Recreation center volunteer is coach, mentor for Baltimore's youngsters

March 31, 1992|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Staff Writer

You don't hear much about the Bucky Lees of the world. But they're out there.

Mr. Lee volunteers as a coach and mentor to youngsters in Baltimore. For 25 years he has coached basketball teams and organized leagues at recreation centers, including Oliver in East Baltimore, where this day he orchestrates drills for boys 11 and 12 years old.

"The goals here are very simple," Mr. Lee says, "to be a child first, a student second, and an athlete third."

He is 49, tall and lean, and his long, distinguished face resembles that of Julius Erving, or Dr. J., the retired basketball star.

On the sidelines, Mr. Lee is mild-mannered as he talks about trying to help children prosper in the city, but on the court he yells at his players.

"The first thing you should know about me is I'm a disciplinarian," he says. "I demand respect, and I give it."

He says some people don't like his coaching style.

Parents have taken their children off his teams, and youngsters have quit on their own.

But most stay, and after awhile they and their parents realize he has the child's best interest at heart, Mr. Lee says.

Two mothers at practice, Diane Williams and Francine Lyles, say Mr. Lee has a positive effect on their sons, Tony Johnson and Timothy Lyles, both 11.

At their critical age the boys need a stern hand, the mothers say.

"He lets them know there's something else besides just being out on the corner," Ms. Williams says. "He lets them know they can accomplish so much more in their lives."

Hilton O. Bostick, president of the Oliver Community Association, says Mr. Lee is the consummate example of community commitment.

"Bucky Lee's just as important as Martin Luther King Jr. was, just as important as Jesse Jackson will ever be, or as Kurt Schmoke will ever be," Mr. Bostick says. "By his example he tells our children: This person cares about you."

Mr. Lee grew up in Douglass Homes, a public housing development in East Baltimore.

He played football, baseball and basketball, but twice as a teen-ager he --ed blindly into the street and a car clipped his legs.

Years later he underwent surgery on both knees.

Unable to play sports anymore, he decided to coach in recreational leagues.

He works as a security officer at the Legg Mason Tower downtown.

He has six children, all grown or living with their mother.

Mr. Lee lives alone a few blocks from the Oliver Recreation Center.

"When I first met him I thought he worked here," says Ben DuBose, a fellow coach who is an agent for the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. DuBose soon realized Mr. Lee was a volunteer.

"It's like he lives here," Mr. DuBose says. "I don't know any other person who puts in more time with kids than he does.

"I've seen him on a Saturday coach four games. By the end he's physically drained. He's giving hand signals because he can't talk anymore."

Mr. DuBose has also seen Mr. Lee take youngsters cut from other teams and mold them into champions.

"He took the leftovers and won," Mr. DuBose says. "He can get more out of some kids than teachers can."

Mr. DuBose and Mr. Lee have coached Amateur Athletic Union teams together since 1988.

Each year they won the state championship and then raised money to transport the youngsters to a national tournament.

They also put together a tutoring and mentor program for the boys.

Mr. Lee makes all his players show him their report cards. He won't let them play unless they keep their grades up.

Most eventually play for their high school teams.

But no matter how high they jump or how well they shoot, Mr. Lee says he tries to instill in them values they will carry the rest of their lives.

"They don't make too many people like Bucky Lee anymore," Mr. DuBose says.

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