Fallen Idol

August 24, 1994

Icon: an object of uncritical devotion

-- Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

That's as good a description of the role "Pete" Pompey played in Baltimore sports as the triumphant coach of Dunbar High School's championship basketball teams. So when such an idol proves to have clay feet, the community is shocked. And his superiors are especially hard-pressed to deal with him properly.

The decisions not to prosecute Carmie Pompey Jr., and then to transfer him to another school from Dunbar, leave unresolved questions. Mr. Pompey was suspended as Dunbar's athletic director and coach over a year ago to permit a probe of a special athletic fund. State's Attorney Stuart Simms found evidence that thousands of dollars intended to support Dunbar sports were diverted into a private bank account controlled by Mr. Pompey in violation of school regulations. Some of that money appears to have been used to pay personal bills. Still, Mr. Simms said there isn't sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges.

Mr. Simms describes as "deficiencies and irregularities" the diversion of $51,000 earned by the Dunbar athletic club from concession stands at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards into a secret bank account, from which more than $14,000 was spent in "questionable and undocumented" ways -- much of it on Mr. Pompey's personal expenses. Normally evidence of this kind would be presented to a grand jury but it is within Mr. Simms' province to come to a judgment himself.

The response of the school system is equally ambiguous. Mr. Pompey is neither exonerated nor disciplined. He is deprived of coaching his nationally renowned Poets and returned to Edmondson High, where he coached for 15 years, as athletic director. There he will have a much lower profile, locally as well as nationally. But he still will be directing a major scholastic athletic program. Is it sufficient to tighten procedures and give all principals and coaches more training in handling activity funds, as Mr. Simms recommended, or Mr. Pompey more support staff, as his lawyer suggested?

The outcome of the Pompey case has all the earmarks of a highly emotional issue handled gingerly by city officials. His many followers will be satisfied. We can only hope that the needs of his future students will be satisfied as well.

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