It's called the Charm City Classic, and the idea is for top high school boys basketball teams from Baltimore to face nationally ranked opponents in a local setting.
There's just one problem this year.
Dunbar and Lake Clifton, the two premier programs from the city's public schools, declined to participate, tournament director Bill Spotts said.
Spotts points the finger at Bob Wade, the interim director of interscholastic sports for Baltimore City schools.
Wade helped launch a rival tournament -- the Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke Basketball Academy -- that took place at Coppin State on Jan. 9-11.
The former Dunbar and Maryland coach denies asking city schools to skip the Charm City, but it's difficult for teams to play in both tournaments because the state limits the number of games high school teams can play.
The apparent result is a power struggle between two men trying to stage the most high-profile event in a city rich in high school basketball tradition.
And the biggest losers are kids.
"It's very disappointing to me that we aren't playing," Lake Clifton guard Kevin Braswell said.
The tournament resumes tonight at the Towson Center, with the area's No. 3 team, Catholic League power St. Frances, facing Mount Zion of Durham, N.C., ranked No. 2 in the nation.
"It's always a great tournament," St. Frances coach William Wells said. "You get a lot of recognition off it."
Yet, Southern was the only city school to participate this year, losing to Towson Catholic, 44-39, Thursday in a preliminary game. It was the first time in the tournament's six-year history that neither Dunbar nor Lake Clifton played in one of the featured games.
And Southern's inclusion didn't even become official until Wednesday, when city and tournament officials, after two weeks of bickering, agreed on a contract.
In previous years, the tournament paid $1,000 to the city's director of finance in exchange for public-school participation. This year, with only Southern playing, the city will receive $350.
Spotts said the three Catholic League entries -- St. Frances, Calvert Hall and Towson Catholic -- receive no appearance fees. For out-of-town schools, the tournament pays transportation, hotel costs and meal money.
The dispute, however, isn't simply about money.
Spotts said Wade and others resent the success of the Charm City because they view him as a white businessman exploiting young blacks.
"I feel there's a real push in the city to try to have a big tournament down there, and they really want to go head-to-head with us," Spotts said of the new Mayor's tournament. "Also, there's some sense of this Caucasian in the suburbs using minority kids to have a tournament," said Spotts, an insurance broker in Towson. "There's probably a little bit of that."
Wade, who is black, labeled that charge "absurd."
"I think Bill is way out of line using that as a reason or as a crutch," he said.
Wade cited scheduling conflicts as the biggest reason for Dunbar and Lake Clifton skipping Charm City -- state rules permit teams to play a maximum of 22 games.
Lake Clifton's Braswell wasn't so sure.
"I don't think Coach [Charlie Moore] and Mr. Spotts get along too well," Braswell said. "This year, Coach didn't want us to go."
Two years ago, Lake Clifton produced one of the tournament's most exciting moments when it defeated Lincoln (N.Y.) -- a team that featured Stephon Marbury, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Moore declined to explain Lake Clifton's absence this year.
"It's a long story," he said. "Bill Spotts, he's a good guy, no question about that. I don't really want to get into it. It's best to keep it like it is.
"I don't want to burn any bridges. You never know, down the road, we might play in it again."
Dunbar coach Lynn Badham also did not rule out the possibility of playing in a future Charm City. He said he committed to the Mayor's tournament shortly after his hiring Aug. 29, but his schedule was full when Spotts extended a Charm City invitation in late September.
The Poets, too, are a big part of Charm City lore -- they defeated St. Anthony's and Roderick Rhodes in 1992, the season they went 29-0 and won the mythical national title.
Badham said he tried to reschedule games to clear dates for the tournament, but it proved impossible because of a state rule that permits a team to play three games in a week only once.
"I have not talked to Wade about Charm City at all," Badham said. "The only time I talked to Wade is when we talked about the Mayor's Academy. That was it. We have not talked about basketball at all, especially not about tournaments."
Southern coach Meredith Smith also said he had no contact with Wade.
"Nobody called me, put any pressure on me not to play," he said. "I don't want to anticipate in the future if that kind of feeling exists between the two parties. But I have no personal reason not to participate. The tournament has always been good to us."
"These guys are being pushed by other people to make decisions," he said. "Charlie knows me. Lynn knows me. Meredith Smith knows me. They know what I've done for kids, done for the city."
Wade, however, said he lacked the authority to exert influence.
