Wade football salute kicks off Dunbar drive

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

October 20, 2006|By MILTON KENT

At first blush, it seems like a non sequitur: Dunbar, the most hallowed name in area basketball, is paying tribute to Bob Wade, the man who burnished the school's hoops reputation, by naming a football game after him.

That doesn't really matter to Edwin Johnson, the president of Dunbar's alumni association, which is organizing tonight's Bob Wade Classic at Homewood Field at Johns Hopkins.

Johnson's hope is that Wade's name and aura will draw some of the school's graduates back to the fold, with their wallets open, ready to assist the dear alma mater.

"I've come to the understanding that it's not the Dunbar mystique. It's the Bob Wade mystique," Johnson said.

Of course, the concept of a football game honoring Wade, who coached at Dunbar from 1975 to 1985, sounds strange. That is, except to anyone who might recall that long before he guided the 1982-83 boys basketball team to a mythical national championship, Wade was a gridiron star in his own right.

"That [football] was how I made my living," Wade said.

Indeed, his football prowess at Dunbar, where he followed future business mogul Reginald F. Lewis at quarterback, earned Wade a football scholarship to Morgan State, where he played alongside future Hall of Famer Willie Lanier, as well as other NFL notables such as former Colts and Oakland Raiders tight end Raymond Chester and Pittsburgh Steelers running back John "Frenchy" Fuqua.

Later, Wade spent parts of three seasons as a cornerback and safety with the Steelers, the Washington Redskins and the Denver Broncos. Eventually, he made his way back to Dunbar, where he followed legendary coach William "Sugar" Cain as basketball coach.

Johnson and the alumni association are turning to Wade and other alums to help the school. Dunbar, whose student population is overwhelmingly African-American, isn't in dire straits, per se, but could certainly use some help, Johnson said.

"The need is across the board, from the debate team to the science department to the robotics curriculum," Johnson said.

Some Dunbar grads have already heeded the call. Former Ravens linebacker Tommy Polley, now on the New Orleans Saints' injured reserve list, made a substantial contribution to the school last year, Johnson said, but more is needed.

"In the African-American culture, there has never been a tradition of wanting to give back to those institutions that brought us across the bridge," Johnson said. "We will give to our spiritual institutions and we need them. But if it weren't for the education institutions, the spiritual institutions wouldn't exist.

"The problem at Dunbar is echoed nationwide. Look at Morehouse or Morgan State or Fisk. It's just a part of our culture. We haven't developed in our psyche that it's our responsibility."

Dunbar's athletic success and the fame that has accrued to some of its graduates has raised the school's profile, to be sure, but hasn't changed what, for Johnson, remains an essential truth: getting people to give is a difficult prospect.

"The problem is that those who have succeeded in corporate America haven't been moved to give back," Johnson said. "What we have to do is change our culture.

"When I speak to some of our graduating classes, I ask them not to give a scholarship, but make a donation to the school, to go to the school and ask for a list of things that are needed, and then stamp on it, `Donated by the class of '40' or `Donated by the class of 2000,' so that every time a kid uses a microscope or an encyclopedia, they'll see that the class of 2000 made that donation. Hopefully, we'll change that culture, so that those who benefit now will think, `I have to give back to help someone else, because when I was there, somebody gave back to me.' "

Luckily, for Dunbar, the names of Sugar Cain, for whom a basketball event this winter will be named, and Bob Wade are still on enough lips to help promote the spirit of giving.

"What Mr. Cain started, and all I did was to carry it on, was something really special," Wade said. "It's a great tribute that a little school on the 1400 block of Orleans St. would be known throughout the world."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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