Albert Lewis Barthelme Sr., 84, basketball coach, athletics director

March 07, 2004|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Albert Lewis Barthelme Sr., a retired basketball coach who led teams at Loyola College, Towson Catholic High School, the University of Baltimore and coached the Baltimore Bullets in the 1950s, died of a heart attack Thursday at his home in Chaptico in Southern Maryland. He was 84 and formerly lived in Towson.

He was born in Blue Point, Long Island, N.Y. During World War II, he was stationed at the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard and played for its team, which scrimmaged against Loyola College. In November 1944, when Loyola's coach, Emil "Lefty" Rietz, entered military service, Mr. Barthelme was tapped by the college to coach the Greyhounds for a season. After the war's end, he returned to the school and played for the team he had coached.

In 1946 he was named Towson Catholic's athletics director, basketball and football coach. His students included Gene Shue, who later became an All-NBA guard and coached in the league for 22 seasons, mostly with the Baltimore and Washington Bullets and the Philadelphia 76ers.

"You need people who influence you, and I had the privilege of having Al as a high school coach, and he was an outstanding coach," said Mr. Shue, who lives in Marina del Rey, Calif. "He taught me discipline, how to conduct myself and how to act. He was an important part of my life."

Mr. Barthelme was named the University of Baltimore's head basketball coach in 1950, and a year later his team captured the Mason-Dixon Tournament. He was scheduled to be inducted into the school's Hall of Fame this year.

He was the subject of numerous newspaper stories about the high-scoring games his University of Baltimore Bees produced by playing what the sportswriters called "firehouse" basketball.

"In firehouse you run and they run with you. You score and they score. Teams don't even mind losing so much if they get their points," Mr. Barthelme said in a 1954 Sunday Sun Magazine feature story. "I went all the way from the lowest-scoring, more careful style to the wildest, fastest kind there is. ... I showed the players how to pass, how to run, how to shoot, gave them a few patterns and let them go. The kids loved it right from the start."

In 1955 he was named head coach of the city's National Basketball Association team, the Bullets, who then played in the Coliseum on Monroe Street. The franchise was troubled by financial problems, and newspapers stories said Mr. Barthelme had to sue to get his wages.

Family members said the highlight of his career occurred at Madison Square Garden when the Bullets broke the NBA single-game scoring record in beating the New York Knicks.

He left professional sports after his time with the Bullets and joined Carling Brewing Co.'s public relations department. He moved to Southern Maryland in 1962 and became a beer distributor in St. Mary's County.

He also was named supervisor of that county's Youth Commission, later the Department of Parks and Recreation. From 1966 to 1985, he built up county sports programs and summer camps.

He was also a sports announcer with St. Mary's County radio station WKIK-AM for more than 20 years. In his free time he did oil paintings.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Immaculate Conception Church in Mechanicsville, St. Mary's County.

Survivors include his wife of 34 years, the former Joann Steele; five sons, Bryan Barthelme of Mechanicsville, Patrick Barthelme of Lutherville, Gary Barthelme of Seattle and Martin Barthelme and Neal Barthelme, both of Towson; a daughter, Kim Coaplin of Laurel; and 11 grandchildren. His son Albert L. Barthelme Jr., an Army pilot, was killed in Vietnam in 1970. His marriage to the former Anna Rosalie Bruns ended in divorce.

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