For 21 years, a group of basketball junkies have been gathering on Saturday mornings at Andover High -- now North County High in Linthicum -- to play pick-up games with coach Dick Hart.
Those junkies included his son, Mike.
This past Saturday at the school, where Dick was the only basketball coach Andover ever had, the guys played again -- this time in tribute to arguably the most respected hoop coach this county has ever had.
Dick died a little after 9 a.m. Saturday morning, at his home near the school, ending a long, hard battle with brain cancer that began in November 1989. He was 53 years old.
Saturday's game "was the best medicine of all for Mike, and sort of a tribute to Dick," said Dan Krimmelbein, a former player and longtime assistant of Hart's. "Saturday we all played and said we would keep on playing as long as we could, just as Dick did."
The county lost not only a great coach, but a great teacher and caring man with a multitudes of friends. Heis survived by his wife, Pat, Mike, an assistant coach at Washington College on the Eastern Shore, and daughter Tracey Lee, of Linthicum.
After being struck on the head by a basketball in November 1989, during one of those Saturday pick-up games, Hart, who didn't smoke and had only an occasional beer, began experiencing dizziness and slurred speech. Tests detected a brain tumor; on Dec. 14, he was hospitalized for surgery.
The operation was successful, but complications followed. After a brief return to coach his beloved Archers last season, he finally had to turn the reins over to Krimmelbein.
Dick worked hard to beat this terrible disease. The coach, who deplored the zone defense and barred it from both his Archers and his his Saturday morning pick-up games, battled the cancer with his trademark man-to-man style.
Dick fought back several times. Last spring, North County High principal Bill Wentworth named Dick head coach of the Knights' 1990-1991 basketball team, the first at the new school. But Dick tooka turn for the worse this past fall and was forced to resign as the Knights' coach.
He would have been the first county coach to starttwo basketball programs. But Dick Hart's name was synonymous with Andover High, and just maybe it was meant to stay that way.
"I was sitting under a tree having lunch at the Board of Education in Boonesboro (Washington County) in the summer of 1960 with this gentleman whowas working on the roof," retired Andover and Brooklyn Park High principal Leroy Carter recalled yesterday. "I had never met him before.
"He told me he had just graduated from the University of Maryland and was going down to Anne Arundel County to become a teacher and coach at a new school called Andover. We had a good laugh when I told him I was going to be the principal at Andover."
Andover was not quite ready to open in fall 1960, so the first classes were taught at Brooklyn Park High. Carter officially opened Andover's doors the following February; in fall 1961, he hired Dick Hart as a physical education teacher and unpaid head basketball coach.
I can remember speaking with Pat Hart back on Jan. 11, 1986, when the Archer gym was packedto the rafters to honor her husband on an unforgettable 25-year reunion/alumni night.
"He coached long before county coaches got paid," Pat Hart said, "because he loved it."
That genuine love and dedication to his profession struck Carter early on.
"Dick was one of the finest men I have ever known, an excellent teacher, excellent coach, one of those kinds of gentlemen who don't come along very often,"Carter said. "He was a very special man."
Old Mill Athletic Director Jim Dillon, who once was Dick's boss at Andover, called Hart "the consummate basketball coach."
North County boys soccer coach Steve Malone, a former assistant hoops coach to Hart, shared an office with Dick for 25 years.
"The teams Dick coached were truly a reflection of him," Malone said, "hard work, fundamentals, and by the rules."
"In this business, you tolerate a lot of coaches and you respectsome. Dick was one everybody respected," said Southern coach Tom Albright, now in his 26th year at the Harwood school. "It seems that those who leave an impact are those who were more concerned about othersthan themselves, and they don't realize how much of a contribution they are making."
That one word, "respect," was echoed by everyone I spoke with about Dick over the weekend -- players, coaches, administrators.
That respect came not only for his 28 years of coaching, which ended with a career record of 330-294, including five appearances in the state final four, two in the finals. Dick Hart was respected just as much for the way he carried himself.
"Dick was a coaches' coach, whose contributions were positive," said county Coordinatorof Physical Education Paul Rusko. "His presence will be missed."
School Superintendent Larry L. Lorton, who has been here just a few years, was so impressed with the county-wide admiration for Hart that he asked Rusko a few weeks ago to work up a set of criteria for an award in Hart's honor. Rusko promised to finish that job.
Former Andover greats Jimmy Spencer (1963-'65) and Tim Murphy (1967-'70) are among scores who will remember Dick as a lifelong friend first and basketball coach second.
Murphy, who said Hart "led by example," treasures the memory of his senior year -- "when the team didn't do well" -- as much as his sophomore year, when they went to Cole Field House at the University of Maryland-College Park for the state playoffs.
"He always kept things in perspective," Murphy said, "and made us look at ourselves and ask if we had given 100 percent."
Spencer, theonly All-American basketball player Andover ever had, went on to a career in baseball, becoming a Gold Glove-winning first baseman with several American League clubs, including the 1978 World Champion New York Yankees.
"Dick had a great impact on my life personally and professionally," said Spencer, now a salesman living in Laurel. "He taught me to be competitive, and we remained close friends after high school."
Spencer, who stopped by Dick's house to see him about a month ago, said he always will cherish the times they spent together going to basketball and baseball games, playing golf and canoeing.
Hart loved to hunt and canoe. He loved the outdoors, and had a special affection for the American Indian.
"Dick loved the west, did a lotof reading on the American Indian, and one of his favorite places was Jackson Hole, Wy.," Malone said. "He went out there several times because he loved the tranquillity and open spaces. He wasn't an Ocean City kind of guy.
"Dick was first and foremost a friend to me," Malone said. "Something a lot of people around the county didn't know was that he was an outstanding physical education teacher."
Malone was one of the too many to mention here whose lives or coaching ambitions were inspired by Dick Hart. Among his former assistant coaches or players now coaching are John Brady (Annapolis), Ken Kazmarek (Broadneck), Denny Saylor (Pallotti High in Laurel), Krimmelbein and, of course, Mike Hart.
Brady has had a tremendous career at Annapolis, winning a state championship last year. He credits it all to his mentor.
"I wouldn't be teaching or coaching if wasn't for Dick. Anything I have accomplished, I owe to him," said Brady, an assistant to Hart for seven years before taking the head coaching position at Annapolis 14 years ago.
"Just the fact I worked under Dick at Andover got me the job at Annapolis," Brady said. "Let's face it, the Annapolis job was a pretty big job for an assistant to take, but coaching for Dick gave me instant credibility."
Brady praised Hart's program atAndover, saying it was a model for the rest of the county. Hart produced 40 All-County players and 16 winning seasons at the small North County school, and kept computer printouts on every player who ever set foot on the court for him.
"When I took my first teaching job at Andover in 1970 out of the University of Maryland, I began playing pick-up games with Dick and the guys, and he asked me one day to coach," Brady recalled. "He laid my foundation, and he taught basketball for life.
"My only regret as a coach is that I was never able to capture his approach. Win or lose, he coached for the love of coaching. Dick found the intrinsic value of coaching -- loved and enjoyed thewhole process."
That was Dick Hart.
Coach Hart's family willbe receiving visitors from 3-5 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. today at the Singleton Funeral Home, on Crain Highway in Glen Burnie.
Funeral services are set for 11 a.m. tomorrow at St. John Lutheran's Church in Linthicum. Burial is set for Wednesday morning in Dick's home town of Clear Spring in Washington County.