Edgar Lee Bell Sr., a retired federal worker and former youth league basketball coach who was known as "the godfather of athletics in East Baltimore," died Friday of congestive heart failure at the Overlea Garden Nursing Center. He was 69.
Mr. Lee coached in recreation centers beginning about 1950 through the 1980s. Many of his teams, competing in four age brackets from 11 to 18 years old, won championships.
Many standout players were members of his teams and played for major college and professional teams, including Andrew Boston, Charlie Moore, Charlie Leach, Nathaniel McFadden, Skip Wise, Larry Gibson, Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues of the Charlotte Hornets, Reggie Williams of the Denver Nuggets, Donta Bright of the University of Massachusetts, Keith Booth of the University of Maryland and Sam Cassell of the Houston Rockets.
"In East Baltimore, Mr. Lee was it," William E. Wells, director of the Madison Recreation Center and boys' basketball coach at St. Francis Academy, said yesterday.
He credited Mr. Bell with keeping him from quitting coaching by telling him how important he was to youths and the community. "He was a great father image to all of us," Mr. Wells said.
Robert P. Wade, Baltimore City director of recreation, who coached football and basketball at Dunbar High School and basketball at the University of Maryland, played on basketball and sandlot baseball teams coached by Mr. Bell.
"To me, he was the godfather of athletics in East Baltimore," Mr. Wade said.
He not only taught athletic skills but taught "young people how to become men," Mr. Wade said. He added that when he coached at Dunbar, Mr. Bell was "an extra pair of eyes," an unofficial assistant coach who sat directly behind him.
Mr. Bell's coaching brought him many honors, including community service awards from the East End Forum, The Baltimore Sun, the National Association forthe Advancement of Colored People, and the Project Survival Basketball Director's Award. He was elected to the Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball Hall of Fame, and earned citations from the Bureau of Recreation, the mayor and the governor.
Born in Baltimore, he graduated from Dunbar High School in 1943, then served in the Army as an infantryman, seeing combat in the Battle of the Bulge and other European campaigns.
He began working at the Social Security Administration in 1946 and retired in 1989 as a computer technician.
He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Mount Lebanon Lodge of the Prince Hall Masons, and the Maryland Church of God in Christ.
Services were to be held at 7 p.m. today at the Masonic Temple, 1307 Eutaw Place.
He is survived by his wife, the former Betty Lee Garris; five daughters, Shirley Denise Bell-Gray, Marsha Lynette Bell-Jordan, Diane Bell-Paige, Deborah Ann Bell-Moore and Vonzella Kay Bell, all of Baltimore; five sons, Edgar Lee Bell Jr. of Suisun City, Calif., and Tyrone, Edward, Allen and Michael Emmanuel Bell, all of Baltimore; two brothers, Moses Bell of Baltimore and James Bell of North Carolina; 20 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.