By Keith Mills
Strip away the schedule (brutal), the record (34-0) and the honors (national championship) and the lasting memory for the players on the 1981-'82 Calvert Hall basketball team can't be found in any box score or record book.
“Camaraderie,” Paul Edwards said.
“We had tremendous camaraderie,” Mark Kauffman said.
“I didn’t have any brothers,” James “Pop” Tubman said. “These guys were my brothers. The camaraderie we had you couldn’t create. It was natural.”
Call it camaraderie or friendship, trust or affection -- the 1981-'82 Calvert Hall Cardinals had it. They also had talent, poise, leadership, experience and a coach who, 25 years later, still cares.
"This will never happen again in my lifetime," Coach Mark Amatucci said. "The journey we shared together was pretty unique."
It was a journey that was relived last Saturday at Calvert Hall as the Cardinals gathered for a reunion of the national championship team, 25 years after Amatucci’s team beat DeMatha, 82-76, in the Alhambra tournament to finish the season unbeaten and national champion.
Duane Ferrell, a sophomore on the team, missed the dinner Saturday night although he arrived in time for Calvert Hall's showdown on Sunday with Loyola. He joined seniors Edwards, Tubman, Marc Wilson, Kauffman, Pat Sass and Charlie Sikorsky, juniors Larry Flower and Ted Frick, and sophomores Eddie Oliver and Vernon Hill for this special trip down memory lane, the first time they had been together since 1982--
"It was overwhelming,” said Tubman, the 5-foot-7 point guard and the on-court leader of the Cards. “It is such a treat to see these guys. To get all the guys back is a once-in-a- lifetime experience and I’m going to take it all in and get the most out of it.”
And with the help of game programs, newspaper clippings, school yearbooks, a DVD Amatucci put together of the season finale against DeMatha and the still-vivid memories of that magical season, turning back the clock, or the calendar, wasn’t hard.
Amatucci graduated from Calvert Hall in 1970. Four years later, he left Juniata College with a degree in psychology, returning to Towson in 1974 to work at Sheppard Pratt Hospital. The next year he was back at Calvert teaching and coaching the junior varsity baseball team under Joe "Snooky" Binder and freshman basketball under Tom Ackerman.
Ackerman retired in 1977 and Amatucci was named Calvert Hall's head basketball coach at 24 years old.
"That would never happen today," Amatucci said. "I got lucky."
By 1981 Amatucci had an 83-27 record and the nation's No. 1-ranked team. The Cardinals were coming off a 29-2 season that ended with a disappointing loss to Archbishop Carroll in the semifinals of the Alhambra tournament at Frostburg State College in Cumberland. The season did, though, include the triple overtime classic win over Dunbar at the Towson Center -- a game that ranks right behind Dunbar’s stunning win over DeMatha in 1973 as the most important high school game ever in Baltimore.
Street and Smith's magazine named Calvert Hall its No. 1 team in the summer of '81 and as the summer turned to fall the pressure was mounting on the young Calvert Hall coach to play Dunbar again.
“Everybody wanted to see us play them again,” Amatucci said, “but Bob (Wade) and I talked and we couldn’t play unless it was during the season or after the Alhambra tournament. Our goal in '82 was to win the Alhambra tournament and I thought the Dunbar game the year before took something out of us. So I either wanted to play in season or after the Alhambra.”
The two teams never did play, though both teams went through the season unbeaten: Dunbar 27-0, Calvert Hall 34-0.
For Amatucci it was a time when basketball was a way of life. His players, handpicked from many of the area’s premier recreation centers in the city, were part of his family.
“Tooch found a way to bring us together,” Kauffman said. “He means a lot to me. He always told us to believe in ourselves and never give up.”
“To this day I use a lot of Tooch’s methods,” said Wilson, the team’s leading scorer and now the assistant women’s basketball coach at Indiana. “I know I was hard to deal with sometimes but Tooch was just the right fit for me. He thrust me forward. He knew what buttons to turn and he gave me the autonomy to get the job done.”
“We were just having a great time," Amatucci said. "We were so young we didn’t know better. I don’t think we ever took it serious, like it was life and death."
After the 1981-82 season Amatucci left Calvert Hall for Loyola College. After a stint at Anne Arundel Community College, he returned to the Hall in 1993 and has been coach ever since.
“What those guys stood for,” Amatucci said of his national championship team. “It’s the same message I try to give our kids here in 2007. Heart, commitment, accountability. Winning comes with all of that."
