Washington-Lee High School History: 1980 – 99


The liberal policies of the 70s—optional class attendance, rec centers in the cafeterias, open campus for all grades—presaged a conservative backlash in the early 80s. By 1986 open campus lunch privileges were limited to seniors. Arch rival Yorktown was faced with closure as schools in DC’s older suburbs shrank further in the early part of the decade. Although now a much smaller school, W-L continued to excel academically and its crew team maintained its dominance under the legendary coach Charlie Butt. Arlington County was still a top destination in the US for political refugees from abroad and it garnered acclaim for its pioneering transit-oriented development (TOD) masterplans near Metro rail stations. Visible from the school, a new skyline of condos and office towers rose above the classic red brick “colonial” homes and garden apartments of an earlier era.

U.S. Department of Education recognition of W-L as one of the nation's top high schools
White House ceremony for the nation’s top high schools

86 award 2
Flag raising ceremony at W-L
  • The HILT (High Intensity Language Training) program began its first year at W-L. It served the school’s growing political refugee student population (1980-1981). HILT replaced ESOL, which began in the 1960s.
  • The Art English Music seminar began at W-L. It offered 1 Eng. credit, 1/2 music credit, and 1/2 art credit. The climax of the year was the annual Renaissance Festival (1982 Blue and Gray).
  • The 1952-era Science and Home Economics wing was modernized (1982).
  • The school was recognized by the US department of Education for academic excellence, and W-L still ranked among the top public high schools in the nation (1985).
  • The School Board voted to limit open campus lunch privileges to Seniors (1986).
  • The Freshman Connection helped with the transition to high school.
  • Peer Mediation Program established (90s)
  • International Baccalaureate Program accepted the first students (1996)
  • W-L expanded its AP and IB curriculum to meet growing demand.
  • New attendance policy (1996)
  • New attendance boundaries (1996)
  • The W-L HS Education Foundation was organized. (As of 2020 it continues to provide scholarships to W-L students and teacher fellowships. It publishes an annual Bulletin mailed to all alumni.)
  • The first IB graduates (1998)
  • W-L ranked among the top high schools in the first Washington Post Challenge Index ranking of high schools (1998).
  • W-L 75th Anniversary Celebration (1999)
  • W-L HS Alumni Association organized (1999)


Dr. William Sharbaugh from 1976-1999.

Student Traditions

Painting the Pressbox
Painting the press box in 1982

1986 class officers
1986 class officers
  • College Night at W-L
  • Crew dances at the Potomac Boathouse
  • Painting of the press box (80s)
  • Guarding the press box from vandals the night before the Yorktown game
  • Homecoming Parade around the school and Dance
  • Carwashes
  • Penman Popcorn
  • Senior-Freshman Mixer
  • Spirit Week
  • Early morning announcers
  • The Commons (or cafeteria) was the school’s informal gathering space for students throughout the day. The senior lockers were conveniently located there.
  • Thanksgiving Assembly
  • Christmas Bazaar (As of 2020, the Holiday Bazaar is still held every December to raise money for the senior class.)
  • Band fruit
  • El Salvador exchange program
  • Freshman Connection
  • International Night and the presentation of Mr. and Miss. W-L International (90s)
  • Senior Skip Day
  • Annual Awards Assembly
  • Seniors would abscond with the George Washington statue the last week of school.
  • Senior Prom
  • Baccalaureate Service for graduating seniors held at nearby houses of worship


The following faculty taught at W-L from the 60s through the 90s: John Harocopos (ret. ’99), Tim Wyatt (ret. ’98), Peggy Jeens (ret. ’97), Tom Kenefake (ret. ’98), Joanne Levine (ret. ’99), Anna Medlen (ret.).

