For 50 years, guiding the Lancers Boys Club has been one man's job JUDGING VIRTURES


A Today section article on June 7 about the Lancers Boys Club included incorrect information about the educational background of A. B. Krongard, a former club member and chief executive officer of Alex. Brown & Sons. Mr. Krongard is a graduate of Princeton University.

The Sun regrets the error.

Black-gowned and magisterial beneath a gilt eagle, Baltimore Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman sits in his vast solemn courtroom and listens to a case that tests the depths of the corruption of innocence and the violation of the trust of children.

He rocks slightly on the bench, his arms folded, as witnesses detail the 120 counts of physical and sexual abuse against children charged to a Catholic schoolteacher named John J. Merzbacher. It is as sordid a case as any that has come before Judge Hammerman in his 28 years on the Circuit Court bench.

But every other Friday, after shedding his judicial robes, he has a little dinner, then drives over to Cross Country Elementary School. There he presides over a scene much different from his tawdry daytime reality.

Dozens of young men with ambition and idealism are ranged before Judge Hammerman in an auditorium smaller than his courtroom. He exhorts them to sit up straight in their chairs as he urges them to prize trust and honor, decency and virtue, personal responsibility and public obligation -- the very qualities often trashed in the cases in his court.

The young men are members of the Lancers Boys Club, and Judge Hammerman is in his fifth decade as their guide, mentor and inspiration. More than 3,000 boys have passed through the club, which has become a Baltimore fixture. Many have found success in business, politics and the law.

Judge Hammerman never allows the baleful sadness of the day to discolor the Friday night meetings of the Lancers. He refuses to allow his courtroom to make him cynical.

"If a judge gives up hope for people, he should get out of court," he says. "Even though you see a lot of badness, there is a lot of reason for hope."

His Lancers Boys Club was born at the end of Huck Finn innocence in Norman Rockwell America, that last, lost time at the end of World War II when hope gripped everyone and boys really wanted to be the Lone Ranger, Joe DiMaggio hit .290 and Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy was an ideal and not a joke.

Boys used dope to make model airplanes. They listened to serials about the Lone Ranger and Jack Armstrong on American-made radios and good triumphed over evil by 8:30 every night. They played pickup ball on the corner sandlot. And they got together in backyard clubs with their buddies.

In Ashburton in 1946, a trio of boys named Buzzy Krongard and Jerry Sachs and Kenny Parker decided to start their own club. They went next door to an older kid for advice. His name was Bobby Hammerman and he decided it was a great idea.

Now as the Lancers begins its 50th year, Judge Hammerman thinks the club is as good an idea as ever and maybe better. He still believes in the ideals he brought to the club in 1946.

"I think the advice then wasn't too much different from the advice now," he says. "I tried to give them advice on values and attitudes. Discipline was very important. The importance of motivation, ambition, the importance of breadth to their lives and not simply sports and social activities, knowing the world about them."

He reads The Sun, the Washington Post and the New York Times every morning, assiduously cutting out articles he thinks Lancers, alumni, friends, colleagues or anybody else will be interested in. He sends them forth with a zeal the U.S. Postal Service no doubt would hail as a model for us all.

He types axioms, aphorisms, epigrams, proverbs, moral precepts, pithy sayings and paragraphs of philosophy on to 3-by-5 cards and deals them out to his Lancer boys present and past like a card catalog of inherited wisdom.

A favorite is an anonymous proverb: "I shall pass through this world but once, any good thing I can do, any act of kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now, let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

Enduring values

Those ideals and values remain strong and attractive to enough teen-age boys today to keep the Lancers alive and well and thriving. In fact, lots of young men don't find them old-fashioned at all.

"There are so many good things about the club," marvels Clayton Apgar, a sandy-haired 16-year-old who will be president of the Lancers during its 50th year.

