For Dunbar coach, state title this season is twice as nice

State champs from city make their mark

December 14, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

When Ben Eaton began coaching the offensive line at Dunbar High School at the start of the 1993-94 academic year, the school did not own a blocking sled.

It also did not own a victory in the state football championships, since that was the first year Baltimore City public school football teams belonged to the state association. But we're getting ahead of our story.

"What you do, from my experience," Eaton said, "you get those big tractor-trailer tires and hook them up. That's how you get the leg power. You have to be innovative. We, as black people, have been doing that all our lives, so why don't you use that and stop complaining about what you don't have and get the job done?"

Eaton told his audience yesterday morning essentially the same thing - his audience being his players, the new Class 1A champs; those from Edmondson, the 2A champs; their families and friends; and several City Council members (including incoming Mayor Sheila Dixon) honoring them at City Hall for their collective unprecedented achievement.

It couldn't have been more timely, because as Eaton and the assembled were reminded often yesterday, teams from the city public schools aren't "supposed" to win state titles in football. Not the public schools whose image all over America is depicted weekly - and not inaccurately - by The Wire.

Basketball is one thing, but football, it is presumed, demands far more than these students could dream of having. Not just facilities, of course, but smarts, discipline, resourcefulness - assets many still believe are lacking in "urban" youth.

Except that this was Eaton's fourth trip to City Hall, as an assistant to Stanley Mitchell in 1994 and 1995 and, after he took over in 1998 when Mitchell went to Morgan State, as head coach in 2004 and yesterday.

And this time, for the first time, he and his team had company in Edmondson, led by his former linebacker, head coach Dante Jones. Again, this all has evolved in 14 seasons - Dunbar, by winning four state titles, accomplishing what only nine other Maryland schools in history have, and now having another city school joining them, led by a Dunbar alumnus.

All are emerging largely from the pipeline built by Dunbar back when its program was head and shoulders above its city counterparts - and built primarily because it didn't necessarily want to be up above them.

Eaton - who attended Douglass High and Morgan State - taught his players and coaches to take advantage of everything available, from equipment to knowledge to technique to contacts. Jones' habit of working clinics, joining organizations and giving his players exposure - that came from Eaton's example.

"If I've got it, you've got it; that's what I'm all about," said Eaton, who doesn't hesitate to let opposing teams use Dunbar's weight room in the summer, during the season, even before games.

Granted, Dunbar's facilities have gotten an upgrade since the tractor-trailer tire days. Alumni and NFL players Tommy Polley and Calvin Williams have donated equipment. The past two seasons, Dunbar (and every other city team) has worn uniforms and helmets bought by the Ravens. This past season, city teams played night games at Poly on turf and under lights provided by fundraising by the Ravens.

That all helped level the field, but, Eaton said: "When you have someone like that organization to step in and help you, you already have the cake, and this is the icing. You had some blessings in place, and now you have some more."

Clearly, the next generation took notice. The seeds sown by Mitchell years ago and watered relentlessly by Eaton are now blooming all over town.

"It was one of the long list of things that had to change. The other schools had to catch up," Jones said. "It's fun to be out front, but it's even better to be up there with everybody, because at the end of the day when it's all the schools, there's more people that can have success."

Thus, Jones has given quick and constant credit to his elders - to Mitchell, Eaton, predecessor Pete Pompey and the godfather of city coaches, Bob Wade, a Morgan State teammate of Eaton's, now city schools athletic director.

Back when Baltimore City schools joined the state association and Dunbar was alone in its success, Wade said yesterday, "I couldn't see that far down the road, but I felt that each year we were getting closer and closer and closer."

Not everyone in the city and outside it shared that faith, he added, saying: "We've heard the remarks that the coaches in Baltimore city can't coach. This is very gratifying, for two teams to win. This was not a fluke. They coached these kids."

Eaton coached the kids, and the kid Eaton had coached coached them.

"I thank God we had two teams here," Eaton told the room. "Next year, we'll have three teams or four."

That won't be a fluke, either.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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