When Amatucci took over as head coach he immediately began improving the Cardinals' talent pool -- and that meant a lot of visits to the playgrounds and rec centers of East Baltimore. He also made a visit to the home of "Big" Paul Edwards on 33rd Street, near old Memorial Stadium. Big Paul's sons, Darryle and Paul, were a pair of powerhouse forwards at the St. Mary's Govans grade school in North Baltimore.
Darryle was a year older than Paul and both played at legendary Lafayette Courts Recreation Center in East Baltimore for Leon Howard.
The Edwards brothers played at Lafayette with Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues and Reggie Williams and seemed headed to Cardinals Gibbons. Instead, Big Paul sent his sons to Calvert Hall -- Darryle first, then Paul. Amatucci's Cardinals had just gotten better.
In the summer of 1979 Amatucci went back into East Baltimore, to the Madison Square Recreation Center, where Will Wells, now coach at St. Frances, featured two of the city's premier eighth-graders: James "Pop" Tubman and Marc Wilson.
"Pop and Marc were the first two kids we got out of Madison," Amatucci said, "and they really set the tone. Getting them was huge. They were the catalysts."
"Muggsy, Reggie Williams, Reggie Lewis, David Wingate, we played with all of those guys on the playgrounds," Wilson said. "And we were as good as those guys. We knew it and they knew it. But we all got along. It was great growing up where we did. We played basketball all the time."
"What made our team special," Edwards said, "was how close we were. We weren't just teammates, we were friends and you can win games when you're playing for your friends."
"We did everything together," Wilson said. "We were a family."
Kauffman also arrived at Calvert Hall in 1979, with Tubman, Wilson and Paul Edwards. "We all came in together," said Kauffman, who went on to play football at Towson State University, "and we left as seniors with a lot of wins and a lot of great memories."
Amatucci also dipped into the Madison Square rec center for Vernon Hill and Eddie Oliver, sophomores on the 1981-'82 and two of the most highly coveted grade school players in the city. And then in 1981 Duane Ferrell arrived,as did Pat Sass, a 6-foot-3 transfer from St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick.
The lineup was set: Tubman, Wilson, Ferrell, Edwards and Sass with Kauffman, Hill, Oliver, Frick, Flower and Sikorsky coming off the bench.
Scranton one weekend, Philadelphia the next. The Nike challenge in Las Vegas, the Alhambra in Cumberland. In addition to the Cards’ grueling Catholic League season, the 1981-’82 schedule featured long road trips and imposing opponents.
The Cardinals kicked the season off with a 12-point win over Spingarn of Washington, D.C., followed by a huge 82-77 win over Mackin, which featured future Duke star Johnny Dawkins. They followed that with a win over nationally-ranked LaSalle of Philadelphia.
The Warmland Tournament in Scranton, Pa., featured wins over Bishop O'Hannon and Bishop O'Reilly. Then it was off to the Nike Invitational in Las Vegas, where the Cards beat Western and Clark High Schools of Vegas by a combined 45 points.
They beat St. Bennard's of Los Angeles, 65-64, and Valley of Las Vegas, 70-69.
From Vegas, it was back home for Ferrell & Co. to kick off the Baltimore Catholic League season. After wins over Towson Catholic, Curley and Mount St. Joe, it was back on the road and a trip to Philadelphia and the Pepsi Challenge, to face Long Island Lutheran and mighty Camden of New Jersey.
With each win and each trip away from home and the pressures and expectations of a growing fan base, these teenagers became young men. "Coming together in such a diverse environment, that's the most important thing," Amatucci said. "We were all from different parts of the city but we all got along. The traveling we did, the places we visited and the process of getting kids to grow as young adults…that's what I'm most proud of."
The Cardinals were battle-tough and loaded with confidence. They rolled through the Baltimore Catholic League schedule and took their No. 1 ranking and top seed into the BCL tournament. After wins over Loyola and Mount St. Joe, Calvert Hall headed back to Cumberland and the Alhambra Tournament with a perfect 31-0 record.
The Cardinals beat Bonner High in the quarterfinals of the Alhambra and then beat Mackin 85-77 in the semifinals. That set up a rematch with DeMatha, led by legendary coach Morgan Wootten.
Calvert Hall won by six and left Cumberland in March of 1982 with a 34-0 record and a national championship.
Issue 2.5: February 1, 2007