"The most obvious thing is all the speakers who come in from all over," he says, ticking off the club's attractions. Lancers regularly find themselves talking face to face with, say, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Supreme Court justices William J. Brennan, Sandra Day O'Connor and Harry A. Blackmun; Oliver North, Jerry Falwell, Julius Erving and Michael Dukakis.

"I also love the whole range of community service activities," Clayton says. "I think it's wonderful that guys, high school guys, are willing to come out every other Friday night, when they could be out partying or whatever, and listen to speakers and then devote other times to the scholarship committee, the tutoring on Saturday morning, or our sports medicine program working with physically handicapped kids.

"And you meet people from a lot of different schools, guys you wouldn't meet at all," he says.

Clayton is a junior at Gilman, where he was president of his sophomore class and plays football and tennis. Lots of Lancers come from Gilman and Friends and Park schools and, of course, City College, which is Judge Hammerman's beloved alma mater. There's a bit of an old-boy network at work here; many youngsters say they came to their first meeting with a friend from school.

But Brandon Propper was brought by his mother, Nancy, to a year-end meeting. He stood up and recited his name, school and age, and he became a Lancer for as long as he wants to be. The club has never had entrance requirements beyond being old enough and a boy and showing up at the door.

But you can't be a girl and a Lancer. Women speakers come, mothers come, even girlfriends. But there has never been a push admit girls as members, the judge says. He says it would change the chemistry.

The club has about 190 members right now. They run against the stereotype of the new All-American Boy: thoughtless, selfish, shallow and certainly discourteous, if not downright nasty and violent.

Lancers tend to be bright, well- off, athletic kids, idealistic enough to be attracted by the idea that they should not only take from society but also give something back. Guys come from all over Baltimore and its suburbs and as far away as York, Pa. Many have been downright poor.

And being a Lancer takes some effort.

"It was a full year of work," says outgoing president Jonathan Grissom, 18, a broad-shouldered senior at Park who is on his way to Morehouse College in Atlanta this fall. "It's a good sacrifice, that's what I call it. I think teen-agers need a balance in their lives. Life is not about always having self-gratification. You need to learn to do things for others."

And they do. The club runs a scholarship program for non-Lancers. The young men raise about $7,000 a year, mostly through voluntary monthly pledges and car washes. They interview applicants and award scholarships, all without interference from the judge or any other adult.

Lancers volunteer for the Sports Medicine Program at Children's Hospital, providing companionship for permanently disabled kids and teaching such things as swimming and wheelchair basketball. They tutor kids at Falstaff Middle School every other Saturday -- 122 this year. They work with the elderly, volunteer at soup kitchens, undertake environmental cleanup projects.

But boys also wanna have fun. They shoot hoops. They play lacrosse. Many boys have seen their first play, or heard their first classical music, or even read their first book as members of the Lancers. Judge Hammerman always recommends Quentin Reynolds' "Courtroom" and Grantland Rice's "The Tumult and the Shouting."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke came to the club's final meeting of this school year. He, of course, is a Lancers alumnus. He was introduced by Jonathan Grissom.

Jonathan worked in the mayor's last campaign and has been working in his office in an intern program. He loves politics and figures he might like to be mayor someday.

"The deal was, he wouldn't run against me," Mr. Schmoke says.

The mayor joined the Lancers in 1964, one of the first black members. For years, African-American youths have made up about 25 percent of the membership.

"It was a very positive experience for me, real character-building. It just broadened my view of the world," Mayor Schmoke says. "I just think it's a great experience for young men. I'm glad Judge Hammerman is still doing this. It's amazing he's doing it after all these years."

For his part, the judge believes working with young people helps keep him youthful.

"I think that helps keep your mind young, your thoughts, your activities young," he says, during an interview in his office at the old post office.

Competitive spirit

Judge Hammerman, who has been on the bench since 1961, is the longest-serving jurist in Maryland.

"I get here about 5:15 or 5:30 in the morning," says Judge Hammerman, who sleeps about four hours a night. "I will catch a catnap sometime during the day."

