Private citizens replace funds for basketball


To Dave Pivec, the solution seemed simple enough. He called Bill Kidd and Robert Russell, both sports enthusiasts. They had both already had the same thought. And by 11 o'clock yesterday morning, a $5,000 check for the Craig Cromwell summer basketball league was on its way to City Hall.

"We're pleased to make a small contribution to a big cause," read a note from the Baltimore Area Toyota Dealers.

They weren't the only ones, who after reading their morning newspaper yesterday, decided that they too could help bail out the inner-city basketball league that saw its funding dry up in a political tussle over Baltimore's controversial tax on soda bottles and cans.

The president of the Merry-Go-Round clothing store chain pledged the full $5,000 and said a check would be in the mail. Overlea Caterers offered to host a fund-raiser on the company boat and cater the event. The owner of four Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets called, as did the Baltimore City McDonald's operators. So did a former director of the city's parks department, and the list goes on.

"I got 30 calls here from people who will contribute from $5 to the full amount. I was just flabbergasted," said Anthony J. Ambridge, the 2nd District councilman who established the basketball league seven years ago to honor slain Calvert Hall athlete, Craig Cromwell. "It was so heart-warming to see the people of Baltimore, from the corporate executives to John Doe citizen, care about the kids from Baltimore and put politics aside."

It was politics, according to Mr. Ambridge, that cost the program its funding just two weeks before 150 high school athletes were to begin league play.

Mr. Ambridge maintained that the Mid-Atlantic Coca-Cola Bottling Co. backed out of its commitment to finance the league after the city failed to repeal the container tax, which the beverage industry bitterly opposed.

The company denied that politics had anything to do with it, saying Mr. Ambridge never followed through on his request, and by the time he did, there wasn't money in its budget to cover the program cost. Plus, the company said, the financial drain caused by the container tax had forced the beverage industry to decide which charitable events it could sponsor.

Yesterday, however, after the league's plight was described in an article in The Sun, the phone started ringing in Mr. Ambridge's office. Even Mid-Atlantic Bottling had come up with some money for the cause. But it was too late.

Mr. Ambridge had already received pledges -- totaling $10,000 -- from the Baltimore Area Toyota Dealers and the Merry-Go-Round clothing store chain.

"I appreciate their change of heart," Mr. Ambridge said of the beverage bottler. But he added, "It's a day late and a dollar short."

It didn't take Dave Pivec, Bill Kidd and Robert Russell long to decide what to do.

"They're big into athletics. They had the same thought I had. Why not put $5,000 into it and keep the league going? It really was that simple," recalled Mr. Pivec, a Baltimore native and former tight end for the Los Angeles Rams who now runs an advertising firm here.

The response was so great that Mr. Ambridge is considering forming a foundation so the Cromwell league won't have to worry from year to year about its funding.

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