Sparrows Point, 'a special place' Reunion: Nine of the 10 members of the Sparrows Point High School 1961 basketball team, the first from Baltimore County to win a Class A state championship, came back for a party earlier this month.

The Education Beat

March 20, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Robert Good came from Paris for the reunion, Ron Swoboda from New Orleans, Bob Bandy from North East, Md., and Tony Gray from the Appalachian hills of North Carolina.

Nine of the 10 members of the Sparrows Point High School 1961 basketball team, the first from Baltimore County to win a Class A state championship, showed up for the party earlier this month at a Dundalk restaurant. The one missing was Michael Patryn, a lawyer in Marina del Rey, Calif., who had a serious family illness.

Keith Moore, a self-employed publicist in Silver Spring who played on the team, thought 90 percent was a good turnout. They'd started late on the arrangements, he said, but something had drawn these nine men, all now in their early 50s, as moths to a flame.

Part of it, said Mr. Moore, was the lifetime bonding of sports, particularly of basketball, an intimate game played with small teams. And part of it was the attraction of Sparrows Point High, Baltimore County's smallest with a current enrollment of about 600.

Time refuses to stand still in education, but it's at a slow walk at Sparrows Point, where the 40-year-old high school is still referred to as the "new" school to distinguish it from the original structure (long since razed) in the shadow of the Bethlehem plant from which it got its name.

Sparrows Point also is a place where the river that sustains Baltimore is pronounced "Pa-taps-i-co." And where, 35 years out of high school, these men still felt a little out of place celebrating on Holabird Avenue in Dundalk, enemy territory to any self-respecting Pointer.

A photo of the 10 team members and Coach Bill Ormiston was on the first page of a booklet prepared for the reunion. Tony Gray, the tallest kid in the Class of '61, looked a little ungainly sitting cross-legged in the front row.

Behind him was Ron Swoboda, who went on to fame in baseball with the New York Mets. It was his catch in center field that doomed the Orioles in the Mets' miraculous 1969 World Series. "That championship at Sparrows Point was the first big thing I ever won," said Mr. Swoboda. "I didn't score a lot of points. I wasn't much of a basketball player, frankly. But this was a special place, and this was a special team."

Robert Good, voted "most likely to succeed" in the Class of '61, did just that. In a sense, Mr. Good, an IBM electrical engineer, represented the transition of Sparrows Point High from a prep school for blue-collar jobs at the Point to a place preparing students for a much wider world beyond the Bethlehem mill.

"As I recall," Mr. Good said Monday from Paris, "there were only seven of us out of a class of 165 who went on to university immediately. I didn't have a lot of confidence at College Park when I came up against guys from Poly and City, but I soon learned Sparrows Point had prepared me well."

Mr. Moore, a minister's son, agreed. "I learned that if you could survive Sparrows Point day in and day out, as I did, you could survive anything."

Margaret Spicer, the Sparrows Point principal who is in her third stint at the school, said, "The days are long gone when you left this school for a job at the mill. But I think graduates are better prepared in 1996 than they ever were."

Sports and academics are melded at Sparrows Point. Off the library are two rooms devoted to sports and academic memorabilia. You name it, and Debbie Long, who tends the Heritage Center with loving care, probably has it: the chair of founding principal Joseph Blair, dozens of trophies, pictures, yearbooks, banners, bricks from the "old" school, class rings, a letter to the Class of 1983 from Ronald Reagan, a gallery of the 14 male principals preceding Ms. Spicer (including Baltimore County school Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, 1967-1970), laminated student newspapers going back to the beginning.

"The alumni association is the most active in the state," said Keith Harmeyer, a former Sparrows Point principal now at Loch Raven Senior High. "They gave me $10,000 a year for scholarships."

The alumni group, founded at the school's 75th anniversary in 1983, has raised $140,000 for scholarships, books, computers, auditorium curtains and the like a record that schools three times larger could not match, said Mr. Harmeyer. The nine Sparrows Point basketball champions who convened in Dundalk this month are a tiny slice of the 4,000 on a list maintained by Kathlyn Oleniacz, alumni corresponding secretary. All said the school had been more than a vehicle for exercising athletic talent.

"I wasn't a great student, and I didn't go all the way through college," said Mr. Swoboda, who does free-lance television reports and writes a column for a New Orleans magazine. "But Sparrows Point gave me some intellectual interest. I've become interested in impressionist and post-impressionist artists.

"I've got a lot of respect for the learning I got at Sparrows Point, without which I couldn't have done it."

Looking for applicants

The Ingenuity Project, an effort to give city sixth-graders a head start in math and science, needs a few good graduating fifth-graders for this fall's class. Students in the program, sponsored by various city science organizations and the Abell Foundation, puts students through an intensive math and science curriculum, supplemented by Saturday workshops and summer programs. The application deadline is April 1.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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