Living the noble aspects of sports

March 31, 1996|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Remember Jean Fugett? Played football for Cardinal Gibbons High School, went to Amherst College for his brains, then played pro ball with the Dallas Cowboys?

You don't hear so much about him any more, because his glamorous playing days are over and he's just a quiet attorney and businessman who's made millions of dollars around the various nations of the world while jetting off to Paris every month for fun and profit.

Among other things in his life, Fugett holds onto his memories. The other night, he went to the 33rd annual Scholar Athlete Awards Dinner, which routinely performs the miracle of reminding us why we still treasure sports in this era of monstrous pro salaries, vanishing loyalty to communities and egos the size of the Hindenberg.

"These coaches," Fugett told the crowd of about 1,200 people at Martin's West. "They don't do it for the money."

Not at high school prices, they don't. But, as he glanced at the scholar-athletes seated behind him, Fugett knew why the games go on and the coaches hold on. These kids in the room, they were gems.

There was Michael McKnight, of Arundel High, national winner of a Black History Makers of Tomorrow essay contest, who's on his way to Harvard. This kid scored 1600 on his PSATs. He ranks first in his class academically. Also, almost parenthetically, he was first-team All-Anne Arundel County defensive back.

There was Terry Otto, from Patterson High, who spends time helping elementary school children learn to read. He's on the Knowledge-Master Academic team. He's on the yearbook staff. He's in the top 10 percent of his class scholastically. Also, for good measure, he was second team All Metro as a two-way lineman.

There was Brian Howard, who's won Oakland Mills High's scholar-athlete award and its Minds in Motion honor each semester for the past three years while making two All-Metro teams; and Kris Hallengren of Patapsco High, an Honorable Mention Distinguished Scholar who made several all star teams as a lineman; and Kyong Pak, of North Carroll High, a Maryland Distinguished Scholar semifinalist with a perfect 4.0 average who was second team All-Carroll County as an offensive guard; and Peter Nothstein, of Towson High, a Commended Scholar in the National Merit Scholarship Program who was second team All-Baltimore County center.

And, like that, on and on, 87 of these kids for whom playing ball is a joy but only a piece of a well-rounded life. Applause, applause. The major league baseball season opens tomorrow, and we still have no absolute assurance they'll finish it instead of walking out again. The new pro football team in town finally gave itself a name last week, as we all try to put aside the tawdry business of how, exactly, they happened to arrive here from bereft Cleveland.

These high school kids help remind us of the nobler aspect of sports: playing for the love of it, developing teamwork and camaraderie, testing the limits of the human body.

"I was in the first four-year class to graduate from Cardinal Gibbons," Jean Fugett remembered. "I graduated Amherst at 20, and then I was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys. I knew I'd have to block in the pros. At Amherst," he laughed, "I'd blocked a total of four guys, three of them by mistake."

"That's four more blocks than you made at Cardinal Gibbons," Bob Patzwall, former assistant coach at City College, chirped from a few feet away.

Fugett, worried about surviving in Dallas, decided to contact George Young, the old City College head coach who moved up to pro ball -- the Colts, the Miami Dolphins, now the New York Giants -- and was known as a guiding hand to kids from a variety of Baltimore high schools.

"What do I do when they tell me to block?" Fugett asked Young.

"Even if you can't do it, act like you want to," Young told him.

"How do I do that?"

"Make a lot of noise," Young said.

"So I did," Fugett told the Scholar Athlete crowd. "And I got hit in the face. So I tried blocking with just my shoulder, and a coach hollered at me, 'Put your face back in there, Fugett, you're not going to Hollywood.'"

Maybe not, but he's gone elsewhere. Fugett was chairman of the board and chief executive officer of TLC Beatrice International, the nation's largest black-owned business. He's now senior partner of the Baltimore law firm of Fugett and Associates, and he's chairman and CEO of IVR, a research and development corporation.

He's a glad reminder of the best given to us by sports: not only the kids who can hit a dime with a spiral at 40 yards, but those who use the games as a launching pad, whose lives transcend the blocking and tackling on the field.

When Oakland Mills' Brian Howard accepted the Western Region Scholar Athlete Award at Martin's West, he told the crowd he'd love to give a long speech but "I have homework to do."

Homework, how about that? A sense of what's important. These kids bring honor to the whole community. And, in a time of cynicism about sports, they remind us what the games are really about.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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