Famous Alumni

Carl Tanner, class of ’80; Sandra Bullock, class of ’82


85 ybk copy

  • In ’82 the school was split between punk and prep fashions. Commander Salamander in Georgetown was the region’s destination for punk fashion.
  • In the early 80s Arlington was home to the nascent DC Hardcore music scene. The famous Dischord house, the home base for the influential Dischord Records and bands Minor Threat and Fugazi, was in Lyon Park. H-B Woodlawn hosted hardcore and punk shows throughout the 80s in its cafeteria.
  • The Arlington Battle of the Bands.
  • Musical tastes in ’82: Pink Floyd, Rush, Donna Summer, Rolling Stones, Trouble Funk, the Beatles, and Foreigner. – 1982 Blue and Gray
  • Popular soaps in ’82: General Hospital, Guiding Light. – 1982 Blue and Gray
  • Popular movies in ’82: Friday the 13th, Raiders of the Lost Ark. – 1982 Blue and Gray
  • Also popular: Howard Stern, Rocky Horror Picture Show in Georgetown. – 1982 Blue and Gray
  • In 1984, W-L’s Breakatrons were one of the region’s best breakdancing crews. They performed at W-L, won contests held at the 9:30 Club, and were featured in Seventeen magazine.
  • Popular 80s and 90s restaurants for pre-dance formal meals included The Alpine on Lee highway, Evans Farm Inn in McLean, and Orlean’s Steakhouse in Rosslyn. For casual meals, Shakey’s Pizza and Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour drew crowds in Tysons Corner.
  • Ballston Commons opened in ’87 as the largest mall in Arlington. It replaced the older Parkington shopping center. W-L students worked, ate, shopped, and socialized at the new mall, which was just a quick walk from the school.
  • Off-campus lunch “hotspots” for students included Tippy’s Taco House, McDonalds, Subway, the Deli, and Pizza Hut. –1985 Blue and Gray
  • Popular TV sitcom The Facts of Life ended its run on May 7, 1988. An entire generation knew the theme song by heart.
  • In ’88 and ’89 heavy metal was the undisputed king of the airwaves in North Arlington: “Def Leppard released a new album, ‘Hysteria,’ that has us pouring sugar, biting love, and singing right along to the lyrics.” Kids also listened to G ‘n R’s “Appetite for Destruction” and Poison’s “Open Up and Say Ahh.”– From ’89 Blue and Gray.
  • Bonfires at Woodmont.
  • In ’96 and ’97 hippie-groove music and ska were popular.
  • Go! Records in Clarendon and Smash Records in Georgetown were the top purveyors of indie music in the 90s.
  • In the mid-90s, the popular Dupont Circle bookstore and cafe Kramerbooks opened an outpost in Ballston on the ground level of the National Science Foundation building. It quickly developed a cult following among Arlington’s high school students who embraced the emerging coffee shop culture. One particular group of students from the county’s three high school’s frequented the bookstore and became known as the “Kramer Crew.”
  • The hit ABC TV series My So Called Life debuted in 1994 featuring jaded teenagers in that lost generation between Gen X and the Millennials.
  • Places to eat in the 90s: Silver Diner in Clarendon, Outback Steakhouse in Arlington Forest, Metro 29 on Lee Highway, IHOP.
  • According to the 1998 Blue and Gray, “Lee Highway served as the main commercial strip for countless W-L students.”
  • N’SYNC, 5ive, 98 Degrees, Caught in the Act, and Britney Spears are the major radio stars of 1999.

The February 10, 1986 issue of Crossed Sabres gives the “In’s and Out’s of Dating:”

Uno’s Chuck E. Cheese
listening to anything else listening to Tony Orlando
Mikhail Baryshnikov-types Sylvester Stallone-types
Whitney Houston-types Madonna-types
“seeing someone” “going with someone”
going to the zoo watching “Animal Kingdom”
Cheerleaders Sandy Bullock and Anna Pahno pose for an ad in the Washington-Lee High School Blue and Gray.
Cheerleaders Sandy Bullock and Anna Pahno pose for an ad in the 1982 Blue and Gray.

Sports and Activities

The Valdez
W-L’s Valdez in 1993

Traditions and Milestones

  • The W-L/Yorktown Game, the final and most anticipated football game of the regular season (As of 2020, the rivalry continues into its 7th decade.)
  • Powder Puff Football (80s)
  • The Drill Team preformed dance routines at the halftime shows of the varsity football and basketball games.
  • In 1985, after decades as a fall sport, boys soccer became a spring sport in order to compete with rival Great Falls District schools and to compete for VHSL championships. W-L and Yorktown had been the only two Northern Virginia public schools that played private schools in the Metropolitan Independent A League, long after the VHSL moved boys soccer to the Spring. As part of the transition, Del Norwood, who founded the soccer program 22 years earlier, handed over the head coaching reigns to Roger Coggins.
  • The “Valdez” symbolized the success of the 1993 football season under W-L alum Coach Muskett.
  • The W-L Invitational (girl’s gymnastics) drew schools from around the region.
  • The Al Haringer Relays, named for a beloved W-L coach, was the region’s premier track meet.
  • The 1996 basketball team earned a district title ending a 30 year drought. (coach: Bobby Dobson; team captains: Tony Stanley and Jarreau McFail.)
  • The Boys Swim team captured its first district title in 1998.


  • The band, aka the “Marching Generals,” played for Press Secretary James Brady’s homecoming (1982 Blue and Gray).
  • The marching band played at the halftime shows and also “marched in the halls” during the football season. The symphonic and marching bands have won numerous awards under the direction of Alex Robinson, Arlington Teacher of the Year, 1999 and Agnes Meyer Winner for Outstanding Washington Area Educator For APS, 1999 (Washington Post).
  • As of 2020, Mr. Robinson has been band director for close to 28 years. The band received the “Virginia Honor Band” recognition for multiple years under his direction.

District Titles

  • Boys Cross Country: 1980
  • Girls Tennis: 1994
  • Boys Basketball: 1996, 99
  • Wrestling: 1980
  • Boys Swim and Dive: 1998, 99
  • Girls Gymnastics: 1983, 96, 98
  • Rifle: 1992 (special recognition)
  • Indoor Track: 1981
  • Baseball: 1980, 90, 92, 94, 97, 98, 99
  • Girls Soccer: 1993, 95, 96, 97
  • Boys Gymnastics: 1985, 96, 97, 99
  • Debate: 1982, 98

Regional Titles

  • Boys Cross Country: 1980

State Titles

  • Boys Crew / Varsity 8 (NOVAs): 1980, 89
  • Girls Crew / Varsity 8 (NOVAs): 1980
  • Boys Cross Country: 1980 (runner up)

National Titles

  • Boys Crew / Varsity 8 (National Schoolboy / Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association): 1989, 90

*W-L competed in the Great Falls District with Yorktown, McLean, Langley, Madison, Marshall, Herndon, and South Lakes.