A troubling speech by one of its students has prompted North Baltimore's Gilman School to re-examine its long-standing relationship with the celebrated Lancers Boys Club and its founder, Baltimore Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman.
Gilman officials have temporarily barred the Lancers, a Baltimore civic club that Hammerman has headed for more than 50 years, from using the school's facilities pending resolution of what they call "community concerns."
Those concerns stem from a speech delivered Monday by a 17-year-old senior who stunned a crowd of 450 people by relating what he called "a dark, deep secret." He said Hammerman, whom he had praised in his speech, gave him inappropriate glances four years ago while they were showering after a round of tennis at the Johns Hopkins University.
Hammerman denied any improprieties.
The speech was part of the tradition of "senior speeches" given by Gilman students before they graduate.
"For years, I have been haunted by these events," the student said, according to a transcript of the speech. "He did not touch me. [But] it made me feel extremely humiliated."
The student, who is not being identified because he is a minor, said that despite the incident, he believed Hammerman was a virtuous man -- albeit with "a weakness" -- who is "so completely humane, living almost completely for others." He concluded by successfully urging the crowd to give Hammerman a standing ovation.
Hammerman was in the audience for the boy's speech. He said he felt "betrayed" by the boy publicly misconstruing an innocuous event four years ago. "I was never so shocked in my life," he said of the moment he heard the boy's speech.
He said he never knew until he heard the speech that the boy had been uncomfortable. "I did not detect then or any other time any uneasiness on his part," Hammerman said of the tennis outing. "But obviously there was. Some boys are uneasy in that setting."
School officials say they have interviewed numerous Lancers at Gilman and have found no evidence that Hammerman ever committed illegal behavior.
Hammerman, 71, was the longest-serving trial judge in Maryland history when state law required him to retire from the Baltimore Circuit Court bench in 1998. He had served 37 years on the bench. He still serves as a part-time judge and hears cases in Baltimore.
The Lancers club is a high-profile civic organization for Baltimore-area boys in grades nine through 12. A multitude of influential people are former members, including former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Since he established the club in 1946, Hammerman has used the club to steer more than 3,000 boys from Maryland into community projects, including tutoring, cleanup drives and walks for the homeless.
Over the years, many dignitaries have spoken at the club's regular meetings, including Gen. Colin L. Powell, author Tom Clancy, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson and six U.S. Supreme Court justices.
The boy's speech touched off a wave of rumors and confusion among the Lancers and at Gilman.
Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia M. Jessamy received a copy of the speech from a school representative. Jessamy's deputy refused to comment. But Hammerman said he was "totally shocked" that a copy of the speech had been forwarded to the state's attorney.
"There is absolutely no justification," Hammerman said. "The child is not alleging molestation. The child is not alleging sexual child abuse. He is not alleging that one iota."
In another letter, Gilman officials wrote to Hammerman that "a hiatus" would be necessary on Lancers activities until questions could be answered, and they also sent a letter to hundreds of Gilman parents.
"One of our students made statements relating to an experience growing out of his membership in the Lancers Boys Club," the letter to the parents said. "Those statements have created significant concern in our community. We are still trying to get a sense of the facts relating to this matter."
The letter encouraged parents of students "wishing to discuss the statement or their own views and concerns" to call Gilman administrators.
Hammerman said that as the Lancers' adviser, he commonly invites boys that he believes have potential for leadership to lunch and to tennis or squash games.
Recalling the outing with the Gilman boy, Hammerman said the two played tennis and then took a shower in the coaches' locker room at Hopkins. In the shower room, the two talked, he said. Because the boy was young and shorter, Hammerman said he had to look down at him to speak. He said he never inappropriately stared at the boy's body.
"There is no question that I looked at him" in the course of conversation, Hammerman said. "We were talking. Yes, I was looking at him and, yes, I would be looking down some in talking to him," Hammerman said.
He said that the boy -- and his parents -- continued active involvement in the Lancers in the four years since the tennis outing, even planning a surprise 70th birthday party for him. The boy subsequently held positions of responsibility in the roughly 200-member club.
Archibald R. Montgomery IV, headmaster of the 103-year-old prep school, said yesterday that the school had a responsibility to look into the concerns raised by the student's speech. But he warned against making assumptions.
"It is important to remember that the mere statement out loud of a personal perception by a minor in a private forum should not cause people to leap to conclusions," Montgomery said.
He added, "It is also important, however, for a school to examine any concerns raised by any one of its students in a prudent, thoughtful way. A school's first concern must be its students, which suggests that we should always act cautiously and carefully in close cooperation and communication with their parents."
The family of the student who made the speech did not respond to requests for an interview. In his speech, the boy described Hammerman as an extremely complex man.
"I have never been able to completely understand Judge Hammerman," the boy said. "I simply could not understand how this human could be so completely humane, living almost completely for others. How could someone possess all these qualities of self-control and virtue without the flaws that make us all human?"
He added, "The answer to this question is that Judge Hammerman has his weakness." He then gave his account of what took place in the shower.
Hammerman said he is baffled by the boy's speech. "I don't know if his intention was to bring out what he perceives as a dark side of me or his intention was [to say], 'He's great, but he's not perfect. Here's an example,' and he seized upon this. I don't know what his intention was."
He suggested the boy's reaction might have stemmed from the fact that adolescent boys can be shy about their bodies, even among their peers. Hammerman said he tries to be sensitive to these concerns.
Hammerman said he knows rumors have circulated about him for years because he is unmarried and associated with a boys club.
"I am not naive. And I realize that in our society, people are very quick with rumors and are very quick to make assumptions and when an adult gets to a certain age, and he or she is not married, they jump to conclusions because you are supposed to be married. They conclude something is wrong with you if you're not."
He said he believes strongly in making a "significant contribution to the community," and the Lancers became his vehicle for public service after he was asked to form the club by a friend when he was 18.
"We have a 54-year track record and I would tell [parents] if they are scratching their head, they ought to speak to those that have been a part of it," he said.