The Night Muhammad Ali Stepped into Royalty: Revealing the Hidden Tale of His Promenade in Prince George’s County


In 1976, boxer and civil rights legend Muhammad Ali was one of the most famous people in the world— and he went to a high school prom in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

News4 has the Only on 4 untold story of Ali’s prom night in a D.C. suburb.


It was just months after Ali’s “Thrilla in Manila” match beating Joe Frazier. Ali was in Maryland to fight Jimmy Young at the old Capital Centre arena in Landover.

The day after the fight, Parkdale High School, in Riverdale Park, was holding its senior prom in the same hotel where Ali was staying.

Parkdale High teacher Leo Vondas said he was setting up for the prom when he spotted the boxer.

“I was going out, he was coming in. I said, ‘Damn! That’s Muhammad Ali!” he recalled.

Patrick Yohe was vice president of the senior class. He, Vondas and three other students managed to find out which room Ali was staying in and talk their way inside. He had four or five bodyguards outside the room, Vondas said.

“The next thing you know, we’re getting escorted into Muhammad Ali’s room,” Yohe said.

Ali didn’t need much convincing to go to the prom, both men said. He showed up as the band took a break.


“The doors open and he comes in, and everybody rushes to the center of the room,” Yohe said. “It was like Moses parting the Red Sea. Everybody moved aside.”


Photos show Ali walking through the crowd of dressed-up teens and teachers, and standing on a stage holding a microphone.

George and Helen Donaldson, then 17 and 16, were high school sweethearts.

“Today, things are different. You would have had a cellphone to take pictures,” George Donaldson recalled.


Ali took to the stage and didn’t disappoint.

“He pulls one of the girls up on stage and looks at her date and says, ‘What are you gonna do, sucker?’ It was just hilarious,” Yohe said.

For those who saw Muhammad Ali at their prom, it was a night they would never forget.

“My kids have heard the story more than they care to hear it anymore,” Yohe said.

Parkdale High’s yearbook for that year included photos of the prom but didn’t show Ali. Yohe said he thinks the yearbook photographer left before Ali showed up.

Why hasn’t the story had a mass audience until now? The absence of cellphone cameras and social media on that prom night may explain it.

A friend of Vondas, the former teacher, reached out to News4 with the story after he saw a photo of Ali at Vondas’ home and asked him about it.


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