The Brickwork for a national power

After playing football at Morgan State and then three years in the NFL, Wade returned to Dunbar in 1975 and lifted the program to national prominence, producing two national championships (31-0 in 1982-83 and 29-1 in 1984-85) and a second undefeated season (29-0 in 1981-82) in his 10 years.

Early in his tenure, many of the low-income houses near the school were being torn down and replaced by townhomes. Driving by each day, Wade would see the piles of bricks and he came up with an idea to put them to good use. He and his two managers went to the demolished homes to pick up the better bricks and take them back to school. He then cut up some old wool baseball uniforms, wrapped the strips around the bricks and added some tape.


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The bricks were used as a practice tool, with players holding them as they went through drills

"I liked using them because it helped not only with endurance, but it strengthened their upper arms and fingers. In the fourth quarter, when you gotta play defense and gotta keep your hands up, it helped out a lot," said Wade, now the coordinator of athletics for Baltimore City public schools. "The kids didn't like it at first, but they eventually bought into it."

Herman "Tree" Harried, a key member of the 1982-83 team who is in his 15th year as coach at Lake Clifton, believed the bricks brought more than just the added strength.

"It strengthens your arms, but it's also a mental toughness thing," he said. "It was like 'I know you don't work with brick and we do.' So it puts you in a class above."

That 1982-83 national championship team is still often regarded as the greatest high school team ever assembled. During those days, the team would travel all over the country and challenge the top competition.

"The school got a lot of notoriety and we had kids getting college scholarships from the first guy to the 15th," Wade said.

'One vision, one family'

These days, Dunbar is no longer on the national map. After Pompey's 1991-92 national championship team, the school joined the MPSSAA and has been limited by schedule guidelines, resulting in less exposure. With some of the area's highly touted players opting for private schools and other city public schools that have caught up, the Poets have been able to maintain success at the state level — winning seven state titles since 2001 — but they have become just another good basketball team among many in Baltimore City.

That's why these days are special.

"We win state championships now, but being No. 1 kind of goes back to what we once were," said 1968 alum Diane Leach, a founding member of Poet Followers, a group that was formed to support the team in the early 1980s. "It feels good and as an alum, it really makes me feel proud of my school."

This year's Dunbar team doesn't have the wealth of blue-chip college recruits that past teams had, but the Poets have many of the same qualities. Beginning with the starting five — Donte Pretlow and Evan Singletary in the backcourt along with Aaron Parham, Gavin Pettiford and Rodrick Harrison up front — the players works hard, share the basketball and play relentless defense.

And the history remains a staple in the program.

Before the start of each season, Jones has the team watch the documentary "Poet Pride" and the bricks are still used in practice. It also isn't uncommon for one of those former players to stop by and impart a few words of encouragement, as Booth did inside the locker room following the victory over Patterson.

"I take them to heart because I know they've been where we are now," said Singletary, a senior. "So I just listen to them, and whatever they tell me I put it in my head and try to use it."

"It's about everybody coming together as one," Parham said. "One person can't do it all — it's one team, one vision, one family."

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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