Schools win on the field, lose out on sports funds


THERE HE was, as proud and accomplished a man as Baltimore has seen. Pete Pompey stood at the City Hall podium and talked briefly about coaching Edmondson High School's football team to the state finals last fall.

He didn't mention leading Edmondson's basketball team to the state semifinals or how his boys knocked off perennial powerhouse Dunbar to get there. He didn't bring up his days as Dunbar's football and basketball coach and the championships he won at that school.

Nope. This man, who has spent 35 years teaching and coaching Baltimore's youth, talked mostly about his shame.

"It's embarrassing to me when I have to put a visiting team in a room that has rusty lockers and locks," Pompey told the City Council's Education and Human Resources Committee on Wednesday evening. "Sometimes, the water pressure is so low that players can't take showers."

One after another, the city's high school principals or athletic directors came to the podium and reiterated the same problems: showers that don't work, athletic equipment so old that it's all but unsafe, trainers at only one school -- Polytechnic Institute, paid by the school's alumni association -- and lack of funds to field junior varsity teams in wrestling and baseball.

David Lane, who has 27 years in the school system and is now Southwestern High School's athletic director, was there. So was Victoria Knuckles, Western's athletic director. Also in attendance were Paul Holmes of Northern High School, Douglass High School Principal Rose Davis, and City College Principal Joe Wilson. Mark Schlenoff of Poly and Roger Wrenn of Patterson -- who probably debate which school has the city's best athletic program -- were also on hand. Add all the years this group has taught in city public schools and the figure goes well over a century.

They can't be doing it for the money -- not with what we pay them. The passion with which they pleaded for better facilities and equipment for their students showed how much they love their work. What does Baltimore give them in return? Poor equipment and athletic facilities so wretched that when city teams visit schools in surrounding counties, they look at their beleaguered coaches and ask, "Why don't we have stuff like this?"

Sixth District Councilman Melvin Stukes chaired the committee meeting to determine precisely why city kids don't have "stuff like that." City legislators Lois Garey, Jack Young, Bea Gaddy, Catherine Pugh and council President Sheila Dixon joined him. All were curious about how Baltimore's business community -- especially those two that have new stadiums courtesy of Maryland taxpayers -- supports city schools. Davis said the Orioles have built a new baseball diamond at her school -- Douglass won the city championship last year -- and that when the Ravens arrived from Cleveland, they donated their practice uniforms to the school's football team. Wrenn mentioned how the Ravens helped build a new football field at his school.

But you could practically see the steam coming from Stukes' ears when Wade told him that the Ravens had refused to donate a piddling $5,000 for a basketball tournament, and when Wilson said that City and Poly are looking for a site to play their annual football game because "it's not convenient for them [PSINet Stadium] to have us again." The remark led Stukes to comment that maybe city officials have been too easy on the Ravens and Orioles.

"The citizens of the state of Maryland paid for those stadiums," Stukes fumed, referring to the soon-to-be-a-corporate-named Park at Camden Yards and the Ravens' ludicrously named facility. "Maybe we should take off the boxing gloves. It's time for us to stop BS-ing around."

Pompey and his colleagues repeated it so often the statement was almost a mantra: The playing field for city and county athletic schools is not level. To compensate, city educators have to be creative. Davis said Douglass' track and field coaches used their own vehicles to take the team to the Penn Relays in April, where they came in third. She's tried to get blocking sleds for football practice by asking local colleges and universities to donate their old ones. But National Collegiate Athletic Association rules forbid it.

"All the [NCAA] rules don't make sense," Stukes lamented.

What makes even less sense is for city schools to be members of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association but not have the funds to field competitive teams. What Pompey did with Edmondson's team, considering his resources, is nothing short of remarkable, as is Dunbar's perennial strong showing in football. The only sport in which city schools are consistently competitive statewide is basketball, but how much equipment is needed for basketball?

Using the sport of wrestling as an example, Wade lamented the absence of junior varsity teams -- formed to give novices experience -- in the sport.

"It's ridiculous to have a ninth-grader who's never wrestled go up against a 12th-grader who's had four years experience," Wade said.

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