Edmondson coach has air of legend in making

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

December 11, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Making predictions about what will happen in high school sports 30 years down the road is admittedly useless. There are myriad things that can occur, from changes in educational policy and philosophy to alterations on the field, to the point where guessing what will happen 30 days from now is like spitting in the wind.

Still, let's hope that 30 years from now, Dante Jones is still working the Edmondson sideline as energetically as he did Saturday in the Red Storm's 37-9 Class 2A state football championship win over McDonough.

Chances are his trademark dreadlocks will be gone then, and Jones likely won't be able to run and jump all over the white lines the way he does now, but the fire to compete and the will to prepare young men to play their best isn't going away any time soon.

"Right now, I play through my kids," Jones said Saturday. "When they make big plays, I make big plays. When they mess up, I mess up. It's a great feeling. It's a great feeling to have a group of young men who just go after it."

Jones' win had threefold ramifications. It certainly marked the 30-year-old, second-year coach as one of the rising stars in the area, while making Edmondson the first Baltimore City school other than Dunbar to win a state title since city public schools joined the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association during the 1993-94 academic year.

The win also brought back to prominence the name of Pete Pompey, who coached Jones at Dunbar. Pompey had left that school to go back to Edmondson when the Poets won the first of their now four state titles. The lessons Pompey taught stayed with Jones, who served as his assistant at Edmondson and took over last year, when the legendary coach retired with 221 wins in 31 seasons.

It would be understandable if a new, young coach would do all he could to get out of his mentor's shadow. To the contrary, Jones has entirely embraced Pompey, leaving photos, trophies and plaques with his name in the cluttered Edmondson athletic office.

Pompey still helps out with the Edmondson team, and though he might have wanted to play a lesser role Saturday, Jones made sure his former coach was front and center on the sideline and on the minds of his players.

"It's not just his words," Jones said of Pompey. "It's his presence. His presence alone says it all. This is the second time in my life that he's delivered me a state championship. When I was at Dunbar, the group that came in, we were Coach Pete's kids. We came up under [then-coach] Stanley Mitchell, and he did a good job with us.

"This time [at Edmondson], we knew we had something special on our hands. Some people wouldn't walk away from a dynasty. He delivered me a dynasty. Right now, this is not about me. This is not my state championship. This is Coach Pete's state championship."

Little by little, the vicissitudes of life and the fortunes of coaching are changing the dynamics, making it less and less likely that one man will spend his entire coaching life at one area school.

Augie Waibel and Al Laramore are gone from Poly and Annapolis, and Roger Wrenn isn't at Patterson any more. Pompey built Edmondson into a power but left to go to Dunbar, where he won a boys basketball title, before coming home to finish his career at Edmondson, which he led to the 1999 state final.

Among legendary coaches in the Baltimore area, Doug DuVall is still at Wilde Lake and George Petrides guided his City Knights to the 3A North regional final this year, but it's getting harder and harder to find coaches who stay at one school long enough to mold one group of players into young men, then do the same thing with their sons.

Jones has that feel about him, provided his success and his youth don't place him on the radar of some other high school with more resources or a college needing to capitalize on all that boundless enthusiasm.

Jones acknowledged he isn't perfect yet. His Red Storm, or more to the point, his senior running back, Tariq Jones (no relation), bailed him out of a potentially dicey situation.

Leading 8-3 late in the first half, Edmondson took the ball on the McDonough 41 with a chance to get a score, but Dante Jones was forced to use his last two timeouts in the final 1:12 and the Red Storm ended the half at the McDonough 2-yard line.

Said Dante Jones: "I would say it was bad clock management on my part."

But Edmondson got the second-half kickoff at its 35, and within two plays and 30 seconds, Tariq Jones had erased whatever doubt existed. With two carries, Jones covered 65 of his 308 yards and scored on a 16-yard run to give the Red Storm a 16-3 lead .

"He [Dante Jones] led us the whole way here," said senior running back Sterling Jones, also no relation to the coach. "He's a great motivator. He already has a ring at Dunbar, but he just wanted us to have that ring. He wanted us to feel what he felt like when they won their state championship. It wasn't just for us, but it was for Coach Pete, too."

How nice it would be, 30 years from now, if some current Edmondson player, then turned coach, talked about winning one for Coach Dante. We should all live long enough for that to come true.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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