The night the lights went out at Poly


It was halftime at Tuesday night's high school basketball game between the Southwestern Sabres and Poly, and the Engineers, to the surprise of even their supporters, were holding onto a rare lead.

"They usually beat us up every year," Poly athletic director Mark Schlenoff said yesterday.

The cheers were loud. Emotions ran high. The score was 26-20.

And then ... boom!

With a bang, the lights at Poly went out, and the emergency lights, which are supposed to kick in when power fails, didn't come on.

"We were all in the dark," said Schlenoff, who couldn't see his assistant standing 3 feet away. "I couldn't even see five fingers right in front of my face."

In the gymnasium, about 150 people -- parents, spectators and players -- began to try to find their way to a door.

From his office, all Schlenoff could hear were screams.

"It was scary," said Schlenoff. "I'm not easily frightened, and I was scared."

The blackout -- caused by wind damage to a pole anchoring power lines in the 1600 block of W. Rogers Ave. -- affected 600 homes and businesses in the Roland Park area, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. said.

Emergency lights didn't come on because no one had changed the batteries in several years, Schlenoff said he was told by maintenance workers sent yesterday to fix the problem. All lights are in working order today, he said.

But Tuesday night, nothing seemed to be working.

Even the school telephones, which require electrical power, were out. So Schlenoff felt around in the darkness for his cell phone, and using the glowing phone as a light, made his way to the gym.

He and two school police officers propped open a back door and -- with no working public address system to help them -- yelled to the gathering to "head toward the light."

Unable to find their way to lockers, team members could retrieve neither their street clothes nor cell phones to call parents to pick them up.

"I was holding the cell phone up to my face so people would know who I was and asking any parents who were there to please help us," Schlenoff said.

Once outside, parents with cell phones worked together and made arrangements for pickups in the parking lot. Headlights beamed like lighthouses.

The night ended about 7:45 p.m. without incident or injury.

Unless you count as a casualty the Poly halftime lead.

"I don't think we can claim the win on that one," Schlenoff said, sadly. "I think we'll have to play the whole game over again. The gas and electric company stole one from us."

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