He was appointed to his new job in August, and began work Sept. 25 -- 10 days after city schools were required to submit their winter schedules.
Now, as director of interscholastic sports, Wade is indeed in a position of power. He is responsible for scheduling games, working with coaches, outfitting teams and other matters, according to superintendent of schools Walter G. Amprey.
His opinion of Charm City?
"It's a very nice tournament," Wade said. "I think it provides excellent competition for prep players."
His relationship with Spotts?
"I thought we had a very good professional relationship," Wade said.
The Schmoke tournament is the latest addition to a crowded local schedule that also includes the Capital City Challenge in Upper Marlboro and the Slam Dunk to the Beach in Lewes, Del.
The proliferation of such tournaments in recent years is a concern for educators, said Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.
"There's a lot of innuendo and talk that suggests there is money going back and forth -- coaches taking money to bring teams to play, people running the tournaments taking some of the money," Sparks said.
"Specifically with Charm City, I know of none of that going on. But educators are becoming more and more suspicious that the ills of college sports -- sneaker contracts, that kind of stuff -- are filtering down."
Sparks said that tournaments featuring public schools must be sanctioned by the MPSSAA. When Charm City applied for its sanction this year, it did not receive automatic approval.
"We made them jump through a couple of hoops because we had heard they were providing equipment," Sparks said. "To give kids bags, shoes, warm-ups, that violates our regulations.
"We asked for some answers to some of our questions. They answered them to our satisfaction."
Charm City's umbrella organization, the Bill Spotts Foundation, is not-for-profit. In 1995, it reported to the Internal Revenue Service income of $89,204 and charitable contributions of $93,533.
Spotts said the foundation has contributed to charities, hospitals and community organizations, and also funds scholarships.
Until this year, Spotts made the tournament's financial records available to city officials. He said he stopped because accounting costs exceeded $1,000, and he wanted to direct that money to charity.
"If push comes to shove, my books are open," Spotts said. "I just feel they've singled us out as an organization. I'm not hiding anything. I have nothing to hide."
Anthony Trotta, an attorney with the city's solicitor's office, said he and Spotts agreed on changes to the contract last year regarding insurance, liability and financial disclosure.
"Bob Wade wasn't even around," Trotta said. "They made a representation to us -- 'We're not-for-profit, our proceeds benefit other charitable organizations and activities.' We said, 'Fine, let us know who you're giving money to.' "
Trotta said such requests are routine when the city enters into agreements with not-for-profit organizations.
"That's all we asked. It's not unreasonable," Trotta said. "This year, when they refused, we were sort of taken aback. Bob
Wade is being portrayed as the bad guy. I don't think that's the case at all."
Whatever the reason -- money, race, power -- the city's two premier public-school programs aren't playing in the area's premier high school tournament.
What about the kids?
Charm City Classic highlights
1992: Over two nights, a sellout crowd of a combined 10,000 packed Towson Center to watch Donta Bright spark Dunbar's 50-49 victory over St. Anthony's (New Jersey) and Roderick Rhodes and earn Most Valuable Player honors. Dunbar, coached by Pete Pompey, went on to finish 29-0 and win the mythical national title.
1993: Rasheed Wallace led Simon Gratz of Philadelphia over Dunbar and Lake Clifton, but St. Anthony's Jalil Roberts stole the show for MVP honors before a combined attendance of 7,500 over two nights at Towson Center.
1994: A 30-footer by Felipe Lopez lifted Rice (New York) over Dunbar in overtime at Reitz Arena before a combined 6,000. Southern's Kevin Simpson -- who scored a tournament-record 39 points in a semifinal victory over Simon Gratz -- earned MVP for leading the Bulldogs to a 74-67 victory over Rice.
1995: Future stars included Shawnta Rogers of Lake Clifton, Stephon Marbury of Lincoln (New York) and Ron Mercer of Oak Hill (Virginia), but sophomore Anthony Perry of St. Anthony's earned MVP honors for leading his team over Lake Clifton in the final. A combined 6,000 attended at Reitz Arena.
1996: The tournament returned to Towson Center, and 7,000 witnessed Mark Karcher's MVP effort. He led St. Frances to a semifinal win over Dunbar and a title-game win over Strake Jesuit (Texas). Karcher, then a junior, went on to carry the Panthers to their first-ever No. 1 Baltimore-area ranking.
Pub Date: 2/01/97