He usually walks up to his fifth-floor chambers. He admits to getting a bit short of breath these days -- he'll be 67 this year. He does have a nice, buoyant youthfulness, despite a thatch of iron-gray hair and a slightly expanding waist.

He plays tennis or squash four or five times a week -- or more. "Eight times in 10 days," he said the other day. His extraordinary competitive spirit is legendary and he says the legend is correct. He still beats youngsters half or a third his age, although perhaps not so often as in the past.

"Competition to me is not something confined to sports," he says. "It pervades everything. It makes you want to do well and excel in everything you do."

Today's Lancers seem, if anything, somewhat more committed to the schoolboy values the club started out with, than the original three kids who walked over to Bobby Hammerman house in the summer of '46.

"When we began it was a neighborhood club with an emphasis on athletics, primarily," says Buzzy Krongard, who was 11 and the youngest founder. He's A. B. Krongard now, a former lacrosse All-American at Hopkins and chairman and CEO of Alex. Brown Inc., the grand old Baltimore brokerage and investment house.

"We were into playing ball," says his buddy, Jerry Sachs, who is now president at the USAir Arena and an official of the Washington Bullets and the Washington Capitals. "We decided we'd have a boy's club."

They met first in Buzzy Krongard's dining room.

"We needed someone older and wiser to guide us," Mr. Sachs says. "Bob was not only older and wiser, he was close."

Bob Hammerman had just graduated from City College and was on his way to Johns Hopkins University and Harvard Law School. His father, Herman Hammerman, was a lawyer who did mostly real estate work for his older brother, S. L. Hammerman, one of the big post-World War II developers of Baltimore and its suburbs. The judge's mother, Belle G. Hammerman, was "an old-fashioned housewife."

'A very serious concept'

Typically, Bobby thought it over.

"Bob looked into things with greater depth than we did," Jerry Sachs says. "He had a very serious concept. If we had a boy's club, it was going to be serious one."

The young Bob Hammerman brought his values and vision to the new club. The boys called themselves the Corsairs. They would become the Lancers 10 years later when another club usurped the name Corsairs and they had to decide whether to switch or fight. "We switched," says Judge Hammerman, judiciously.

The club had already become a great part of his life, Mr. Sachs says. "All-consuming," says Mr. Krongard.

"Being unmarried and not having children, he has taken on this organization," Mr. Sachs says. "We are all his children. It's a family."

Judge Hammerman had also found a pulpit for his ideas and he preached them, often at great length. His Friday night orations, punctuated by his now-famous demands that slumping Lancers sit up straight, have become famous. They're tolerated, uneasily sometimes, parodied, but always remembered fondly, a quirk that humanizes the mentor.

"Anyone who was ever a Corsair," says Mr. Krongard, "would have a memory of Bobby with his hands in his pocket, pacing back and forth, extolling the virtues or vices of the conduct on someone's part, almost Old Testament-prophetish, or Socrates exhorting the citizens of Athens."

He remains comfortable with the values Bobby inculcated. A philosophy major at Hopkins, he's thought a lot about them.

"Whether it's the Protestant ethic, or whether it's the Spartan ethic, or almost a natural philosophy," he says, "I think it's the way the country should run, and the world should run. A meritocracy: You get what you earn.

"The obligation of those who are more fortunate to take care of those who are less fortunate. I think all that's good and I think that's what the country's been based upon.

"The obligation to serve that people owe their country and community," Mr. Krongard says. "A communal spirit if you will. The elevation of honor, trust.

"What I'd guess you'd call the schoolyard virtues," says this man who now runs a billion dollar corporation. "The schoolyard of 50 years ago, not of today. There's something pure and puritan about it. But in this day and age of relativism, there's something comforting about it. There are right things and wrong things and a wrong thing isn't right. And no matter what you say about it or how you twist you don't make it right.

"And," he says, "a willingness to stand up and be counted."

It's a message that still has resonance for young men of the Lancers 50 years later.

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