Corporate sponsors and some of the trappings are missing -- along with 1,000 kids from its glory years -- but BNBL survives.
Year 22 in the Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League is winding down, as playoffs begin tonight at four recreation sites and conclude next Wednesday, July 3, with boys championship games at Lake Clifton-Eastern High.
BNBL does not have the scope it enjoyed through the early 1980s, when it had more than 2,400 players. Organizers were scrambling in April to organize the program and still don't always know where the money will come from, but 1,400 boys and girls on 146 teams got a colored jersey and the chance to play !B organized basketball this summer.
"The BNBL does so many positive things," Bob Wade said, "it's something we would like to keep alive."
Wade is relatively new to his job as a superintendent of recreation in Baltimore City, but the former Dunbar High and University of Maryland coach has firsthand knowledge of what BNBL delivered during the last two decades.
The high schools get the credit for turning out college stars, but in recent years every prospect to come out of the city -- and many others from the surrounding counties -- had the BNBL somewhere on his or her resume.
"It allows kids to participate in a wholesome activity, and for many of them, it's proven to be a training ground," Wade said. "Right now, we're pulling money from different areas to keep it afloat, and we need corporate sponsorship."
The BNBL has been one of the lesser-known victims of the poor economy. It had seven corporate sponsors in 1980, for instance, but none are around today. One by one, longtime sponsors -- including The Baltimore Sun -- withdrew support in the last decade. Businesses that gave $10,000 apiece in 1986 aren't involved now.
The BNBL's annual budget was approximately $40,000 in the mid-1980s, and organizers aren't exactly sure how much will be spent on the program this year. "Right now, we're taking funds from other programs for BNBL," said Stephanie Parham, a superintendent of management support. "It's not an ideal way to do business."
The 1991 season got off to a shaky start, as longtime coordinator Charlie Colaianni's job as commissioner of amateur athletics was abolished March 29 in a reorganization of the city Department of Recreation and Parks. Jean Powell, who became an administrator of sports and athletics in April, said, "We were scrambling to put the league together this year."
"It's turned out well, better than people anticipated," said Madison Square's William Wells, who coaches St. Frances-Charles Hall during the school year. "But a lot of teams and coaches are concerned about the future."
Wells and others remember better times, when BNBL championship games were televised and newspaper coverage was abundant. Sponsors were eager to get on the bandwagon and money flowed more freely.
Following the lead of Boston, the BNBL tipped off on June 29, 1970, with approximately 1,500 players participating. By 1973, there were more than 2,000 players on 200-plus teams, and another 90 clubs were turned away.
A Hall of Fame was established in 1976. Julius Erving attended the finals in 1982, when there were more than 2,400 BNBL players, but the program lost momentum as the '80s progressed. Two major sponsors left before the start of the 1987 season, the same year a player was shot and killed following a game at Carver High.
Still, many BNBL advocates remain, including Sherron Bogues. A BNBL Hall of Famer who got her start at John Eager Howard, she spread the family name before younger brother Tyrone came along. She began playing in the BNBL at age 11, and is now in her fourth year as a rec leader and coach at the Lakeland center in southwest Baltimore.
"The kids love the recognition they get through this program," said Bogues, who has her 13-and-under boys team in the playoffs. "This is an old, established program, and the kids look forward to the chance to play every year. If they stop BNBL, there are going to be a lot of kids on the street with nothing to do."
GIRLS CHAMPIONS 11-and-under: Oliver
Tonight at Medfield
Cecil Kirk vs. Oliver, 8
Tuesday at Madison Square
Cecil Kirk-Oliver winner vs. F.B. Leidig, 6
Robert Marshall vs. Edgewood or Collington Square, 7
Wednesday at Lake Clifton-Eastern, 9
Tonight at Medfield Lafayette vs. Robert Marshall, 7
Monday at Madison Square Robert Marshall-Lafayette winner vs. Cherry Hill, 7
Webster Kendrick vs. Cecil Kirk, 8
Monday at Upton Oliver vs. C.C. Jackson, 7
Lillian Jones vs. J.E. Howard, 8
Tuesday at Easterwood, 7 and 8
Wednesday at Lake Clifton-Eastern, 8
Tonight at Medfield Collington Square vs. F.B. Leidig, 6
Monday at Upton Collington Square-F.B. Leidig winner vs. Liberty, 6
Monday at Medfield Bentalou vs. Oliver, 6
Northwood vs. Robert Marshall, 7
Cecil Kirk vs. Lakeland, 8
Tuesday at Medfield, 8
Tuesday at Easterwood, 6
Wednesday at Lake Clifton-Eastern, 7
Monday at Patterson Park Cherry Hill vs. Robert Marshall, 6
Wildcats vs. Northwood, 7
Webster Kendrick vs. Oliver, 8
Monday at Madison Square Liberty vs. Bombers, 6
Tuesday at Medfield, 6 and 7
Wednesday at Lake Clifton-Eastern, 6