Man brought 2,000 youths to sports Heritage of Honor -- A celebration of Black History Month

February 10, 1993|By Donna Weaver | Donna Weaver,Contributing Writer

In the 1960s, most young black athletes in Annapolis had never picked up a lacrosse stick. Football, basketball, baseball and track were their preferred sports.

But Frank Brown Sr. began a crusade to lure more blacks to lacrosse. First he asked the Naval Academy for old lacrosse sticks. Then he gathered neighborhood youths on a local field and began teaching them the game.

"We used an old coal bin as a goal," recalled Mr. Brown, 62. "They were so good that they could hit from 20 to 30 yards out. When they made it onto lacrosse teams, they had it made. Those big nets were child's play to them."

Cecil Burton, Mr. Brown's football coach at Bates High School, remembered those days.

"There were some black kids who played lacrosse then, but not many," he said. "Frank was the first man who started pushing kids into it. And I was glad to see it."

Mr. Brown's concern for Annapolis' young people doesn't surprise any city resident involved in youth sports. The Annapolis native has been coaching young athletes in football, basketball and lacrosse since the 1950s.

But the man friends call "Whattie" -- a nickname he acquired as a child after continuously mispronouncing his dog Lucky's name as Whattie -- doesn't want any thanks. He eschews publicity.

Maybe that's why he asked Deneice Fisher to accept his Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award, which he received last month from the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for exemplary community service.

"He said, 'I can't go because I'm going to be sick,' " said Ms. Fisher, who works with him in the Crusaders youth football program. The two sat recently in Mr. Brown's Spa Road living room; he had asked her to come because he didn't want to face a reporter alone.

"I don't know why I received the award. There are a lot of other coaches who are deserving," said Mr. Brown, wiping tears from JTC his eyes. "And Ms. Fisher does a lot for the Crusaders. She does some fund raising and the cooking."

But Mr. Brown's many friends beg to disagree.

"He's a role model for athletics, forging new ground for the rest of us," said Leslie Stanton, commissioner and co-founder of the Annapolis Youth Athletic Association. "And he did it back in a time when it was hard for African-Americans to get into an integrated system. You won't find too many people who dislike Mr. Brown."

Added longtime friend Elizamae Robinson: "He's given kids a sense of value, of self-worth. He's been tremendously good to a lot of children."

If kids couldn't afford registration fees or equipment, he'd pay for them. If they needed transportation, he'd provide it.

But Mr. Brown, a quiet, self-effacing man who always is smiling, doesn't like to talk about all of his good deeds. But he will proudly show visitors photos of members of all of the teams he has coached over the years. Many won championships, such as the 1971 YMCA basketball team and the 1971, 85-pound Huskies football team.

He also has photos of his sons Frank Jr. and Daryl, and his grandsons Demario and Adrian. His sons coach a junior varsity football team in California. His grandson Demario is the team's star running back.

There are plaques and citations from former Gov. Marvin Mandel, former Annapolis Mayor John C. Apostol and former County Executive O. James Lighthizer.

A star football player at Bates High School and for a predominantly black semipro team, the Red Devils, Mr. Brown began coaching when his sons got involved in organized sports. But he didn't retire when his sons became too old.

"I just get so much joy and happiness seeing kids develop," said Mr. Brown, semiretired from his job with the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

His wife, Viola, has stood by him, too, going to games and enduring his frequent sports dreams.

"There were many times when he would nudge me and tell me to go into the game," she said, laughing.

Mr. Brown demands discipline and self-respect from his teams. The only question he asks before every game is, "Are we ready, boys?"

Ms. Fisher estimated that Mr. Brown has helped more than 2,000 youths since he began his coaching career. That includes her son Monte Graves. At 5 feet 11, 13-year-old Monte was too big for youth football, so Mr. Brown talked him into playing lacrosse. Mr. Brown even gave Monte his son's old stick.

"My son couldn't play football because teams are run by weight," Ms. Fisher said. "So Whattie told him that lacrosse 'doesn't weigh you.' He gave him the opportunity to play."

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