The greatest local hoops game that never was

April 06, 2002|By Gregory Kane

TOOCH SAT in an office at the counseling center, just down the corridor from the main office of the Catholic high school known to true Baltimoreans as simply The Hall.

That would be Calvert Hall College High School for the uninitiated and furriners from other parts who've decided to settle in our beloved Bawlmer. "Tooch" is better known to most as Mark Amatucci, a Hall alumnus who's coached basketball at the school for the past 24 years, minus a brief hiatus when he coached hoops at Loyola College.

Tooch had had something on his mind for a week, ever since the day his kids had come running to alert him to a newspaper column, penned by one Greg the Dreadful, which seemed to imply that Amatucci was afraid to schedule a game between his team and Dunbar during the 1981-1982 high school basketball season.

A little background might be in order. Back in the charming days of the 1950s and 1960s, Balti-morons were nuts about their high school sports. Football was wildly popular, with the City-Poly Thanksgiving tiff drawing crowds of 30,000 and up, even when the game was televised.

Basketball and wrestling were also popular. In fact, wrestling was more popular than basketball for a spell. Then, Dunbar's basketball team handed Dematha's squad its rear end in a late February game in 1973. That was bad news for the sport of wrestling, but great news for high school hoops fans.

About five years later, Amatucci took over the Calvert Hall program. He persuaded two young black kids named Paul Kinney - who would die tragically before his high school career ended - and Daryle Edwards to join the squad. In the 1979-1980 season, they were joined by three guys from the Madison Recreation Center in East Baltimore: James "Pop" Tubman, Paul Edwards (Daryle's brother) and Marc Wilson. The Hall's basketball fortunes soared, but the best was yet to come.

For the 1980-1981 season, another kid from Madison went to Calvert Hall. His name was Duane Ferrell, who went on to star at Georgia Tech and play in the National Basketball Association. Dunbar, meanwhile, wasn't exactly hurting for talent. The season Ferrell walked through The Hall's doors, Reggie Williams was just starting his storied career at Dunbar. Joining him were sharpshooters David Wingate and Gary Graham, youngest of the famed East Baltimore basketball Grahams that included brothers Kevin, Ernie and Bryan.

Dunbar and The Hall squared off for a donnybrook of a game at the Towson Center as the 1981 basketball season came to a close. Calvert Hall won a triple overtime thriller that Amatucci still calls the best high school game played in Baltimore.

So when the 1981-1982 season rolled around, with basketball publications ranking Calvert Hall and Dunbar Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the country, there was clamor for a rematch. It never happened. Amatucci says that, in spite of what you read in this space a week ago, it had nothing to do with being afraid to schedule Dunbar.

"I'm one mad Italian," Amatucci said in a voice mail message requesting he be given a chance to make his side of the story known. There was nothing left for me to do but comply and face the wrath of the Tooch.

So there he sat in the counseling center office Thursday, explaining what happened to the greatest high school basketball game never played in Baltimore.

"We got the news that we were ranked No. 1 in the early summer," Amatucci recalled. "I talked to the guys and told them the Dunbar game would have to be scheduled during the regular season." Amatucci said he made his stand known to the media as well.

"We get into February," Tooch continued, "and people are saying `We need to play this game, we need to play this game.' By this time, I was starting to get kind of irritated."

Promoters from as far away as California called Amatucci about a Dunbar-Calvert Hall rematch. With all the clamor and politicians getting involved, Amatucci felt the game would have been reduced to a circus atmosphere had it been played.

"Bob [Wade, Dunbar's coach at the time,] and I have always been good friends," Amatucci said. "He's been a great friend to me, especially when I was going through a rough time. If we had had a chance to sit down and talk, maybe over a beer, maybe we could have worked something out."

If that's all it took, I would have sprung for the darned beer! Can I get an AMEN! from other Baltimore basketball fans?

After the 1981 Dunbar-Calvert Hall game, Amatucci's team lost to Gonzaga in the Alhambra tournament, played in Frostburg. The victory over Dunbar, he said, where his guys played with such emotion, took something out of them. His goal in 1982 was to get back to Alhambra and win that tournament. (They did.)

Thus speaketh the Tooch. It's hard to second-guess him about opting for the Alhambra. Anyone who knows Amatucci knows he was thinking about his boys first. But here's something to consider:

If Calvert Hall in 1982 had beaten Dunbar, the other teams in the Alhambra tournament may have simply mailed Amatucci the title.

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