A mixed message

August 26, 1994

After 13 months of investigation, city officials have sent a very mixed message to "Pete" Pompey, his vast number of admirers and, most of all, the athletes who look to him for leadership.

In a report that was leaked to the media, rather than formally released, State's Attorney Stuart Simms declared that Mr. Pompey had improperly diverted $51,000 of student activity funds to a secret, unauthorized bank account while he was director of athletics at Dunbar High School. A considerable chunk of that money was used for what appears to have been personal expenses, as well as other questionable uses. Serious stuff, but Mr. Simms chose not to prosecute for lack of sufficient evidence.

Armed with this report, the Baltimore City school system decided simply to transfer Mr. Pompey to another school without further disciplining. Whatever conclusion Mr. Simms reached about the legalities of the situation, his report painted a devastating picture of Mr. Pompey's administrative methods in dealing with thousands of dollars raised by operating a concession stand at Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards. The school system's rules about safeguarding and spending funds such as these were quite clear. Mr. Pompey violated several of the most basic ones.

Against this background, something more than an administrative transfer might have been expected. True, Mr. Pompey will not return to coaching his beloved Poets, one of the nation's outstanding basketball teams. Edmondson High School, where he coached before moving to Dunbar, has a much lower profile, even locally. But Mr. Pompey will still be responsible for administering a scholastic athletic program and guiding young athletes.

Mr. Simms is well within his authority in deciding there isn't enough of a case to proceed further, although investigations with flimsier evidence often go to grand juries for a decision on whether to prosecute. And it is no surprise that Baltimore school authorities would have little stomach for serious punishment of a nationally renowned coach with a following of players and fans who venerate him. Still, an athletic director and coach is a father figure to youths who need worthy role models. Which Pete Pompey are Baltimore's athletes supposed to emulate?

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