For 50 years, guiding the Lancers Boys Club has been one man's job JUDGING VIRTURES

June 07, 1995|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Sun Staff Writer

A Today section article on June 7 about the Lancers Boys Club included incorrect information about the educational background of A. B. Krongard, a former club member and chief executive officer of Alex. Brown & Sons. Mr. Krongard is a graduate of Princeton University.

The Sun regrets the error.

Black-gowned and magisterial beneath a gilt eagle, Baltimore Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman sits in his vast solemn courtroom and listens to a case that tests the depths of the corruption of innocence and the violation of the trust of children.

He rocks slightly on the bench, his arms folded, as witnesses detail the 120 counts of physical and sexual abuse against children charged to a Catholic schoolteacher named John J. Merzbacher. It is as sordid a case as any that has come before Judge Hammerman in his 28 years on the Circuit Court bench.


But every other Friday, after shedding his judicial robes, he has a little dinner, then drives over to Cross Country Elementary School. There he presides over a scene much different from his tawdry daytime reality.

Dozens of young men with ambition and idealism are ranged before Judge Hammerman in an auditorium smaller than his courtroom. He exhorts them to sit up straight in their chairs as he urges them to prize trust and honor, decency and virtue, personal responsibility and public obligation -- the very qualities often trashed in the cases in his court.

The young men are members of the Lancers Boys Club, and Judge Hammerman is in his fifth decade as their guide, mentor and inspiration. More than 3,000 boys have passed through the club, which has become a Baltimore fixture. Many have found success in business, politics and the law.

Judge Hammerman never allows the baleful sadness of the day to discolor the Friday night meetings of the Lancers. He refuses to allow his courtroom to make him cynical.

"If a judge gives up hope for people, he should get out of court," he says. "Even though you see a lot of badness, there is a lot of reason for hope."

His Lancers Boys Club was born at the end of Huck Finn innocence in Norman Rockwell America, that last, lost time at the end of World War II when hope gripped everyone and boys really wanted to be the Lone Ranger, Joe DiMaggio hit .290 and Jack Armstrong the All-American Boy was an ideal and not a joke.

Boys used dope to make model airplanes. They listened to serials about the Lone Ranger and Jack Armstrong on American-made radios and good triumphed over evil by 8:30 every night. They played pickup ball on the corner sandlot. And they got together in backyard clubs with their buddies.

In Ashburton in 1946, a trio of boys named Buzzy Krongard and Jerry Sachs and Kenny Parker decided to start their own club. They went next door to an older kid for advice. His name was Bobby Hammerman and he decided it was a great idea.

Now as the Lancers begins its 50th year, Judge Hammerman thinks the club is as good an idea as ever and maybe better. He still believes in the ideals he brought to the club in 1946.

"I think the advice then wasn't too much different from the advice now," he says. "I tried to give them advice on values and attitudes. Discipline was very important. The importance of motivation, ambition, the importance of breadth to their lives and not simply sports and social activities, knowing the world about them."

He reads The Sun, the Washington Post and the New York Times every morning, assiduously cutting out articles he thinks Lancers, alumni, friends, colleagues or anybody else will be interested in. He sends them forth with a zeal the U.S. Postal Service no doubt would hail as a model for us all.

He types axioms, aphorisms, epigrams, proverbs, moral precepts, pithy sayings and paragraphs of philosophy on to 3-by-5 cards and deals them out to his Lancer boys present and past like a card catalog of inherited wisdom.

A favorite is an anonymous proverb: "I shall pass through this world but once, any good thing I can do, any act of kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now, let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again."

Enduring values

Those ideals and values remain strong and attractive to enough teen-age boys today to keep the Lancers alive and well and thriving. In fact, lots of young men don't find them old-fashioned at all.

"There are so many good things about the club," marvels Clayton Apgar, a sandy-haired 16-year-old who will be president of the Lancers during its 50th year.

"The most obvious thing is all the speakers who come in from all over," he says, ticking off the club's attractions. Lancers regularly find themselves talking face to face with, say, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Supreme Court justices William J. Brennan, Sandra Day O'Connor and Harry A. Blackmun; Oliver North, Jerry Falwell, Julius Erving and Michael Dukakis.

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