Would Dunbar High's entrance into the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association mean the end of the Poets' national prominence in boys basketball?
"I don't want to say that," said Dunbar basketball coach and athletic director Pete Pompey. "I think we want to continue to be able to expose our kids to as many opportunities to play top teams in the country as we did before."
But those opportunities may be hampered severely if the city schools join the MPSSAA. The MPSSAA prohibits participation in games that require round-trip travel of more than 600 miles and limits basketball teams to 22 games. This past season, on its way to a mythical national title, Dunbar would have violated both rules.
Pompey has not been shy about his opposition to joining the MPSSAA. Dunbar was the only one of 16 city high schools to respond unfavorably to a questionnaire last spring on joining the MPSSAA.
"My principal and I don't feel like it's the best move for Dunbar High School and our basketball program," said Pompey. "No. 1, we would lose a lot of opportunities to be a nationally recognized basketball team playing a [Class] 1A schedule and with limitations put on us in terms of games and the amount of travel."
City school officials listened to opposition from those in the Dunbar community, as well as those at the school, but decided the school also would join the state association if the other 15 schools are accepted.
"Certainly, Dunbar has gone on record as being opposed to it, because they look at it from their own parochial point of view," said Gary Thrift, director of high schools for Baltimore. "Dr. [Walter] Amprey [city schools superintendent] and the Board of School Commissioners have to consider what is in the best interest of all our high schools, not just one.
"We think that with the national prominence Dunbar has received in the past, they are still going to be able to generate a lot of national attention in the future, because there are some powerhouse teams within that 300-mile radius they can play," Thrift added.
Pompey sees benefits for the girls programs, which have no affiliation such as the boys have with the Maryland Scholastic Association. He does not believe there are many additional benefits for the boys.
"I'm certainly not going to go so far as to say it's good for all the city schools, but it is good for the girls program. But I don't see the benefits in any other ways other than the girls program," said Pompey. "We have a competitive league for the boys [the MSA], and it's a realistic league where you are able to play within your capabilities. You are not thrust into something as a result of the population of the school."
The MPSSAA lists Dunbar as Class 1A because of its student population. The MPSSAA decides on classifications every two years by listing all schools in order of population. The top one-fourth would be classified as 4A, the next one-fourth as 3A, the next one-fourth as 2A and the final one-fourth as 1A.
Milford Mill, ranked No. 12 in the latest Baltimore Sun poll, won the state Class 1A boys basketball title last weekend.