocal player," said Bernhardt. "His teammates respected and liked him. He went out and played as hard as he could. He was [also] a solid kid in the classroom. He was a very dependable kid — a very easy kid to coach."
Two seasons ago, Lowe and former Wakefield stars Kenya Hunter (Class of 1990) and Travis Spencer (Class of '90) each had their jerseys retired. The ceremonies that memorable night in February of 2005 took place prior to the Warriors' game versus Edison. Wakefield fans that evening cheered loudly as the three Wakefield heroes were recognized.
During an interview that night, Lowe, a former District Player of the Year, said, "It feels good. I didn't think they'd do anything like this. I really appreciate this."
And Wakefield faithful will always appreciate what Joe Lowe — Mr. Dependable — brought to Warriors basketball during the mid '80's.
Joe Lowe is 92 in Connection Newspapers Survey of the Area's Top 100 Athletes Written in 2000.