Williams is happy to be back Longtime coach returns after 5 years

January 24, 1993|By Derek Toney | Derek Toney,Contributing Writer

In 1965, a young graduate from Morgan State named Woody Williams received his first coaching opportunity at Edmondson as the head of the freshman-sophomore football team, which eventually led him to basketball.

Twenty-eight years later, Williams is still coaching. He is at Mervo. The names have changed. So have the rules. But to the veteran, it's still the same.

"When you're around it and see the kids play, that's all I've ever done for my 28 years that I've been teaching in the school system," said Williams, the school's athletic director. "That's what I really enjoy doing. It's a pleasure to be involved with the kids after school and coaching, which is something I enjoy doing."

This season is different for Williams. He has returned to the bench after a five-year absence and is attempting to build the program, which has long existed in the shadow of East Baltimore's big two -- Dunbar and Lake Clifton.

After an 89-88 overtime victory over Patterson on Friday -- a game in which the Mustangs rallied from a six-point deficit in the final 30 seconds of regulation to send the game into overtime -- Mervo is 9-4 and has an outside shot of qualifying for the state playoffs in March.

"We have a good nucleus of kids on the varsity and junior-varsity level to build a foundation on," said Williams. "It's just going to take time."

The losses are still tough to take. After an 87-43 loss to Dunbar at Morgan, Williams stood outside the Mervo locker room, talking of how pleased he was with the team's performance, though outmanned by the Poets, but there was a hint of disappointment in his voice.

From 1971 to 1986, Williams coached Lake Clifton to a record of 278-93, helping to establish it as one of the area's best. He left Lake Clifton to work as an administrative assistant to longtime friend and former Dunbar High basketball coach Bob Wade at the University of Maryland.

In May 1989, Williams resigned along with Wade under the cloud of NCAA sanctions. Williams says he enjoyed the experience at Maryland because of the opportunity to work closely with his best friend since college.

"He's my very best friend, brother and confidant," he said of Wade, who is the director of the Baltimore Bureau of Recreation and Parks. "We weren't at odds when we competed against other, but the most pleasurable part that I got out of it was we were able to work intimately together."

Their relationship took a back seat when they faced each other on the court. The Lake Clifton-Dunbar game wasn't only for the bragging rights on the east side of Baltimore, but in most cases, also the area's No. 1 ranking.

After leaving Maryland, Williams returned to the school system at Fairmont Harford Institute for one year as a teacher, then went to Mervo as athletic director. Even though the duties of an athletic director are time-consuming, not coaching bothered Williams.

He was bothered by memories of his final game as Lake Clifton's coach against St. Maria Goretti of Hagerstown in the Metro Classic at the Baltimore Arena in March 1987. Trailing by as many as 12 points in the second half, the Lakers rallied to take a one-point lead with seconds remaining.

Then Rodney Monroe hit a 60-foot shot to win the game, 73-72, and ruin Lake Clifton's hopes of an undefeated season. Williams hasn't forgotten that shot.

"Every time I see a long shot made in a game on television, it flashes back in my mind," he said.

Williams says he couldn't finish working in the school system without coaching.

Once a coach, always a coach.

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