At top of her game, Bishop looks upcourt

Hall of Fame inductee builds up Cherry Hill

June 10, 2000|By James Giza | James Giza,SUN STAFF

Breezy Bishop walked down the first-floor hallway of Arnett J. Brown Middle School in Cherry Hill.

Suddenly, a boy, who looked 13, appeared at the end of the corridor. He glanced up at her.

"Hey, Ms. B," he said.

He noticed her companion, a stranger to the school.

"You OK?" the boy asked her.

"Yeah, I'm OK," said Bishop, who today will become one of 24 new members of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame. "You OK?"

"Yeah" was his only response as he disappeared through a set of double doors.

"I finally found out what that meant," Bishop would say later, tears welling in her eyes. "It means, `I got your back.' That's a slang term, and I didn't know what that meant. And they just kept coming. And the girls would come up to me and say, `I've got your back.' It's just wonderful to hear youngsters ..."

Her voice trailed off as she struggled to compose herself.

"When I first came here," she continued, "my friends said, `Breezy, you cannot drive your car in Cherry Hill. You crazy?' I park my car around back. I don't have a scratch on my car. People have the wrong perception of Cherry Hill. I want to change that perception. I want to build something special."

She did that once before. For 24 years, Bishop coached the basketball team at Western High School, elevating the program to a national power by the time she left in 1997.

Bishop is well aware of the numbers and honors associated with her name. Start with 602 career wins with high school, college and Amateur Athletic Union teams. Fifteen BaltimoreCity titles. Seven national rankings by USA Today. Four undefeated seasons at Western and four Sun Coach of the Year honors. Two state titles.

But to Bishop the most important number is 70. That's how many of her athletes at Western, out of 71, earned either athletic or academic scholarships to college.

"I don't look for accolades," she said. "I just try to help one kid at a time."

That is why she joined forces with Peggy Jackson-Jobe in 1998 to fulfill a dream that has become Southside Academy.

The high school, located on the third floor of Brown Middle School, started two years ago with 55 ninth-graders and a score of skeptics. The goal was to create a community-based school with rigorous academics and small classes that would provide an alternative to Southern, Cherry Hill's zone school.

Bishop serves as the "sports coordinator" for the middle school and the high school. Thanks to her efforts, next year Southside will compete in the Baltimore City Public School League at the JV level in football, boys and girls basketball and girls volleyball.

"When we started to build the athletic program," said Jackson-Jobe, principal of both schools, "I wanted someone who had a good reputation, someone who could grasp the vision of what we were trying to do - and that was to make sure that the academics and the athletics were linked together, that there was a clear understanding that the academics come first. And that's how Breezy Bishop came to this school."

As head of the Greater Baltimore Women's Basketball Inc., Bishop organizes a citywide after-school program for middle school girls that meshes basketball instruction with tutoring and social skills development.

It's all part of a life's work for the energetic 64-year-old woman.

"Seeing the first graduation class from Cherry Hill Southside Academy is more important to me than going into the Hall of Fame," Bishop said. "Before that, watching young women sign letters of intent to universities has always been the most important thing in athletics to me - will always be. I am very grateful for this honor. But changing the perception of living in Cherry Hill and seeing the first graduation class will be the ultimate dream of mine."

Bishop has only one wish at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Knoxville, Tenn. "I just hope that I can walk up on stage, or whatever has to be done. I just hope that my knees don't buckle."

She'll be OK. Cherry Hill's got her back.

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