Classic loses its charm for Dunbar, Lake Tourney head blames Wade, rival event for the 2 not participating

Ex-coach: Racial tie 'absurd'

Poets, Lakers coaches deny being pressured Ken Rosenthal

February 01, 1997|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN COLUMNIST Sun staff writer Kent Baker contributed to this article.

It's called the Charm City Classic, and the idea is for top high school boys basketball teams from Baltimore to face nationally ranked opponents in a local setting.

There's just one problem this year.

Dunbar and Lake Clifton, the two premier programs from the city's public schools, declined to participate, tournament director Bill Spotts said.

Why?

Spotts points the finger at Bob Wade, the interim director of interscholastic sports for Baltimore City schools.

Wade helped launch a rival tournament -- the Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke Basketball Academy -- that took place at Coppin State on Jan. 9-11.

The former Dunbar and Maryland coach denies asking city schools to skip the Charm City, but it's difficult for teams to play in both tournaments because the state limits the number of games high school teams can play.

The apparent result is a power struggle between two men trying to stage the most high-profile event in a city rich in high school basketball tradition.

And the biggest losers are kids.

"It's very disappointing to me that we aren't playing," Lake Clifton guard Kevin Braswell said.

The tournament resumes tonight at the Towson Center, with the area's No. 3 team, Catholic League power St. Frances, facing Mount Zion of Durham, N.C., ranked No. 2 in the nation.

"It's always a great tournament," St. Frances coach William Wells said. "You get a lot of recognition off it."

Yet, Southern was the only city school to participate this year, losing to Towson Catholic, 44-39, Thursday in a preliminary game. It was the first time in the tournament's six-year history that neither Dunbar nor Lake Clifton played in one of the featured games.

And Southern's inclusion didn't even become official until Wednesday, when city and tournament officials, after two weeks of bickering, agreed on a contract.

In previous years, the tournament paid $1,000 to the city's director of finance in exchange for public-school participation. This year, with only Southern playing, the city will receive $350.

Spotts said the three Catholic League entries -- St. Frances, Calvert Hall and Towson Catholic -- receive no appearance fees. For out-of-town schools, the tournament pays transportation, hotel costs and meal money.

The dispute, however, isn't simply about money.

Spotts said Wade and others resent the success of the Charm City because they view him as a white businessman exploiting young blacks.

"I feel there's a real push in the city to try to have a big tournament down there, and they really want to go head-to-head with us," Spotts said of the new Mayor's tournament. "Also, there's some sense of this Caucasian in the suburbs using minority kids to have a tournament," said Spotts, an insurance broker in Towson. "There's probably a little bit of that."

Wade, who is black, labeled that charge "absurd."

"I think Bill is way out of line using that as a reason or as a crutch," he said.

Wade cited scheduling conflicts as the biggest reason for Dunbar and Lake Clifton skipping Charm City -- state rules permit teams to play a maximum of 22 games.

Lake Clifton's Braswell wasn't so sure.

"I don't think Coach [Charlie Moore] and Mr. Spotts get along too well," Braswell said. "This year, Coach didn't want us to go."

Two years ago, Lake Clifton produced one of the tournament's most exciting moments when it defeated Lincoln (N.Y.) -- a team that featured Stephon Marbury, now with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Moore declined to explain Lake Clifton's absence this year.

"It's a long story," he said. "Bill Spotts, he's a good guy, no question about that. I don't really want to get into it. It's best to keep it like it is.

"I don't want to burn any bridges. You never know, down the road, we might play in it again."

Dunbar coach Lynn Badham also did not rule out the possibility of playing in a future Charm City. He said he committed to the Mayor's tournament shortly after his hiring Aug. 29, but his schedule was full when Spotts extended a Charm City invitation in late September.

The Poets, too, are a big part of Charm City lore -- they defeated St. Anthony's and Roderick Rhodes in 1992, the season they went 29-0 and won the mythical national title.

Badham said he tried to reschedule games to clear dates for the tournament, but it proved impossible because of a state rule that permits a team to play three games in a week only once.

"I have not talked to Wade about Charm City at all," Badham said. "The only time I talked to Wade is when we talked about the Mayor's Academy. That was it. We have not talked about basketball at all, especially not about tournaments."

Southern coach Meredith Smith also said he had no contact with Wade.

"Nobody called me, put any pressure on me not to play," he said. "I don't want to anticipate in the future if that kind of feeling exists between the two parties. But I have no personal reason not to participate. The tournament has always been good to us."

Spotts' view?

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