Hopkins, Dunbar losing? Can't be!

The Baltimore Sun

The Johns Hopkins University men's lacrosse team losing five straight games? The Dunbar High School boys basketball team losing nine games, spending most of the season out of the top 20 before finally being ranked No. 15?

I'm telling ya, for some of us Balti-morons, this is a sign of the Apocalypse.

Now I realize that there are some who were born and raised in this metropolis who might differ on what does and does not define Baltimore. Yes, we've got the crab cakes, the marble steps, the ethnic neighborhoods and the waitresses who greet you with a "What can I get ya, hon?"

When it comes to sports, we have the memories of those 1966, 1970 and 1983 O's, the '58, '59 and '70 Colts and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. We had Earl "The Pearl" Monroe and Wes Unseld as the anchors of Baltimore Bullets teams that played some of the finest hoops ever in the National Basketball Association.

But when it comes to athletics, there exists a group of Balti-morons who would insist that the two teams that truly define Baltimore sports are Dunbar basketball and Hopkins lacrosse. And while I know I'm going to be accused of sexism, I'll be more specific: I'm talking about the males. No disrespect to the ladies at either school, but it's the guys' teams that have the rep and the history in each sport.

Let's start with Dunbar hoops. If you're from these parts and are any kind of sports fan at all, you lived through some of that history for five consecutive decades from the 1950s through the 1990s. I remember reading about the Poets squads that won back-to-back Maryland Scholastic Association titles in 1964 and 1965. Those were Dunbar's only two championships during a decade that saw City College win at least five. But there was one thing we guys at City understood: The road to the basketball championship always went through Dunbar.

In 1973, Dunbar upheld Baltimore's honor by handing D.C. suburban power DeMatha High School a sound 85-71 thrashing at what was then the Civic Center. Dunbar guard Skip Wise scored 39 points, dropping in 22 in a fourth quarter that's become one for the ages. That was the last game for Bill "Sugar" Cain, Dunbar's legendary coach.

By 1982, Dunbar alum Bob Wade, now athletic director for Baltimore public schools, had replaced Cain as coach. Wade took his squad to play Camden High School's team in New Jersey. In their gym. Camden's team had started the season ranked No. 1 in the country.

The Poets blew 'em out by 25 points.

"They hadn't lost in their gym in years," Wade recalled yesterday. "I was in awe at how the kids performed. They performed on a level that surprised me. Tenacious defense. Flawless execution on offense."

Wade's team had one theoretical motivation and one very real one. The theoretical motivation might have been the constant harping from Baltimore sports journalists who insisted Calvert Hall had a better basketball team in 1982. (I saw both teams play that year; Dunbar had the better squad, and I'm getting right tired of saying so.) The real motive involved pride, inspired by some dissing: Camden's team and fans laughed when Dunbar's 5-foot- 3-inch point guard Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues took the court.

"That just motivated Muggsy to do well," Wade said. "He just destroyed [Camden's] highly touted point guard."

Dunbar's team would be ranked No. 1 in the country in 1983 and again in 1985. A Dunbar team coached by Pete Pompey achieved the same distinction in the 1990s. But this year the team lost nine games, didn't win a state championship and barely made the rankings. I asked Wade if he could remember when a Dunbar basketball team lost so many games in one season.

"Yeah," he answered. "It happened my first year at Dunbar. I went 12-6. Folks were telling me to get out of there."

Wade said his talent cupboard "was kind of bare" that year. The same thing happened this year. Wade said Dunbar has low enrollment, caused partly by the school being renovated.

I don't know how bare Hopkins' lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala's cupboard is, but I'm sure neither he nor his team like the current five-game slide. As a 40-year fan of Hopkins lacrosse, I can't say I'm liking it either. (How a black Catholic kid from West Baltimore came to be a fan of what's perceived as a lily-white sport at a WASPish university like Hopkins is a story for another column.) The situation now is almost as bad as 1967, and Hopkins won the championship that year.

OK, so Hopkins shared a tri-championship with Navy and Maryland that year, when the title was decided by a poll, not playoffs. Hopkins beat Navy; Navy beat Maryland; Maryland beat Hopkins. I read Hopkins student newsletters from 1967 and 1968, and believe me, there were noses out of joint at the very thought of sharing a title with Maryland.

I can only imagine the state of those noses now.


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