`Challenge' takes on new meaning for Hood coach

February 15, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

FREDERICK - The coach has won 589 basketball games. He has led his high school team to seven state titles and 17 league championships. He is Maryland's all-time winningest public high school coach.

Over the past three decades, his teams have gone head-to-head against such basketball powerhouses and private schools as DeMatha, St. Anthony's and big, ol' Oak Hill, winning sometimes, always competitive, which explains why USA Today routinely ranks them among the best in the country.

"I'm just a coach. I don't come from the same coaching tree as Dean Smith or Gary Williams. I'm just a high school coach that has taken a public school and done OK," Tom Dickman said.

But after a stellar, 29-year run at Thomas Johnson High School in Frederick, Dickman is moving across town to become the head coach of the men's basketball team at Hood College.

Make that the new coach of the new men's basketball team at Hood College.

It's difficult to tell whether Dickman has accepted a tough job or an easy one. You see, Hood has been an all-women's school since it was founded more than 100 years ago out there, just east of the rolling Catoctin Mountains. Come September 2003, the college is going to admit men as residential students for the very first time.

Needing to enlarge its enrollment base and secure its long-term economic viability, Hood is doing what about 230 other formerly all-women's colleges have done. It's going co-ed. The school's board of trustees voted in October to go ahead with the change.

A survey of other formerly all-women's colleges told Hood officials a more successful transition would result if they could offer athletic opportunities to male students. Wasting no time, Hood College president Ronald J. Volpe announced on Dec. 27 that Dickman had accepted their offer to become their first men's basketball coach.

It's an accelerated time frame by anyone's standards, but especially for Dickman, who now must entice high school seniors to apply immediately so the student-athletes can enroll in September and Dickman can deliver a team by November.

"We have about 20 games scheduled already. The first one is sometime right after Thanksgiving," Volpe said the other night.

It seems daunting.

"It's interesting. That's certainly one way to look at it," Dickman said.

"It wasn't an easy decision. I'm still coaching [at Thomas Johnson]. We're undefeated [20-0]. But this is just a personal thing," he said.

"If we get beat at the state championship, people ask what happened. Well, here we'll be in a situation where there is absolutely no expectation, where every single victory will be beyond expectation."

He may be curious to know what it feels like to lose, but Dickman is eager to build this program from nothing - and ask some basketball players to come with him.

At a time when Division I colleges are allegedly cutting opportunities for male athletes in order to comply with Title IX legislation (when, in fact, these colleges should curtail football scholarships) here comes Hood College.

Not only is the Division III college looking to expand its enrollment base to include full-time residential men (Hood has admitted commuter men for 30 years), but it is also immediately adding five men's intercollegiate sports teams to its roster of 10 women's programs.

But whereas golf, tennis, swimming and cross country need only one player each to call itself a team, basketball is a different animal. Dickman needs at least five good young men - preferably seven, in case of foul trouble.

Dickman hopes to have 15 players on the roster next season, and that may not be a stretch. As a Division III school that can offer grant-in-aid to student-athletes (unlike full scholarships in Divisions I and II), Dickman has a chance to attract players to the Frederick campus.

"We've talked to or e-mailed or seen in person about 80 kids. I think we have about 30 who are seriously interested and about 10 who have already applied," said an encouraged Dickman.

"I've been around 17- and 18-year-olds long enough to know they are some of the world's biggest procrastinators, so I have to think we'll get a few more applications."

For a coach who has declined past opportunities at Johns Hopkins and UMBC, Hood seems to present the right atmosphere and philosophy.

"We're committed to the Division III philosophy that you play for the love of the game. Our student-athletes arrive on campus with textbooks and laptops, not agents, attorneys and accountants," Volpe said.

Dickman likes this atmosphere.

"This is the purest form of athletics. I'm not going to offer someone a car to come play here. If you like the coach, if you like the college, come play here. If you like some other coach or some other college, go play there. It's not we're going to go back and hand a kid another offer. There is no other offer. It's us," Dickman said.

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