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Two kings of the same hill
Franz Lidz
February 08, 1982
Baltimore has the country's No. 1 schoolboy team. Maybe No. 2, too
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February 08, 1982

Two Kings Of The Same Hill

Baltimore has the country's No. 1 schoolboy team. Maybe No. 2, too

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For many years Calvert Hall competed with Dunbar in the MSA. But in 1969, the year after the streets of Baltimore exploded in rioting following Martin Luther King's assassination, a black Dunbar fan slugged a white Catholic-school player at a game. The Catholic teams pulled out of the MSA and formed their own league. That's when Calvert Hall and other parochial schools began offering athletic grants to help players cover the cost of tuition, which today at Calvert Hall comes to $1,350 a year. The Catholic schools that didn't offer athletic rides stayed out of the league because they couldn't compete.

Still, Baltimore was hardly a hotbed of high school basketball until 1973, when Dunbar, led by Skip Wise, who would go on to star at Clemson, and Larry Gibson ( Maryland), upset DeMatha, the perennial D.C. powerhouse, which had Adrian Dantley (Notre Dame) and Kenny Carr ( North Carolina State). The game was the last for William (Sugar) Cain, the former Harlem Globetrotter whose reign as Dunbar coach spanned 32 years. Wade took over two seasons later, retaining Cain's vaunted running game and zone defense. Wade is a smart, cagey and excitable sort who badgers officials and slashes the sideline air in a Kung Fu frenzy. He tries to instill in his players the same discipline he learned from Vince Lombardi as a defensive halfback for the Washington Redskins in 1969.

His team executes as if it were giving a clinic on how the sport is meant to be played. Two weeks ago Carver High, which had the second-best record in Dunbar's division, "held" the Poets to 16 first-period points. Unfortunately for Carver, it could come up with only three. Early in the fourth, with Dunbar ahead by 35, Wade sent in his scrubs. When they increased the lead to 45, it became apparent that the third-best team in the city may be riding the Poets' bench. Final score: 74-29.

This supremacy and the fact that three of Dunbar's starters are transfers have earned the Poets the not-so-lyrical nickname "The City All-Stars." Recruiting is against MSA rules, and Wade claims he refrains from it. But other Baltimore coaches are complaining and asking for sanctions against athletes who change schools. For example, David Wingate, one of the Poets' All-America candidates, came from Northern High, a basketball lightweight. He is in the dental technology program at Dunbar and reportedly had his transfer application co-signed by an "uncle" who turned out to be the coach of his summer rec team, a squad laden with Dunbar starters. The Northern coach protested that Wingate had been enticed, but no collusion could be proved. When Bogues wanted to leave Southern to attend Dunbar in the fall of 1981, his coach, Meredith Smith, just shrugged. "When a kid is set on going to Dunbar that's the end of it," he says. "To try to stop him would be an exercise in futility."

Which is about how Amatucci must have regarded the job of coaching basketball at Calvert Hall when he took over in 1976. The Cardinals had gone 9-16 the previous two seasons. Amatucci, 29, is an amiable psychology teacher who seems convinced that he can sway players to his point of view by rational discussion, by facts, by the self-evident. He doesn't rant or shout. He built the Cardinals by hanging out at the summer rec leagues and by befriending the two black coaches of the most successful team, the Buccaneers, who happened to play only a few blocks from Dunbar. Pretty soon a steady stream of Buccaneers began to flow to Calvert Hall. Some blacks have all but accused the Buccaneer coaches of treachery for leading the exodus of black athletes out of the inner city. Wade has been one of the most vocal critics, charging that the private schools string the inner-city recruits along academically just to enhance the school's athletic prestige.

"I think Bob Wade believes the blacks on our team have been stolen from him," says Brother Ren� Sterner, principal of Calvert Hall. "That implies that the black inner-city schools own them, that they're betraying their race if they go to honky schools." But the criticism may have had an effect. Calvert Hall has stopped giving athletic scholarships as of this year. All future awards will be based solely on need.

As for now, it looks as if two of the best high school teams in the country are best at ducking each other. They aren't scheduled to meet and a rematch seems unlikely. "We have nothing to prove," says Amatucci. The season may well end with the two powers bound in a tacit nonaggression pact, so both can claim to be No. 1—in Baltimore and everywhere else.

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