The writing above the number 33 jersey on Hayfield Secondary's Basketball Hall of Fame wall says the number was retired in 1997. A deeper gaze into the number reveals a story of family, winning and losing, record breaking, team leadership and passion for the sport.
"[Ronnell Felton] was a coach on the court, and he was always ready to play," said Cornell Felton of his brother, the man who once wore the retired jersey.
Ronnell Felton graduated from Hayfield in 1994, having set the school's scoring record at 1,601 points in his three years on the varsity team. Felton went on to Niagara University, where he was starting to flourish as a college basketball player, but a leukemia diagnosis in 1996 halted his playing career. He moved back to Virginia and helped coach the Hawks — where his younger brother Cornell had become a star. Felton passed away in the summer of 1997, the year his number 33 was retired from Hayfield basketball.
"[Ronnell Felton] had a wonderful career. He led the team as a junior and senior to the regional finals, and then won the region as a coach," said Brian Metress, the Hawks head coach from 1992 to 2001. Metress said Felton led the team in scoring and assists, and was second in rebounds.
"IN MY 23 YEARS of coaching, he, his brother and his family were the nicest people I met," said Metress.
The most amazing thing about Felton, said Metress, is that he was not a very good athlete. He just had the feel for the game. His work ethic, skill-level and thinking made up for his lack of speed and jumping ability. Metress went on to say that Hayfield enjoyed a successful spell of 10 years, which directly correlate to Felton's involvement with the program.
Ronnell Felton's scoring record was broken in 1998, four years after he set it. It was Cornell Felton who passed the record by 11 points, to set it at 1,612 points.
"[Ronnell] taught me a lot," said Cornell Felton. "He didn't teach me the X's and the O's [of basketball]. We are not a family of X's and O's. He taught me the philosophy of the game."
CURRENT HAYFIELD head coach, David Abella, was Metress's assistant during the time both Felton brothers played. "They were a coach's dream," said Abella. "They would sacrifice anything for the team, and they never questioned it." He went on to say that both Felton brothers possessed the attributes of leadership, communication and dedication. Those qualities led to their success on the court.
During Ronnell Felton's three years on the Hayfield varsity squad, 1991-1994, the Hawks won the Gunston District once and played in two regional championship games. Ronnell Felton himself was twice a first team all-district and all-region selection and once an all-state selection. In his junior year he was named the district and region tournament Most Valuable Player. In the Northern Region tournament of that year, 1993, he averaged 39.5 points per game. His senior year Felton was voted the Northern Region Player of the Year.
During the four years Cornell Felton was on the varsity team, 1994-1998, the Hawks won two Patriot District titles and one Northern Region title. Cornell Felton was a three-time first team all-district, two-time first team all-region and one-time first team all-state selection. He was also the district and the region player of the year his junior year, and earned second team all-state honors his senior year. The Hall of Fame plaque on the wall puts his statistics at 1,612 points, 336 steals and 444 assists.
Cornell Felton went on to Akron University to play basketball, but a year later transferred to Samford University in Alabama. There he started for three years. Today he works in Burke with a screen-printing business, and is planning to get into player-development coaching with his former Hayfield teammate and a fellow hall of fame inductee, Steve Miles.
BRANDON VICKERS graduated from Hayfield in 1992, a senior the year Ronnell Felton played his first varsity season. Vickers said Felton was the best player on the team, but he always stayed humble.
"He was a quiet leader. He led by example," said Vickers. He explained that he grew up playing basketball with Felton. "He didn't change his demeanor off the court; he always stayed calm," said Vickers.
In 2000, Mark Craver, a Poetry teacher at Hayfield, published Team First Team Last: An Epic Journey to the Heart of High School Basketball, based on the Hayfield basketball team. On the book cover is the same No. 33 jersey that hangs on the Hall of Fame wall. In the book, Craver wrote about his fear of dying and being forgotten, and the comfort he found in the Hayfield team. He writes: "It is Hayfield Basketball, personified by the Felton brothers, that has taught me that being a high school English teacher is enough." Craver died on January 4, 2004, of an apparent heart attack, aged 47.
The Ronnell Felton Scholarship
Leaving a legacy:
The Hayfield basketball team opened up its past two seasons playing in the Ronnell Felton Tip-Off Classic. The tournament was set up to raise money for a $1,000 college scholarship awarded to a Hayfield basketball player. The criteria for the award are that the recipient be a member of the boys basketball team for at least three years, maintain at least a 'C' average in class, be a team player, be involved in a community activity, possess leadership skills and receive a nomination from a Hayfield basketball coach. The winner is selected by a committee of a coach, a teacher familiar with the team and a member of the Felton family.
The Felton Brothers are 68 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.