For 21 years, a group of basketball junkies have been gathering on Saturday mornings at Andover High -- now North County High in Linthicum -- to play pick-up games with coach Dick Hart.
Those junkies included his son, Mike.
This past Saturday at the school, where Dick was the only basketball coach Andover ever had, the guys played again -- this time in tribute to arguably the most respected hoop coach this county has ever had.
Dick died a little after 9 a.m. Saturday morning, at his home near the school, ending a long, hard battle with brain cancer that began in November 1989. He was 53 years old.
Saturday's game "was the best medicine of all for Mike, and sort of a tribute to Dick," said Dan Krimmelbein, a former player and longtime assistant of Hart's. "Saturday we all played and said we would keep on playing as long as we could, just as Dick did."
The county lost not only a great coach, but a great teacher and caring man with a multitudes of friends. Heis survived by his wife, Pat, Mike, an assistant coach at Washington College on the Eastern Shore, and daughter Tracey Lee, of Linthicum.
After being struck on the head by a basketball in November 1989, during one of those Saturday pick-up games, Hart, who didn't smoke and had only an occasional beer, began experiencing dizziness and slurred speech. Tests detected a brain tumor; on Dec. 14, he was hospitalized for surgery.
The operation was successful, but complications followed. After a brief return to coach his beloved Archers last season, he finally had to turn the reins over to Krimmelbein.
Dick worked hard to beat this terrible disease. The coach, who deplored the zone defense and barred it from both his Archers and his his Saturday morning pick-up games, battled the cancer with his trademark man-to-man style.
Dick fought back several times. Last spring, North County High principal Bill Wentworth named Dick head coach of the Knights' 1990-1991 basketball team, the first at the new school. But Dick tooka turn for the worse this past fall and was forced to resign as the Knights' coach.
He would have been the first county coach to starttwo basketball programs. But Dick Hart's name was synonymous with Andover High, and just maybe it was meant to stay that way.
"I was sitting under a tree having lunch at the Board of Education in Boonesboro (Washington County) in the summer of 1960 with this gentleman whowas working on the roof," retired Andover and Brooklyn Park High principal Leroy Carter recalled yesterday. "I had never met him before.
"He told me he had just graduated from the University of Maryland and was going down to Anne Arundel County to become a teacher and coach at a new school called Andover. We had a good laugh when I told him I was going to be the principal at Andover."
Andover was not quite ready to open in fall 1960, so the first classes were taught at Brooklyn Park High. Carter officially opened Andover's doors the following February; in fall 1961, he hired Dick Hart as a physical education teacher and unpaid head basketball coach.
I can remember speaking with Pat Hart back on Jan. 11, 1986, when the Archer gym was packedto the rafters to honor her husband on an unforgettable 25-year reunion/alumni night.
"He coached long before county coaches got paid," Pat Hart said, "because he loved it."
That genuine love and dedication to his profession struck Carter early on.
"Dick was one of the finest men I have ever known, an excellent teacher, excellent coach, one of those kinds of gentlemen who don't come along very often,"Carter said. "He was a very special man."
Old Mill Athletic Director Jim Dillon, who once was Dick's boss at Andover, called Hart "the consummate basketball coach."
North County boys soccer coach Steve Malone, a former assistant hoops coach to Hart, shared an office with Dick for 25 years.
"The teams Dick coached were truly a reflection of him," Malone said, "hard work, fundamentals, and by the rules."
"In this business, you tolerate a lot of coaches and you respectsome. Dick was one everybody respected," said Southern coach Tom Albright, now in his 26th year at the Harwood school. "It seems that those who leave an impact are those who were more concerned about othersthan themselves, and they don't realize how much of a contribution they are making."
That one word, "respect," was echoed by everyone I spoke with about Dick over the weekend -- players, coaches, administrators.
That respect came not only for his 28 years of coaching, which ended with a career record of 330-294, including five appearances in the state final four, two in the finals. Dick Hart was respected just as much for the way he carried himself.
"Dick was a coaches' coach, whose contributions were positive," said county Coordinatorof Physical Education Paul Rusko. "His presence will be missed."