Dunbar High basketball coach Pete Pompey says the calls to his office began not long after it was announced that the Poets would travel to Honolulu, St. Louis, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Erie, Pa., and Johnstown, Pa., this season for tournaments. All the callers asked the same question.
Who pays for these trips?
"They want to know how can the city afford to send Dunbar all these places when budgets are being cut everywhere," Pompey said. "The first thing I do is let them know that the city does not pay one red cent for us to travel anywhere."
Travel has become more and more prominent. There is a tournament almost every weekend somewhere matching some of the nation's best teams.
This weekend at Towson Center, Simon Gratz of Philadelphia, St. Anthony's of Jersey City (N.J.) and St. Raymond's of the Bronx (N.Y.) will participate in the Charm City Classic.
The teams will stay at the Towson Sheraton, eat at restaurants such as the Horn and Horn and travel to and from games and area attractions in rented vans.
Who pays for this?
At most established tournaments, officials arrange to pay all the expenses for visiting teams through sponsors.
Pompey says the Poets, the top-ranked team in the nation in the USA Today Super 25, have not had to pay for transportation, meals or lodging for any of the tournaments they have participated in this season in five different cities, including airfare to Hawaii, Myrtle Beach and St. Louis.
"Baltimore City, Dunbar or the state of Maryland do not pay a nickel," said Pompey. "The deals are negotiated through the [host] schools and the sponsors. All the good tournaments that have been in existence for a while have sponsor money up front. They don't rely on ticket sales. They rely mainly on sponsorship to put the tournaments over the hump."
Pompey also said Dunbar does not receive a fee for participating in any tournaments. He said that if Dunbar did receive such a fee, it would have to give the money to the mayor's office. The money would be put into a general education fund.
Ron Sertz runs the McDonald's Classic in Erie, Pa., which Dunbar won last weekend. The McDonald's Classic also brought in teams from Ohio and Virginia and paid all the expenses.
Sertz said McDonald's paid for lodging and supplied all the meals through its restaurants. Other expenses, such as transportation, rent for Gannon University (where the tournament was held) and awards, were paid for through gate receipts.
"McDonald's sponsors a tournament like this so that they can say they have given something back to the community," Sertz said. "They are the No. 1 restaurant in the world and, obviously, around here as well. It's a way of saying thanks. They give us the front the money."
The Towson Sheraton and Reebok are the two major sponsors for this weekend's Charm City Classic. Tournament director Bill Spotts says Reebok has contributed $5,000 in cash and another $10,000 in merchandise for the participants.
The Towson Sheraton will not contribute money but has supplied 30 rooms for the teams at no charge.
Both sponsors will benefit.
Reebok gets exposure. Four teams will wear Reeboks, and Reebok banners will be prominent at Towson Center.
"Baltimore doesn't have a major-league basketball team or a major-college team, but the kids that come to the tournament will see what the Dunbar and Southern kids are wearing, and, now, all of a sudden, they run out and buy a pair of Reeboks," Spotts said.
The Towson Sheraton should more than recoup any losses from the free rooms. The hotel has sold 90 rooms to fans and media from out of town. In addition, the hotel will get free advertisements in the tournament program and on the tournament posters, as well as banners at Towson Center.
Pompey says Dunbar's only expenses have been incidentals, such as food for the bus trips to Johnstown and Erie. He said those costs will be paid for with money earned by Dunbar players who work a concession stand at Orioles games.
Several other city schools also work booths at the stadium.
Walbrook used some of the money it earned last season to rent two vans to travel to the Fort Eustis (Va.) Invitational. Tourney officials provided the meals and lodging.
Some schools pay all their travel expenses. Last year, Lake Clifton raised $7,000 to participate in the seven-day Sacramento (Calif.) Exchange Tournament. The Lakers raised the money through fund-raisers and donations, coach Charlie Moore said.
Western participated this month in the Great One Tournament in Anchorage, Alaska, spending six days and five nights in the state. Western coach Breezy Bishop said tournament officials provided 10 plane tickets, but Western had to raise the nearly $10,000 needed for lodging, transportation to and from games, sightseeing and meals.
The players' parents began raising money last summer with a crab feast, car washes, dances and a trip to Atlantic City, N.J. When they came up short, Bishop went to City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who, along with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, helped find an anonymous donor who made up the difference.