Ever giving, Pompey now is taking time for self, family

November 28, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

AFTER 37 YEARS as a physical education teacher in the Baltimore City public schools system, 30 as a football coach and 29 coaching basketball, Edmondson High's Pete Pompey wants to have some late-night dinners with his wife.

He wants to play a few rounds of golf and play some catch and shoot some baskets with his three grandchildren. He wants to travel, get outside of a smelly gym and the box known as a football field.

Pompey, 63, deserves a break, and we'll all miss him. He announced last week that he will no longer coach basketball, and next season might be his last as the school's football coach. Within a year or two, he'll resign as athletic director.

"Those seasons are back-to-back, and I'm not as young as I used to be," said Pompey. "I want to be the athletic director for maybe another year or so, but I want to do other things while I can, while I still have my health. My health is fine, and I thank God for that.

"I've spent a lot of weekends scouting and playing games," he said. "I raised everybody else's children while my wife [Barbara] raised mine. You never hear of people like her, those in the background, but she has been my main supporter, my backbone. We deserve to spend some time together."

Pompey has become as much of a sports institution in Baltimore as the late Augie Waibel of Poly and Dunbar's Bob Wade. But more important than winning numerous championships -- including a national title in basketball in 1991-92 at Dunbar -- Pompey became a surrogate father to thousands of inner city students.

It's tough being a teacher these days, even tougher in the city with a limited budget. But Pompey has approached each day with the same zeal as when he started in 1966 at Harlem Park Middle School.

"You have some great, outstanding young people who are a part of this athletic program. The number of good, talented kids, though, is not as great as it was back in the '70s and '80s," said Pompey. "There are too many distractions. There are drugs, all kinds of crime, that kids have to walk by every day, sleep with it every night.

"It's in our neighborhoods. There were problems back in the '60s and '70s, but not these kinds of problems. These kids do a decent job trying to avoid it, but it's a concern."

Pompey admits to some frustration, but the former Douglass High product wasn't going to walk away. Coming from a large family (seven children), they all pitched in to help him attend Morgan State University. Pompey never forgot the important lessons some of his high school coaches taught him, and he fondly remembers his football coach at Morgan, the late Earl Banks.

Banks never turned his back on his players. Pompey wasn't going to either.

"I loved and admired him," said Pompey of Banks. "I respected the way he did things, and what he did to get people to play hard for him. He was a warm human being, but still in command. He was just another person I could pattern myself after.

"You look around the city, you don't see the numbers anymore, people who want to be teachers, mentors and coaches," he said. "That's one of the reasons I got into teaching. Nobody walked away from me. I wanted to give back some of the things I got from people I admired very much. I became addicted."

Most of Pompey's career has been at Edmondson. He traveled the hallways looking for players. If he hadn't, some of them would have hit the streets and been swept away by the turmoil.

Pompey doesn't tell you about those stories. He never has, and never will. It's all part of the daily challenges. But none was greater than when he became the athletic director and football and basketball coach at Dunbar in 1986. He replaced Wade, who left to become the head basketball coach at the University of Maryland.

Before Pompey's arrival, Dunbar had won 10 straight City Public Schools Tournaments and was ranked No. 1 for four straight years. Pompey was 12-6 that first year, but left with a national championship and his teams having been ranked in the top three in the country two other times.

"I've never seen kids perform like that," said Pompey. "I had Michael Lloyd, Donta Bright, Keith Booth, they were on that national championship team. Going there was a challenge for me. Bob had kept the players under an iron thumb, and they thought they could get a little loose with me. That was one of the biggest fights of my life. I think I won the battle. It was just an amazing run."

But you knew the marriage wasn't going to last long. Pompey was from West Baltimore. Dunbar, on the East side, wanted one of its own running the program. Pompey was eventually forced out.

"My first love was always Edmondson," said Pompey. "It got to be a little difficult at Dunbar because of the politicians in east Baltimore. But I felt I had accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish, and left the program in good shape."

Pompey has always had success. He had a 312-148 record in basketball, and is 214-90-1 in football. Versatility has been a key. At Dunbar, he had enough great players to run half-court sets and presses. At Edmondson, he played more run-and-gun with less-talented players.

In football, Pompey uses multiple formations offensively, and has always played a 4-3 defense.

"Work ethic, that's what it's all about," said Pompey. "Don't let anybody outwork you. Of course, it helps to have some talent, too. The objective is to get these players to the next level. If you have an education and a strong work ethic, the opportunity will be there. It's great watching these kids mature, develop and then move on. That's what it's all about."

And now it's about time for Pompey to move on. It'll be strange seeing him around town without a whistle around his neck, a baseball cap on his head and a clipboard in his hands.

But he has put in his time. He has earned his retirement.

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