Wade to help honor Reggie Lewis in Maryland Hall of Fame Monday

February 17, 1994|By Bill Tanton

In its 39-year history, the State of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame has never has an induction like the one that will take place Monday at Martin's West.

Let's pray there'll never be another.

The script doesn't call for athletes to be inducted when they've barely come into their best years.

Each year our Hall of Fame, which is for native Marylanders, admits three living athletes and one deceased. The deceased honoree is not supposed to be like Reggie Lewis, who died at the age of 29 of a heart attack in Boston last July 27.

Lewis, who will be enshrined along with football's Tom Gatewood, jockey Phil Grove and golfer Ralph Bogart, had just come into his own with the NBA Celtics.

In Boston, people were beginning to speak of Lewis as the new Larry Bird. That probably was a bit of hyperbole. The Celtics may never replace Bird.

Still, Reggie had become the man for the Celtics.

Few knew Reggie as well as his former coach at Dunbar High, Bob Wade, who will be Reggie's presenter at the Hall of Fame luncheon.

No one knew Lewis like Muggsy Bogues, his one-time Dunbar teammate, now a star with the Charlotte Hornets.

"We all flew up to Boston together for Reggie's funeral," Wade recalled yesterday. "All the old Dunbar crowd -- Muggsy, Reggie Williams [now with the Denver Nuggets], Sam Cassell [Houston Rockets], David Wingate [Charlotte Hornets]. We hung out together. It was very difficult.

"Muggsy was so upset that his wife had to console him practically the whole time. Muggsy and Reggie stayed close over the years. They'd telephone each other after their pro games. They'd tease each other."

More than most athletes who go on to fame and fortune, Reggie Lewis tended to reach back to the people he had left behind.

Among those was Bob Wade.

"When I had my crisis at the University of Maryland," Wade said, "Reggie called me a couple times. I appreciated that."

Wade left Dunbar in October of 1986 and went to College Park to succeed Lefty Driesell as basketball coach, only to be forced to resign after three seasons.

That was a sad time. I knew Wade even before he became coach at Dunbar. I remember him at training camp in Westminster as a Baltimore Colts defensive back (he later played for the Steelers and Redskins).

Years later, when Wade's Dunbar basketball team (he also was the football coach) was winning national championships, I went to the school to write a column.

I can still picture Wade, an imposing ex-pro football player, standing in the hall outside the gym as the students quietly changed classes. To this day I have not seen better discipline at a high school. I attribute that largely to Wade's presence.

Maybe Wade should never have left Dunbar, but that's history. What's significant is that when Wade needed a friend, there was Reggie Lewis, now the late Reggie Lewis.

That's all the more interesting because Lewis sat on Wade's bench at Dunbar. Reggie was the sixth man on a team that sent six players to the pros.

"Reggie far surpassed any expectations I had for him," Wade admits. "He never once came to me and said he thought he should start. He was a pleasure to coach.

"Reggie made an excellent college choice in Northeastern. It was going to be that or Georgia Tech. Reggie liked the co-op program [a combination of work and study] at Northeastern. And he liked the coach, Jim Calhoun [now coach at Connecticut]. I called Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech and told him Reggie wouldn't be coming.

"At Northeastern Reggie had a chance to work on his game. He didn't have the pressure to be an immediate impact player the way he would have at an ACC school."

Calhoun liked Lewis from the beginning, but the coach had an uneasy night when Dunbar played in a tournament in Johnstown, Pa.

"In the final game every one of our starters except Muggsy fouled out," Wade recalls. "Reggie played almost all the way and was voted the tournament MVP.

"There were a lot of college coaches there. Calhoun was afraid they'd want to take Reggie away from him."

Lewis became Northeastern's all-time leading scorer with 2,708 points, led the team to four straight NCAA tournaments and was drafted No. 1 by the Celtics in 1987.

Through his abbreviated pro career Reggie kept reaching out to his old Baltimore community. He gave out turkeys at Thanksgiving, toys at Christmas. He bought his mother a nice house in Northeast Baltimore.

He went back to his home base at the Cecil Kirk Recreation Center on East 22nd Street and played ball with the kids.

Bob Wade is now the supervisor of the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks.

His department, with Sonny Hill in Philadelphia, hometown of the late Hank Gathers, is exploring a tournament this summer to educate athletes and parents to the risks of heart disease among inner-city kids.

Also this summer Muggsy, Reggie Williams and David Wingate plan to put on a tournament here with proceeds going to the Department of Recreation and Parks.

"They're carrying the torch for Reggie Lewis," Wade said.

The public is invited to attend Monday's noon luncheon. Tickets at $30 may be obtained through the athletic department at Johns Hopkins University or by calling 516-7490.

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