Having left an immeasurable mark on high school sports in the area, Bob Wade has retired as Baltimore City Public School System coordinator of athletics.
Wade, 70, began his tenure in 1996, bringing leadership, discipline and success to Baltimore City's athletic program, which had joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association three years prior.
"I feel extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work with all the student-athletes and coaches involved with Baltimore City public schools and also work hand in hand with the MPSSAA," Wade said. "I feel very good that during my tenure we made giant steps toward respectability as far as the state association and we gained a tremendous amount of credibility. I think we've come a long way. I'm happy to see the number of student-athletes being given athletic scholarships to further their education and academic scholarships as well."
In addition to strengthening Baltimore's ties with the MPSSAA, Wade was pivotal in adding softball, girls tennis and badminton programs during his watch to assure compliance with Title IX.
"Bob came into his position not too long after the city became involved with the MPSSAA and he really showed great leadership in bringing everybody along to help them get acclimated to the association," said Ned Sparks, the MPSSAA executive director who is set to retire in August. "He brought discipline to the program and he wanted the coaches and kids to represent themselves well. He sort of set high standards and they had to meet those standards. That really helped because you could see the pride in the programs they have and Bob was certainly instrumental in that."
Wade's original plan going into this past school year was to retire on July 1, at the end of the fiscal year, have the school system hire his replacement and then possibly stay on for the rest of the calendar year to assist fellow coordinator Jessica Ivey while also grooming his replacement. That option changed in May.
On May 1, Wade said he was called into a meeting where a new organizational chart showing where different offices would fall under a new structure was discussed. Then, on May 27, like more than 150 city school employees, Wade was informed he would be laid off, along with Ivey. He said he was told if he was interested he could re-apply for the athletic position that was in the new organizational chart.
The search for Wade's replacement is ongoing. Edie House Foster, BCPS manager of public information, said the school system is looking at candidates and hoping to have someone in place before the start of the school year.
Wade, a Dunbar and Morgan State graduate who played with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos during a three-year NFL career, is best known for coaching the Dunbar boys basketball team to national prominence. Over 11 seasons starting in 1975, Wade's teams, featuring future college and NBA standouts such as Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Lewis, Reggie Williams and David Wingate went 272-24 with four undefeated seasons and two mythical national championships.
That success led to his becoming the first African-American men's basketball coach in Atlantic Coast Conference history when Maryland hired him in 1986. His Terps teams went 36-50 over three seasons. (Maryland was later placed on probation by the NCAA for violations during his tenure.) Wade eventually returned to Baltimore to oversee athletics for nearly two decades.
While Baltimore schools CEO Gregory Thornton has only been in the position for one year, he recognized the impact Wade has made on the community. Thornton said it was apparent during the ceremony at Dunbar in January, when the school dedicated the basketball court in honor of the former coach.
"What really set aside how special this gentleman is and has been to the community over the years is that I had no idea that I would see folks from generations that he's touched over his career. Like pro ball players that came back — folks that have been under his tutelage came back to celebrate with him and his family," Thornton said. "When people do that these days, it's tremendous. Some of these guys traveled across the country to be there for that dedication and that said to me really, clearly the impression he has made in the lives of so many folks. Some people were laughing and some people were crying and that said, 'Wow, what a legacy this gentleman will leave in this community.' He has certainly been a great, great leader for our children in the community."
Wade recently returned home from a family vacation with Carolyn, his wife of 49 years, and their two sons, Daryl and Darion, and families. On Monday, he began cleaning out his office and the task conjured up fond memories. Tuesday was his last day.
"Going through the files, you're able to reminisce," he said. "It's tough. But this day had to come sometime and it's here and I'm ready for it. It's time to get a little rest. I've been on the go for over 40 years. My wife and I are ready to start a new chapter in our lives."
Wade is considered by many to be irreplaceable, his stature that large in Baltimore and throughout Maryland.
George Petrides, the longtime athletic director and football coach at City, said: "When he walks into a room, he has the respect of everybody. He's had a huge impact and his leadership is undeniable."
For many coaches in the city, particularly in boys basketball, Wade was more than just the boss of the athletic program. Lake Clifton coach and athletic director Herman "Tree" Harried played for Wade at Dunbar. Wade's son, Daryl, who coaches at City, played for his father as well. While neither Edmondson coach Darnell Dantzler nor Dunbar coach Cyrus Jones played for Wade during their days at Dunbar, both consider him a mentor. All four of the coaches have brought home state championships.
"I always tell people I've been blessed in my life to have two fathers — my biological father and him," Harried said. "He is all about doing things right, accountability and treating people right. I just have the utmost respect for him and my program at Lake Clifton is pretty much an outline of the foundation he set when I played for him at Dunbar."
The same holds true for many of the other successful boys basketball programs in Baltimore City. Since joining the MPSSAA in 1993, Baltimore teams have claimed 34 state championships with Dunbar tops in the state with 15.
"Coach Wade has been a real big influence to us all and he's more like a father figure to many of us," Dantzler said. "He put Dunbar on the map and Baltimore City as far as high school basketball goes. We all fit under that Bob Wade umbrella and we all branched out to run our own programs. And if you really look at all of them, they all have that Dunbar feel to it, which starts with Bob Wade."
Never more than a phone call away, Wade felt privileged that so many sought him out.
"It felt good that they would want to come up to me to ask questions about what I saw that they could improve on," Wade said. "They were always searching for knowledge and I was honored that a lot of them would approach me."
Every March, Wade went to the University of Maryland to watch the boys basketball state championships, always sitting at the top of the press area behind one of the baskets. More times than not in recent years — including 2009 through 2014 — Baltimore teams came home with multiple titles among the four classifications. In the 2014 season, Wade watched his son, Daryl, guide City to the Class 3A state crown to complete a perfect season.
"It made me feel extremely proud to sit there and watch all of them conduct their programs the way they did," Wade said. "I could see they implemented some of the things we utilized while coaching at Dunbar and it also was good to see them branched out and adding their own ideology to their teams."