Johns Hopkins Gazette: September 22, 1997

Doctor Hoops

Hall of Famer: Physician
holds basketball team's
single game scoring
record, set in 1953

Aaron Levin
Contributing Writer

Simeon Margolis didn't really threaten to damage the kneecaps of any Hopkins basketball player who came close to breaking his 44-year-old single game scoring record.

"Just kidding," he swears.

Better known for his interest in the prevention of heart disease, Margolis was inducted into the Hopkins Athletic Hall of Fame last week along with six other athletes.

Now professor of medicine and biological chemistry at the School of Medicine, Margolis spent a quarter of a century studying how the liver regulates the synthesis of fats and cholesterol. He treats patients, including diabetics, who have high levels of cholesterol or triglycerides.

But aside from his medical career, Margolis' moment of glory came one February night in 1953 when he pumped 44 points through the hoop against Randolph-Macon. "I never really considered myself a shooter," says Margolis, a 5 foot 10 inch guard. "I was more a ball handler, but I led the team in scoring every year I played."

He sank 14 of 15 foul shots, in an era when there were no two-shot fouls. He had no idea during the game that he was on the road to setting a record. Near the end of the contest he was shouting to the bench for a sub, hoping to give someone else a chance to play. But Coach Bob Bilgrave left him in to rack up still more points.

When the game was over, the famously parsimonious athletic director handed Margolis the game ball, an act of generosity which surprised him even more than the record. Far from celebrating, Margolis and a teammate showered and trekked to their work-study jobs in the Department of Psychology, cranking out statistics on a mechanical calculator until midnight for $2.50 an hour.

"I can't remember when I wasn't interested in throwing or hitting a ball," recalls Margolis, a watch repairman's son who grew up in Johnstown, Pa. "My parents didn't encourage me, but the fellows who lived around me were all involved in sports. It was the thing to do."

At Hopkins, he says, the biggest pressure was trying to make the grades needed to get into medical school.

"On balance, sports were a plus for me. I selected Johns Hopkins because it would be a place where I could enjoy sports and still have time to do well academically.

The hard part was getting on a bus for an away game and getting back late. The other guys would play cards. I'd crack open a chemistry text."

Margolis recalls that two starting teammates--Bob Lilien and Al Birtch--also went on to medical school. Playing basketball and baseball--Margolis was an infielder for the Blue Jays, too--was a way to work off the stress of academic pressure. Today, tennis serves the same function. Sports, he says, are one of life's honest pleasures.

Aside from the disabled list, is there a connection between sports and medicine? Margolis thinks that college athletes who play team sports make good candidates for medical school.

"If you can play a sport and still get the grades to get into medical school, you show you are organized and dedicated. Playing teaches you teamwork, too. You have to learn you don't know all the answers in medicine, and other people--nurses, paramedics, other doctors--can teach you something."

Playing sports, he says, was also a way to learn the humbling effects of losing. "In medicine, it's important to have some humility, another attribute I look for in applicants to medical school."

Margolis did laboratory research on lipid metabolism until 12 years ago. Then he realized that so many changes had occurred in his field and so many new techniques had been developed, that he was at a crossroads. He could take a sabbatical year and retrain for the new skills his profession now demanded, or he could do something else.

He decided to do something else, following his interest in medical education by serving as an associate dean for eight years. He also turned to educating the lay public, writing a column on health for the Baltimore Sun for 10 years. He now edits Health After 50, a monthly newsletter published by Johns Hopkins.

Now, when he climbs the stands to watch Hopkins basketball on winter evenings, Margolis sneaks another look at the list of school records printed in the program. Most of them have been set by taller players in the last five or 10 years. But the single game record still stands, held by the pre-med student from Johnstown.

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