Remembering a magical time for Calvert Hall

January 30, 2007|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

In March of 1982, upstart Calvert Hall College High School, with a young team and a young coach, beat Hyattsville's DeMatha High School, under legendary coach Morgan Wootten, to win the prestigious Alhambra Tournament and complete an undefeated season.

Ranked No. 1 in the country at the beginning of that season by Street & Smith and Basketball Weekly - admittedly, a nebulous thing - the Calvert Hall Cardinals of Towson went from Las Vegas to Philadelphia and back to beat all comers and finish 34-0, proving that ranking as best as it could be proved.

The victory over Wootten's DeMatha, which had won the tournament in Frostburg five years running and was perhaps the most highly regarded basketball program in the country, was an emotional one.

Duane Ferrell, the starting center on a team of brilliant role players, went down with an injured ankle, his team trailing by a single point. He was sobbing as he was carried off the court.

Jim "Pop" Tubman, Calvert Hall's amazing little point guard, grasped the sophomore's hand and, offering tears of his own, promised a victory. Calvert Hall won, 82-76, to complete its perfect season.

Many of those players and coach Mark Amatucci - and the reporters who covered them - returned to Calvert Hall over the weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that season.

I was one of those reporters, and it was magic for us as well, watching Calvert Hall roll through that season.

But the game of their lifetime - the game of all our lifetimes - had actually been played the season before, when Calvert Hall beat Dunbar in a thriller at the Towson Center in front of 5,000 screaming fans.

I had one foot in high school sports and the other in the pros in a sportswriting career that would take me to Super Bowls and Olympic Trials, Triple Crown races and the America's Cup.

But no sporting event I covered would ever match the Calvert Hall-Dunbar "Triple Overtime Game."

More than a quarter of a century later, no one even needs to mention the teams that played to know what game it was.

Calvert Hall, which had turned over its fading basketball program to a 29-year-old coach, had exploded on the scene, going from 9-15 to 29-2 in three seasons and winning the Catholic League championship in the winter of 1981.

Dunbar had lost to Lake Clifton by a single point in double overtime in the city championship game to finish 23-2. But Dunbar would always be Dunbar - the most powerful program in Baltimore under the most powerful coach, Bob Wade.

The basketball world wanted to see the debate over which was better - the up-tempo running game played in the city or the carefully choreographed game played by the Catholics - settled once and for all.

The News American newspaper brokered a game between the two teams after overcoming Dunbar's resistance to playing in the suburbs.

And it was game-on.

This was a time when high school basketball drew more rabid fans than even the Orioles or the Colts, and the results of those games were front-page news in the sports sections of the city's three newspapers.

Fans filled the Towson Center to the rafters, erasing Wade's fears that his team's followers could not get to Towson, and they were screaming so loudly that the players could not hear their coaches. Indeed, guessing this would be the case, Amatucci had worked on hand signals with his team.

But when Calvert Hall fell behind by 9 points with a minute left, those fans started to drift out.

"People were walking out on us!" said Darryle Edwards, still incredulous 26 years later. "I couldn't believe it.

"We looked at the scoreboard and then we looked at each other. We said, `Nobody walks out on Calvert Hall,' and we took it to the next level," said Edwards, who was a senior on that team and now coaches with Amatucci at Calvert Hall.

Edwards, who had been in foul trouble, came off the bench and tipped in a shot from Tubman to tie the game in regulation.

Both teams were scoreless in the first overtime, and Dunbar took the lead in the second until Ferrell, just a freshman, tied the game at 83 with a layup. After a back-and-forth in the third overtime, Ferrell sealed the 94-91 win with a pair of free throws. The game had lasted 2 1/2 hours.

"I remember people leaving the bleachers but when they got down to the floor, they stopped," said Charles Sikorsky at the anniversary gathering on Saturday night. "Ski" came to the reunion from Rome, where he is a priest.

"I remember that `Coach Tooch' kept us in that game. He wouldn't let us quit."

"It had to be the ultimate game," said Tubman. "It was everything."

The next year, Wade reloaded Dunbar with a recruiting vengeance, and the Poets, with four players who would eventually play in the NBA, finished 27-0.

Though Calvert Hall had been ranked No. 1 in the nation, it was not even clear if the Cardinals were No. 1 in the Baltimore area.

Nobody thought the Triple Overtime Game had decided anything, and everyone wanted to see the two teams play again.

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