In the realm of prep basketball, Dunbar High isn't merely a house of worship. It's Mecca, Mount Sinai and the Vatican combined. The highlights of the East Baltimore school's basketball legacy aren't celebrated in stained glass panels, but in championship banners draped across the gym. The school's team has been declared best in the nation three times, including last year when it was 29-0.
So it isn't surprising that a superior player like Norman Nolan, 6-foot-7, would want to play for the Poets. What does raise eyebrows is that he is transferring to the city system from Baltimore County, where he attended Milford Mill High School.
The teen's parents will pay $1,500 tuition so he can attend a city school rather than a suburban one -- a refreshing change, actually. More irksome was Coach Pete Pompey's stiff-lipped insistence that the move was for academics and that he considered the transfer a "student first." Surely, Mr. Pompey didn't attend some of Norman's games last winter to evaluate his potential as a student?
The sophomore wouldn't be the first basketball player to transfer to Dunbar. In fact, many greats from past Dunbar teams shifted there from other city and county institutions. But one is left to wonder whether the school makes the most of its unique attraction by helping its basketball players to succeed in classes as well as on the court.
It should have been -- and probably was -- a great disappointment to Mr. Pompey that two of the school's best players in years, all-Americans Donta Bright and Michael Lloyd, had to forgo playing their first seasons in major college basketball this winter because they didn't score the minimum requirement on the SATs. True, the coach can't take the exams for his players. But school athletes often revere their coaches more than even their parents, and no other adult can make a greater impression at such a juncture in these young people's lives.
Dunbar High offers its basketball players national exposure, a pipeline to college recruiters and experiences, such as Christmas tournaments in Hawaii, that many adults, much less adolescents, don't enjoy.
If Dunbar is a magnet school for basketball, as well as its health curriculum, so be it. But the program squanders an immense opportunity if it doesn't instill a self-worth and a maturity in its players that carries beyond the court.
Even before the Norman Nolans don the maroon and gold, Dunbar has made an impression on them as basketball players. If it fails to make an impression on them as students, however, the transfers become travesty.