Score kept, but it's memories that count

'91-92 squad defeats team from 1980s in Dunbar's reunion of champions

July 21, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

When Mary England climbed the flight of dimly lit stairs to the gymnasium inside Dunbar High School, she witnessed many things.

She strode through the halls that she once navigated as a teen-ager at the East Baltimore school. She absorbed the numerous championship banners that hung from the rafters. She greeted the many friends her son, Nathaniel, had made before he graduated from Dunbar in 1965.

But more importantly, England saw the spirit of her son, who died almost three years ago after a bout with cancer.

"I'm at home," England said contentedly.

Home to dozens of former Poets basketball players is the corner of Orleans and Central streets, where the Alumni Games took place yesterday.

Sponsored by the Class of 1982, the event featured players from Dunbar's past, present and future in a sold-out homecoming. Five games were played, including a highly anticipated showdown between the Poets' national championship teams of 1981-82, 1982-83, and 1984-85 vs. their 1991-92 championship squad.

The 1991-92 team - which boasted Maryland's Keith Booth, Syracuse's Michael Lloyd and Massachusetts' Donta Bright and also included current Milwaukee Bucks guard Sam Cassell and St. Louis Rams linebacker Tommy Polley - had an easy time thumping the 1980s squad, 121-99.

But many of the players and fans who attended yesterday's festivities concentrated on the opportunity to reconnect with a program that has been woven into the fabric of the community.

"It's always been a family atmosphere," said fan Thomas Williams, a member of the Class of 1985 who earned the nickname "Gill" for his similarity to Gilligan of Gilligan's Island when he wore a white hat atop his skinny frame. "Even though some of these guys went onto the NBA, they always came back. Coming back here is like coming back to the recreational center you always hung out at."

Part of the draw for many former players was the fatherly coaching styles of Bob Wade and Pete Pompey, the architects of Dunbar's basketball tradition. Pompey, who coached the 1991-92 team, and Wade, who guided the back-to-back unbeaten teams in 1981-82 and 1982-83, were always available to dispense wisdom along with basketball tips.

For Wade, the fruition of his work was embodied by the return of his players.

"I'm extremely proud and blessed to see these k-," Wade said before catching himself. "They're not kids anymore - they're young men. They've grown up, and they lead productive lives. It's a happy time for me."

The first four games matched odd-year classes of a decade against even-year classes. The first game, which began at noon, pitted players of the 1950s and 1960s, while the second contest highlighted the graduates of the 1990s.

Skip Wise, a 1974 graduate, played in the third game, which collected players from the 1970s. Wise, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half and also grabbed 11 rebounds to pace the Red Team to a 70-64 win, said he appreciated the effort it took to organize the games.

"Just to get everyone back here had to be an ordeal for whoever did it," Wise said. "But the number of people coming back shows you the dedication and commitment we all had to Dunbar."

The 1980s game paved the way for the marquee event, which was slated to start at 6 p.m. So when former Charlotte Hornets guard Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues walked into the locker room at 5:55 p.m., Wade greeted him by bellowing, "What time were you supposed to be here?"

Still, Bogues beat two other teammates. Former Denver Nuggets forward Reggie Williams strolled in two minutes after Bogues, and former Seattle SuperSonics guard David Wingate walked in 30 seconds later.

Even with that star power, however, the national championship teams of the 1980s were overwhelmed by the 1991-92 squad, which used a 14-0 run to enjoy a 61-43 lead at halftime.

Booth drew the crowd to its feet twice with alley-oop dunks, and Lloyd did the same by picking Bogues' pocket and finishing a breakaway with a one-handed slam.

Herman Harried, the boys varsity basketball coach at Lake Clifton, chipped in with 19 points and 12 rebounds for the 1980s team; Cassell finished with 18 points, 12 rebounds and four assists for the 1991-92 squad.

Booth said he would relish the bragging rights.

"It doesn't get any better than that," he said. "I think the score would've been a lot closer if David, Reggie and Muggsy were in their prime. We just had younger legs."

Bogues concurred, adding, "They caught us at the right time. A lot of us were not in shape."

Basketball has long been a community mainstay, but members of the Class of 1982 hoped that yesterday's event would celebrate the academic success of the school, too.

"We have politicians, doctors, corporate executives who have gone on to be successful because of the Dunbar education," said Derrick Jones, who co-chaired the committee responsible for organizing the festivities. "We want to acknowledge the predecessors who laid down the foundation for the kids of today."

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