Gilman suspends its ties to Lancers Boys Club

Student's remarks concerning group's founder lead to action

February 13, 2000|By Michael James and Caitlin Francke | Michael James and Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A troubling speech by one of its students has prompted North Baltimore's Gilman School to re-examine its long-standing relationship with the celebrated Lancers Boys Club and its founder, Baltimore Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman.

Gilman officials have temporarily barred the Lancers, a Baltimore civic club that Hammerman has headed for more than 50 years, from using the school's facilities pending resolution of what they call "community concerns."

Those concerns stem from a speech delivered Monday by a 17-year-old senior who stunned a crowd of 450 people by relating what he called "a dark, deep secret." He said Hammerman, whom he had praised in his speech, gave him inappropriate glances four years ago while they were showering after a round of tennis at the Johns Hopkins University.

Hammerman denied any improprieties.

The speech was part of the tradition of "senior speeches" given by Gilman students before they graduate.

"For years, I have been haunted by these events," the student said, according to a transcript of the speech. "He did not touch me. [But] it made me feel extremely humiliated."

The student, who is not being identified because he is a minor, said that despite the incident, he believed Hammerman was a virtuous man -- albeit with "a weakness" -- who is "so completely humane, living almost completely for others." He concluded by successfully urging the crowd to give Hammerman a standing ovation.

Hammerman was in the audience for the boy's speech. He said he felt "betrayed" by the boy publicly misconstruing an innocuous event four years ago. "I was never so shocked in my life," he said of the moment he heard the boy's speech.

He said he never knew until he heard the speech that the boy had been uncomfortable. "I did not detect then or any other time any uneasiness on his part," Hammerman said of the tennis outing. "But obviously there was. Some boys are uneasy in that setting."

School officials say they have interviewed numerous Lancers at Gilman and have found no evidence that Hammerman ever committed illegal behavior.

Hammerman, 71, was the longest-serving trial judge in Maryland history when state law required him to retire from the Baltimore Circuit Court bench in 1998. He had served 37 years on the bench. He still serves as a part-time judge and hears cases in Baltimore.

The Lancers club is a high-profile civic organization for Baltimore-area boys in grades nine through 12. A multitude of influential people are former members, including former Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Since he established the club in 1946, Hammerman has used the club to steer more than 3,000 boys from Maryland into community projects, including tutoring, cleanup drives and walks for the homeless.

Over the years, many dignitaries have spoken at the club's regular meetings, including Gen. Colin L. Powell, author Tom Clancy, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson and six U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The boy's speech touched off a wave of rumors and confusion among the Lancers and at Gilman.

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia M. Jessamy received a copy of the speech from a school representative. Jessamy's deputy refused to comment. But Hammerman said he was "totally shocked" that a copy of the speech had been forwarded to the state's attorney.

"There is absolutely no justification," Hammerman said. "The child is not alleging molestation. The child is not alleging sexual child abuse. He is not alleging that one iota."

In another letter, Gilman officials wrote to Hammerman that "a hiatus" would be necessary on Lancers activities until questions could be answered, and they also sent a letter to hundreds of Gilman parents.

"One of our students made statements relating to an experience growing out of his membership in the Lancers Boys Club," the letter to the parents said. "Those statements have created significant concern in our community. We are still trying to get a sense of the facts relating to this matter."

The letter encouraged parents of students "wishing to discuss the statement or their own views and concerns" to call Gilman administrators.

Hammerman said that as the Lancers' adviser, he commonly invites boys that he believes have potential for leadership to lunch and to tennis or squash games.

Recalling the outing with the Gilman boy, Hammerman said the two played tennis and then took a shower in the coaches' locker room at Hopkins. In the shower room, the two talked, he said. Because the boy was young and shorter, Hammerman said he had to look down at him to speak. He said he never inappropriately stared at the boy's body.

"There is no question that I looked at him" in the course of conversation, Hammerman said. "We were talking. Yes, I was looking at him and, yes, I would be looking down some in talking to him," Hammerman said.

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