While Pompey waits, Dunbar's kids wonder

KEN ROSENTHAL

November 04, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The kids, they're supposed to be everyone's first concern. But as the investigation of Pete Pompey continues, it's the kids -- the Dunbar High School football and basketball players -- who keep getting hurt.

Almost three months have passed since Pompey was placed on administrative leave with pay by the city school system pending the state's attorney's investigation into allegations of misuse of athletic department funds.

Almost three months, and the football players remain confused about their loyalties to Pompey and interim coach Stanley Mitchell. Almost three months, and the basketball players lack guidance, as pressure mounts from "street agents" who intend to profit from their college choices.

Can't somebody do something?

It's the question no one can answer.

"If the state's attorney's investigation is going to drag out, the school system should make a decision right now to ask Coach Pompey to either take a transfer or come into North Avenue," said Councilman Carl Stokes, referring to a possible hearing at city school headquarters.

"The kids are really suffering a lot. There's a whole cloud over it. I know it's difficult -- no one wants to pass any judgment, he's innocent until proven guilty. But something needs to be done right now, before we get into the basketball season."

The problem is, it's not that simple. Walter Amprey, the city superintendent of schools, says no action can be taken until the state'sattorney's investigation is complete. And Stuart Simms, the city state's attorney, won't be rushed even though basketball practice begins Nov. 15.

Amprey said an interim basketball coach probably will be named shortly. Dunbar principal Charlotte Brown said she is considering five applicants. She also must decide on the future of Pompey's assistant basketball coach, Bucky Lee.

"In any situation where one examines funding, the acquisition of funds or the disbursement of funds, it's certainly going to take a period of time to fully examine," Simms said.

"We don't have seasons here. Crime is a full-time occupation. Atthis juncture, it's important as a matter of fairness to be thorough and examine the situation carefully to determine whether there is something irregular, something illegal or something benign. You can't do that based on seasons or a clock."

It's a classic bureaucratic nightmare, resulting in a paralysis that has left Amprey frustrated, but powerless. Pompey, unable to coach or perform his duties as athletic director, is biding time as an assistant in the southern area office of the Baltimore school system.

"It's been devastating to me," Pompey said. "The thing I question is that in America, I thought you were innocent until proven guilty. The whole affair that has happened over the past three months has happened without a shred of evidence being presented against me."

Amprey, however, said the seriousness of the allegations against Pompey forced the school system to direct the investigation to the state's attorney's office. That, Amprey said, is city government policy.

The allegations against Pompey are believed to be related to Dunbar's operation of a concession stand at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Amprey said the school system began investigating Pompey after receiving complaints from alumni, parents and politicians.

"It's not something where I can say, 'He can coach basketball,' " Amprey said. "The nature of what's implied means he has to be on administrative leave. I don't have much liberty to talk about it, but what it looks like is a major problem."

Yet, as the delay continues, the damage for the most heavily recruited basketball players might already be done. Stokes, Pompey and Brown expressed concern over the rising influence of street agents at Dunbar, as did the Poets' two-time All-Metro center, Norman Nolan.

Street agents "deliver" top players to high schools or colleges for price, then give the players a percentage in return. The practice is forbidden by the NCAA, but it is not uncommon, especially in the impoverished inner cities.

Nolan, perhaps the top player in the city, said the only people involved in his college decision are his parents and Pompey. But, he added, "there are some cases on the team where there are possibilities there. It's like an open door now."

Pompey said: "The street-corner agents are just lurking in the shadows. This was the talk of the street in early August, right after it [his administrative leave] happened -- 'There's nobody there to protect them. We're going after them. We'll see what we can get out of it.' "

To Nolan, the street agents aren't the only fallout from Pompey's absence. Nolan said that under Pompey's guidance, he never would have accepted gifts at Nike's Fab 40 basketball camp in September, in violation of national state high school association rules regarding eligibility.

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