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For Pompey, wait soon might be over


Nearly a year since Pete Pompey was suspended from his Dunbar High School athletic posts because of alleged mishandling of funds, the Baltimore state's attorney's office soon will conclude its investigation of the matter.

The state's attorney then will decide whether to seek an indictment or drop the case.

"The review is still under way. I can't give any prediction on closure, although closure is imminent," state's attorney Stuart O. Simms said early this week.

On July 17, Pompey was placed on administrative leave from Dunbar and forced to vacate his posts as athletic director and coach of its football and basketball teams pending the outcome of the investigation.

The action stemmed from inquiries made into the handling of money from a Dunbar concession stand at Oriole Park of which Pompey was supervisor. (The Orioles permit nonprofit groups to use some concessions stands for fund-raising.) According to a source close to the investigation, it initially was believed that more than $70,000 was missing.

William H. Murphy Jr., Pompey's attorney, last week would not comment on the specifics of the case, and calls to Murphy's office this week were not returned.

Simms said this hasn't been an unusually long investigation.

"There have been many instances . . . which have taken a longer time than this one, because of the complexity of the items, the number of items to be examined and the nature of those items," Simms said. "Some have resulted in charges, some have not. But there shouldn't be a presumption for or against probable cause."

As basketball coach at Dunbar, Pompey guided one of the nation's top-ranked high school programs. In 1992, Dunbar finished 29-0 and was rated No. 1 by USA Today, which also picked Pompey as national high school basketball coach of the year.

For years, Dunbar basketball has been a point of pride in the East Baltimore community. Reggie Lewis, Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Sam Cassell have gone from Dunbar to the NBA. Poets regularly fill The Baltimore Sun's All-Metro teams and are coveted college recruits.

Since succeeding Bob Wade in 1986, Pompey has maintained the winning tradition. Pompey coached Cassell, who just concluded his rookie season as a key member of the NBA champion Houston Rockets, and Keith Booth and Donta Bright, starters at, respectively, Maryland and Massachusetts. But his coaching career was put on hold last July.

"This whole situation has put me in a state of seclusion. It's like I'm considered a threat to kids or something. I am not a threat to kids," said Pompey, 54.

Pompey's reputation is so damaged that he recently was denied a summer job as a teacher, said his wife, Barbara.

"I've lost financial and advancement opportunities, which I think is a direct result of the investigation," said Pompey. "In terms of making a living, my life has been put on hold."

He has had deep bouts with depression, said Barbara Pompey.

"If we go to the food store, the shopping mall or the gas station, we hear about it 10 times a day. We're sick of it," she said. "I don't understand how a person can work in a system for 28 years and be treated like this."

"If they haven't found anything yet, then there's nothing to be found," said Lori Phelps, an attorney and a volunteer in the Poets' Scholastic Assessment Test preparatory program, which was started by Pompey and principal Charlotte Brown. "It's been known throughout the community in East Baltimore that there've been people who were out to get Pete Pompey. Someone wanted him, and they wanted him bad."

Pompey was relocated into the city school board's region office at Southern High, where, for the past 10 months, he performed numerous tasks, said his supervisor, assistant superintendent Gary Thrift.

Among Pompey's major projects under Thrift was working with 30 principals to assess the needs of their facilities. The other project targeted middle schools, identifying problems within the programs and establishing a mentoring program.

Pompey, a graduate of Douglass High and Morgan State, concluded his duties at Southern on June 17 and awaits news of future placement within the school system.

"I've heard nothing from anyone," Pompey said. "And until I do, I can't make any plans."

Becoming a spectator

Relegated to a spectator as interim coaches took over, Pompey watched Stan Mitchell (football) win The Baltimore Sun's Coach of the Year honor for taking the Poets to the Class 2A state semifinals. Paul Smith (basketball) engineered the Poets' second straight state title.

When seniors such as three-time All-Metro center Norman Nolan, All-Metro forward Rodney Elliott or All-Metro lineman Derrick Player called him for advice on college considerations or to express support, they detected that Pompey was struggling to deal with his suspension.

"I noticed that he was losing weight and everything. I always told him to take care of himself. Rodney and I knew he was suffering even more than it showed physically," said Nolan.

"Coach acted like his spirit was good, but you could always tell he missed his students and players and wanted to come back," said Player. "Then he'd say how mad he was about his situation and that he wished the investigation would be over so he could just get on with his life."

After the Poets' first couple of basketball tournaments, he stopped attending games. "I couldn't even go to the states," Pompey said. "I just waited for the newscasts that night and read the papers the next day."

Pompey said he has received unyielding support from the school's booster organizations -- the Poet Followers, the Poet Athletic Club and alumni such as former football star David Lewis. At one point, between 500 and 800 signatures were collected in petitions on his behalf, said Bucky Lee, Pompey's former basketball assistant.

"The community support I received was tremendous," Pompey said. "In the stands at football games, people would say, 'Dunbar needs you. When are you coming back?' What could I tell them?"

"The Poet Followers have always maintained that we support Pete Pompey. We need him, and we're awaiting his return," said the organization's president, Ray Short. "We've had demonstrations, written letters and made our feelings known, but it's been tremendously frustrating."

Students get hurt

Short and principal Brown said the students have been lost in the struggle.

"The controversy and its ramifications were very difficult for the children," said Brown. "My main focus was seeing that they made a satisfactory adjustment. That was a very difficult thing."

For example, when Mitchell was hired, Pompey supporters were often at games and practices trying to discourage players from participating.

"It was difficult to keep the kids focused. Knowing I was there on an interim basis, I was prepared for however Pompey's situation worked out," said Mitchell. "I've been told that my position will be opened for interviewing, but I'm preparing as if I'm going to be back next year."

Pompey said he hopes to be remembered for his accomplishments at Dunbar rather than for the stigma of the past year's events.

"I want the community members to know that I'm not going to crawl around and roll up in a carpet somewhere," said Pompey. "I have faith that, in the end, the people who know me will judge me based on my entire career."

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