On the track and lacrosse field, a reminder of Baltimore's future

City Diary

April 05, 2000|By Matthew Buck

TWO SATURDAYS ago was one of those early, warm spring days that brings gladness to the heart and soul. People were out working, walking, playing and hoping to make the day last and remain outside as long as possible. White blossoms seemed to sprout just about everywhere. Just the kind of day for a daydreamer and Baltimore native like me to experience an epiphany of sorts.

It was early in the morning when I drove my wife, an English teacher at the Boys' Latin School and assistant track and field coach at the Bryn Mawr School for Girls, to her team's track meet -- the Mount St. Joseph's Invitational.

As we arrived, a half-hour before the meet began, a humble crowd of committed parents carrying cameras and umbrellas, nervous coaches with watches and clipboards, and sleepy teen-age athletes with racing spikes slung over their shoulders assembled methodically for what always seems to be a very long day. The last event of the day, the boy's 4 x 400 meter relay, wasn't to begin until after 3 in the afternoon, and it was only 8: 30 a.m. Still, there was a freshness in the morning air of a new season just beginning and new goals to be sought. Before long, the race official's gun began to fire, hurdles crashed to the asphalt and crowds cheered.

It was a wonderfully familiar and pleasant scene. Young people, boys and girls, black and white, supported devotedly by older people and their peers, trying their hardest to push themselves to new levels of performance. There was no pretense or even high drama; it would have been a welcome diversion for any sports enthusiast experiencing disdain for the current status of professional and even collegiate athletics.

A couple of hours later, I found myself rushing back toward the north-central part of the city to catch some of that day's premier high-school lacrosse match-up: Gilman School vs. Boys' Latin. A loyal alumnus and teacher in Gilman's middle school, I am a devoted fan of our varsity team.

Albeit no surprise to me, I had great difficulty finding a parking spot anywhere in the vicinity of Boys' Latin, a school of roughly 250 students on the edge of one of Baltimore's most affluent neighborhoods. I cruised past the BMWs, Land Rovers and Mercedes and finally found a spot in an adjacent neighborhood a good 15-minute walk away from the field. When I eventually reached the field and managed a vantage point some 10 or 12 rows back from the densely populated sideline, I was thinking about the contrasts of these two athletic scenes.

The boys on both sides played exceptionally well. The action was fast and furious, with lots of goal-scoring and acrobatics around the crease. Classic lacrosse, the kind for which Baltimore's private schools are famous, and the kind more than a thousand fans and parents appreciated. But as time went by, I couldn't help but notice so many obvious elements of this scene which were starkly different from the one I had just left at St. Joe's. Where the folks on and around the track seemed to represent almost all of Baltimore's racial, ethnic and income diversity, the ones on and around the lacrosse field represented almost none of it.

Fans and parents around the track were neither boisterous nor quiet, but rather cheered and applauded every event without a derogatory word for anybody, even for those events in which their children were not competing.

Conversely, fans and parents at the lacrosse came jeered the referees mercilessly, booed the faintest whiff of unfair conduct and chatted between play mostly about what esteemed powerhouse lacrosse colleges their sons would be attending in the fall. I myself am a proud product of the latter environment and a relatively new supporter of the former. This having been said, it was painfully clear that early spring day that if we as an adult community want to help build a Baltimore of tomorrow which is inclusive, not exclusive, diverse, not homogenous and trusting of itself and all its members rather than divided, we need to embrace and vigorously support youth athletic events like the one Mount St. Joseph's so handsomely hosted.

This is not to suggest that Baltimore has no place for all of its different schools, private, public and parochial -- it most certainly does, and there are shining examples in each category.

Stories of athletic connections born on lacrosse fields sparking future business connections in town are legendary. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But imagine along with it a future where men and women of all backgrounds support each other in building a better Baltimore because they practiced it in high-school athletic contests.

On the next beautiful weekend day that rolls around, find a place where you can support a brighter future for our city, where all of Baltimore plays.

Today's writer

Matthew Buck, a Roland Park resident, teaches history at Gilman's middle school in Roland Park.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods.

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