Lake Clifton boys basketball coach Herman Harried said you have to look beyond the games to find the true merit in this week's 12th annual Basketball Academy at Morgan State University.
Most of the teams involved have been to a tournament or two this season, but none is like this one.
The Basketball Academy offers an academic, cultural and service-learning program for the players, in addition to a mixer format of top-notch girls and boys basketball competition featuring some of the best teams in the Baltimore-Washington area tomorrow, Friday and Saturday.
"The people that run it ... they do a caring job," Harried said. "The kids can see this is not just a hustle, this is a group of people that care about young people and their future, and you can just feel the vibe through the whole ordeal."
That's what Bob Wade, Baltimore City athletics coordinator, was aiming for when he conceived the idea for the academy.
He said he didn't like promoters making all the money from high school basketball tournaments.
"Nothing was going back to the participating schools or the kids or the school system," he said, "so we got together with some community people who were also tired of people coming in and leaving town with all the money and not doing anything for the kids."
The academy made its debut in 1996 at Coppin State and remains much the same today, although a college admissions session and a college fair have been added this year. As in the past, the players are introduced to an academic setting on a college campus, and take classes on SAT preparation and workshops on such topics as substance abuse, health and personal finance.
They also spend time volunteering or taking in cultural sites such as the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture.
The boy and the girl with the highest grade point averages receive $1,000 scholarships.
The event, which formerly was known as the Mayor's Basketball Academy and moved to Morgan in 2004 after it outgrew Coppin, has gone through lean times, but it thrives, thanks to a partnership among the city schools, the 100 Black Men of Maryland and the Baltimore Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, as well as many sponsors who offset what Wade says is the $40,000 cost of running the event.
"The first five or six years, we had to tighten our belts," Wade said, "but as the years have gone by, we've had success, and not just on the court. A lot of folks like what we do as far as the academic component, and they've bought into the overall concept. That's why sponsors have really come out, because it's one of a kind."
Wade said he has received several inquiries from around the country about the academy, but as far as he knows, it has never been duplicated.
When the academy began, some school officials balked at the idea of students missing classes, but there have been no complaints recently.
"I think what has happened over the years is people have bought into the concept, and they see the uniqueness and get a sense that here is something beneficial to us," said Warren Hayman, a retired assistant dean in Morgan State's school of education and urban studies who has served as co-chair of the tournament with Wade from the beginning. "We've gotten positive feedback from the players in particular that they learned more here than they learned anywhere else, particularly as it relates to the SATs."
Hayman said local teams are clamoring to get in. This year, the academy includes teams from the city and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
Baltimore County supervisor of athletics Ron Belinko is a big fan.
"At first, some of the schools in our county, they said, 'Our kids don't need this,' but they're finding out that all youngsters need to be exposed to different cultures and college campuses and SAT prep," Belinko said.
While there are no statistics on how the instruction helps raise SAT scores, Wade said he knows of players whose scores have risen after the event.
Harried also sees a difference in the way his players approach the test after their sessions with John Swann, who works for the Dayton, Ohio, public schools and is a national test prep consultant.
"What I've seen is it gives them confidence going into taking the SAT. They've all heard horror stories, and they have nightmares about taking it, but this is someone who shows them how to approach it, and now they feel more comfortable," Harried said.
City girls coach George Petrides, who, like all the other coaches, accompanies his team throughout the academy sessions, said: "I can see them responding to [the SAT prep] questions, and it is sinking in. ... That alone is worth the whole thing."
AT A GLANCE
Where: Hill Field House, Morgan State Admission: $10 per day, no re-entry
Schedule(Times p.m. unless noted) Tomorrow Western vs. Dulaney girls, 2 City vs. Catonsville girls, 3:30 Digital Harbor vs. Parkville boys, 5 Douglass vs. Largo boys, 6:30 City vs. St. Frances boys, 8 Dunbar vs. Riverdale Baptist boys, 9:30 Friday New Town vs. Digital Harbor boys, 2 St. Frances vs. Riverdale Baptist girls, 3:30 Mervo vs. Dunbar (D.C.) boys, 5 Randallstown vs. Douglass boys, 6:30 Riverdale Baptist vs. Lake Clifton boys, 8 St. Frances vs. Walbrook boys, 9:30 Saturday Catonsville vs. Western girls, 10:30 a.m. Dulaney vs. St. Frances girls, noon Riverdale Baptist vs. City girls, 1:30 Parkville vs. Mervo boys, 3 City vs. Dunbar (D.C.) boys, 4:30 Glen Burnie vs. Dunbar boys, 6 Lake Clifton vs. New Town boys, 7:30 Randallstown vs. Walbrook boys, 9