Only 'Yeas' Answered When Call Came To Honor Pompey
By Keith Mills
One by one, they embraced their coach as a son would a father -- Jason Murphy and Ben Yates of Edmondson, as well as Spencer Ringold, Charlie Hurt and Nathan Ayers of Dunbar.
Later, it was Randolph Edison of Edmondson and Dunbar's entire starting unit from its 1992 national championship basketball team -- Donta Bright, Michael Lloyd, Keith Booth, Paul Banks and Cyrus Jones -- who gathered as a team one more time in honor of their former coach, Pete Pompey.
"When we asked people about playing," said Rhonda McNair, Pompey's daughter, "or asked them about helping out, it wasn't even a second thought. 'Coach Pompey? I gotcha. What do you need?' It's been amazing. You don't realize the magnitude of how someone affected someone else's life until you do something like this."
Pompey is now 71 years old and battling Alzheimer's. He spends weeks at a time in the hospital and requires 24-hour attention because of the severity of the disease.
Last Saturday at Edmdonson High in West Baltimore, McNair; her mom, Barbara; former Dunbar basketball and football standout Davis Lewis; and current Edmondson football coach and athletic director Dante Jones held a pair of benefit basketball games to offset some of the medical costs.
Later, there was a party at the Poet Athletic Club in East Baltimore, which became a celebration of what Pompey stood for during nearly 40 years of coaching and teaching in the Baltimore City school system.
"He was a larger-than-life figure," said former Walbrook basketball coach Gus Harrington, now the principal at the Career Academy in West Baltimore. "He was a mentor and coach to the kids, and he was even a mentor to a lot of coaches. I was one of the younger coaches. Sugar Cain, Bob Wade, Gerald Boyd, Pete Pompey -- I looked up to all of those guys."
Carmie "Pete" Pompey was born in Morganton, N.C., but grew up in East Baltimore and eventually won more than 320 games and a national championship coaching high school boys' basketball. But, around Baltimore during the late 1950s and early '60s, he was known as one of the best football players in the city. At Douglass High, he played quarterback for Mack Payne and Roy Cragway, graduating in 1960. At Morgan State, he punted and played quarterback for legendary coach Earl "Papa Bear" Banks, earning a place in Morgan's Hall of Fame in 1975.
"Pete was four years older than me," Wade said, "and when I was a senior at Dunbar, Earl Banks sent him over to recruit me to go to Morgan State to play football."
Pompey left Morgan in 1964 for a career in teaching. Wade graduated from Morgan in 1968 and played professional football with the Colts, Redskins, Steelers and Broncos.
The two eventually became linked forever because of their enormous success locally and nationally, and their fierce rivalry when Pompey coached football and boys' basketball at Edmondson and Wade did the same at Dunbar. When Wade left Dunbar to take over for Lefty Driesell at Maryland, Pompey replaced him.
He went on to coach both football and boys' basketball at Dunbar. In 1992, he led the Poets to a perfect 29-0 season and the high school basketball national championship. Two years later, he was back at Edmondson, coaching football and eventually taking the Red Storm to the 1999 Class 2A state championship game.
Edmondson lost the final game to Urbana, but it set the table for the school's 2004 state championship win, a run the Red Storm made under first-year coach Dante Jones.
Jones played linebacker for Pompey's last Dunbar team in 1992 and helped the Poets win their first state football title two years later, a team Stan Mitchell coached.
"Coach Pompey meant everything to us," Jones said. "He always inspired me to do better. He said just being good was not good enough. Playing and coaching, he showed me so much."
Pompey retired at the beginning of 2004, but was on the sidelines when the Red Storm beat McDonough of Charles County in December of that year at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Coming out of college, I think I understood the game of football," said Jones, who played at Delaware State. "But understanding it and coaching it were two different things. That's what he instilled in me. He showed me what it meant to be a coach in Baltimore City. He took me by the hand and showed me the way. So much stuff goes into coaching besides Xs and Os, and he helped me understand that."
Wade coached the Dunbar team during Saturday's first benefit game, a team that included many of the players from Pompey's first two years at Dunbar in 1987 and '88. Among them were Spencer Ringold, Charlie Hurt, Nathan Ayers and Thomas Hamilton. Marshall "Toby" Goodwin, the chief of the city's school police, coached the Edmondson team during the first game, which included Yates, Aaron Sharpe, Harold Jenkins, Herb Garrett and Jason Murphy.
Murphy played for the Red Storm team that played in the 1999 state finals before moving on to Virginia Tech and eventually the Chargers and Titans of the NFL.
"Coach Pompey made sure I went to college," said Murphy, who was named the 2000 Baltimore Sun Defensive Player of the Year. "He was like a father to me."
Pompey's presence at Saturday's benefit was somewhat bittersweet, because funds for the games and Saturday night's party are being put toward round-the-clock medical care for Pompey because Alzheimer's.
"Sometimes coach remembers where he is," said David Lewis, who played football and basketball at Dunbar and graduated in 1988, "and sometimes he doesn't. It's tough to watch. Sometimes he has good days and he knows who you are. Sometimes he doesn't. But he has support from all of us, a lot of support."
"You wake up one day and things change," said Harrington, who graduated from City College in 1972 and began teaching and coaching at Walbrook in 1976. "You can't predict what's going to happen. Our friendship has magnified the last couple of years to being a close, lifelong relationship. People have always looked up to Pete. The turnout here shows that."
"I'm not sure my dad really knows what's going on," McNair said. "If he knew, he'd be so humbled by it. He's not a flamboyant type. If he knew who was here and why they came, he'd be floored. Sometimes he knows. Sometimes he doesn't."
McNair; her husband, Thomas; and their children -- Jordan, Jamal and Taylor -- live with Pompey and Barbara in their Windsor Mill home. So does Barbara's mother, which makes eight under one roof.
Hundreds of others poured out on Saturday to say thanks. Among them were Timmy Greene and Billy Snowden, who played for the Dunbar team that beat DeMatha in the famous 1973 basketball game at the Baltimore Civic Center; former Carver standout Leon Love; and Chuck Newman, a 1973 graduate of Edmondson who went on to an outstanding career at the University of Baltimore.
Dozens of now 30- and 40-something former Dunbar and Edmdonson players gathered once more to pose for pictures with their former coach and shake his hand.
"He took so many people under his wing," McNair said. "If he saw potential in someone, then he'd be willing to share it. If somebody wanted to know something, he'd be willing to share it."
Pompey stressed discipline and attention to detail during his long coaching career. He surrounded himself with great players, but made sure they played the right way, respected one another and respected authority.
"He taught us discipline," Lewis said, "and he taught us how to be young men."
"It's just amazing how many people he affected in his lifetime," McNair said. "Some of the guys he coached are now coaching kids today. That always made him happy, for those guys to pass along what my father passed along to them. That would make him smile."
Posted July 18, 2012