Don't blame Nolan or Dunbar transfer it to system

Ken Rosenthal

September 30, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

Just when you thought the city school system was in ruins, along comes a Baltimore County resident willing to pay $1,500 to attend Dunbar High.

Unfortunately, everyone knows why Norman Nolan transferred from Milford Mill. It wasn't to become a poet in the classroom. It was to become a Poet on the basketball court.

Ned Sparks, executive secretary of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, is rightly disgusted. But a blazing forest, he's targeting a single tree.

It's not just Dunbar.

It's not just Baltimore.

And it's certainly not just Maryland.

The moral corruption in college sports is well-documented, but the high schools are full of their own complex hypocrisies, in a system that is equally entrenched.

Educators routinely criticize the glorification of NBA stars, charging that it sends the wrong message to inner-city youth. In fact, they've been sending the same message for years.

They're not alone. College recruiters were the first to taint high school sports. Now all the usual suspects are in place -- the corporate sponsors, the shoe companies, the media.

Private schools recruit top athletes, public schools solicit transfers. Dunbar, with its tradition of basketball excellence, is the most glaring example, but not the only one.

Sparks might want to investigate Anne Arundel County, where baseball, soccer and boys and girls basketball players have been known to change schools if they don't like their coach.

In Baltimore, athletes actually transfer under the guise of academics. Dunbar is one of six high schools that offers a special curriculum and draws students from all over the city.

The plan no doubt benefits many.

But it's shamelessly abused as a loophole.

Football players don't transfer to Poly because they're dying to become engineers, or City because they've taken a special interest in the humanities.

Likewise, female athletes don't flock to Western because they've fallen in love with the liberal arts.

The "magnet" at Dunbar is health occupations. Picture Muggsy Bogues as a registered nurse, or Reggie Lewis as a dental hygienist. That was the ludicrous premise under which they transferred from Southern and Patterson, respectively.

Nolan, a 6-foot-7 All-Metro center, is another story. As a county resident, all he must do to attend Dunbar is meet the admissions requirements and pay the $1,500 tuition. The sad truth is, he's probably making a sound investment in his future.

In two years at Dunbar, he'll receive not only greater exposure, but better preparation for big-time college basketball. He stands to earn a college scholarship worth $100,000, and that could lead to an NBA contract worth millions.

In a practical sense, his parents merely asked the same question that more affluent parents ask when they send their children to private school: Why limit their son when they can get him the best training possible?

The argument is perfectly logical, and city-county questions aside, the education Nolan will receive at Dunbar probably is comparable to the one he'd get at Milford Mill. Still, the line blocking such transfers should have been drawn long ago.

You can't dismantle the system now, not even in the middle of a national education crisis. Dunbar basketball is a powerful unifying force in East Baltimore, and the pride of the entire city. Few care anymore how the monster was created.

Sparks called Nolan's transfer "absolutely, categorically and undeniably wrong," not in a legal sense, but in the spirit of the rules. Yet, rather than howl in protest, most city coaches endorsed Nolan's decision, and by extension the system. One day, they might get a star county player, too.

It's this way all over the country, the high schools resembling the colleges, the colleges resembling the pros. The whole thing is backward, and the fact that a county kid is paying $1,500 to attend Dunbar High is merely the latest proof.

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