Finally, old college try

Basketball: Longtime Thomas Johnson boys coach Tom Dickman considered himself a high school lifer -- until Hood came calling.

December 17, 2003|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK -- Tom Dickman once thought he was going places. At least that's what he thought he would have to do if he wanted to coach college basketball, because virtually no opportunities existed here.

That was almost 20 years ago. But as he became the winningest public high school basketball coach in Maryland, at Thomas Johnson High, Dickman had put those aspirations behind him.

Then Hood College opened his eyes to possibilities he had long since dismissed. The Division III men's basketball program is in its first season at the formerly all-women's institution, and Dickman is its first coach. He didn't have to travel far from Thomas Johnson to take the new job.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Sports section, it was incorrectly reported that Tom Dickman's seven state high school basketball titles at Thomas Johnson were a state record. The state record of 11 titles belongs to Bill Bowers, who coached at Allegany High School from 1927 to 1955.

"Maybe a quarter-mile," he said before adding with a chuckle, "I tried to get moving expenses."

What made Dickman, 53, winner of a Maryland-record seven state high school basketball titles, leave the security of success is what made 13 players take a chance on playing for Hood's first men's basketball team.

"Anytime you're first to do something, there's an excitement to it," said freshman Santo Provenzano, the team's leading scorer (17.7 points per game). "That will never happen again."

The Blazers consist of 12 freshmen and one junior, yet the team is already creating a buzz around Frederick with a 2-1 start. They take a two-game winning streak into their first contest in nearly a month when they play at Dickman's alma mater, Division II Shepherd College, Saturday in West Virginia.

Hood officials know that not all sports are considered equal as the school seeks to attract the very students it excluded for the first 110 years of its existence.

With no plans to start a football team as part of the school's athletic expansion to 17 teams (10 women's, seven men's) for 2004-05, Hood has seen basketball become an attraction and Dickman its ringmaster.

Hood's women's basketball team has reached the Division III NCAA tournament the past two seasons, and school president Ronald J. Volpe has hopes that both teams can be a guiding force in the institution's co-educational transition.

"Our women's team has started a spark," Volpe said. "And now to have the men, and to be reasonably successful already, just makes it more exciting. The community has really rallied behind Tom and Hood."

Dickman's 29 years of head-coaching success at Thomas Johnson (592-135) have a lot to do with the allure, and the composition of his team has added to that. Three of the Blazers played for Dickman at Thomas Johnson -- freshmen Kevin Rinehart and Darnell Edmonds and the lone junior, Michael Foreman -- and eight others played high school ball in Maryland.

Another personal touch Dickman has brought to the program: The Blazers will play each of their eight home games at the 2,000-seat Thomas Johnson gymnasium, which dwarfs Hood's Gambrill Gymnasium, the 55-year-old, on-campus facility that has a standing-room-only capacity of just a few hundred.

Thinking of home

Anticipation for the first home game will be high. Hood will play Valley Forge Christian College -- a team the Blazers have already beaten by 23 points -- on Jan. 3. They were supposed to meet on Dec. 6, but nearly a foot of snow forced the game's postponement.

"Being local, my high school team will likely turn out for home games," said Sean Robine, who played at nearby Linganore. "A bunch of local kids will benefit everyone. ... In a couple of years, he [Dickman] could turn Frederick into a college town."

From Hood, Dickman can pivot in many a direction in his search for talent -- toward Baltimore, Washington and Harrisburg, Pa. -- and his experience at being part of the recruiting process of his two sons, Adam and Chad, to Division III programs Catholic and Saint Vincent, respectively, has renewed his confidence that he can also build a winner at Hood.

"When I go down to watch Catholic play -- they're a great Division III program -- I'm thinking, `We can get those same type of kids,' " Dickman said.

But if it were just about winning, his task would be simple. His success at Thomas Johnson was just part of the reason Volpe hired Dickman last December. His more than 20 years of experience as a high school athletic director also was a plus, but his appreciation for Hood's deference toward academics sold Volpe.

As a Division III school, Hood doesn't offer athletic scholarships. It is an imposing recruiting challenge, but the very fact Dickman has nothing to offer but the simple promise of achievement as a basketball player and a student is what motivated him to take the job.

"I don't see myself being a Division I coach for that very reason," said Dickman, who was considered for jobs at UMBC and Johns Hopkins in the mid-1980s.

Enjoying his work

"I don't think I'm working fewer hours" than in his job at Thomas Johnson, "but the hours I'm working are something I really like to do," said Dickman, who also holds the title of assistant athletic director in charge of intramural and recreation sports.

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