The Boys of Dunbar

A Story of Love, Hope, and Basketball

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About The Book

The inspiring true story of a remarkable coach whose superb undefeated high-school basketball team in 1980s Baltimore produced four NBA players and gave hope to a desperate neighborhood and city—“a feel-good story that is timely as well as true” (Glenn C. Altschuler, Florida Courier).

As the crack epidemic swept across inner-city America in the early 1980s, the streets of Baltimore were crime ridden. For poor kids from the housing projects, the future looked bleak. But basketball could provide the quickest ticket out, an opportunity to earn a college scholarship and perhaps even play in the NBA.

Dunbar High School had one of the most successful basketball programs in the country; in the early 1980s, the Dunbar Poets were arguably the best high school team of all time. Four starting players—Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams, David Wingate, and Reggie Lewis—would eventually play in the NBA, an unheard-of success rate. In The Boys of Dunbar, Alejandro Danois revisits the 1981-1982 season with the Poets as the team conquered all its opponents. But more than that, he takes us into the lives of these kids, and especially of Coach Bob Wade, a former NFL player from the same neighborhood who knew that the basketball court, and the lessons his players would learn there, held the key to the future.

“[Danois’] tale of the basketball exploits of a handful of high school students in the 1980s shows young men motivated by their coach and other recreation leaders to dream beyond the hardship of their geography” (Bijan C. Bayne, The Washington Post). “Inspirational stories can be found everywhere in high-school sports, but Dunbar and its legendary coach, Bob Wade, stand out” (Booklist). The Boys of Dunbar will leave you cheering every victory.

Excerpt
The Boys of Dunbar CHAPTER ONE “Yes I Can!”
AT THE CONCLUSION OF the first varsity basketball practice for Baltimore’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the young men gathered in the gymnasium were exhausted.

They all stood at attention, varying shades of brown faces glistening with perspiration, staring at the bear of a man who’d alternated between screams of disgust and soft words of encouragement. They were the chosen ones, the few who had actually realized the dream this early in their lives. Through every summer tournament, winter recreation league game, and one-on-one contest, through every solitary morning sidestepping broken glass and empty liquor bottles, dribbling a ball through imaginary defenders to practice jump shots or master the backboard, the boys’ goal was the same. Not the NCAA, not the NBA, but suiting up for the only franchise that mattered to them, Dunbar.

They yearned to hold aloft the flame of Dunbar basketball excellence. Whatever their drill sergeant of a coach demanded of them, they demanded of one another. The Dunbar tradition was a major source of pride to a large swath of the city of Baltimore. This fact was not lost on any of them.

The imposing edifice of Dunbar High School was stuffed tightly amid dreary housing projects and sagging row homes in predominantly black East Baltimore. For all of the drab building’s shortcomings, the gymnasium inside was a veritable shrine, a sacrosanct place to the young men now standing on its hardwood floor. Despite their weary muscles, the boys were anxious to get their season under way.

For head coach Bob Wade, who was also Dunbar’s head varsity football and baseball coach, and returning players like junior All-American Reggie Williams and highly recruited seniors David Wingate and Gary Graham, the disappointment of the previous season’s 94–91 triple-overtime loss to Calvert Hall, a Catholic school, remained fresh in their minds. It was a contest that many thought was one of the greatest high school games ever played between two Baltimore area schools.

Despite the months that had passed and the fresh start that a new season promised, that loss inspired Dunbar from the first whistle of that initial practice. Wade was entering the season with a mind-boggling record of 132–10 as Dunbar’s head coach, having won five Maryland Scholastic Association titles over the previous six years. But there were many people in the city who questioned his success and the tactics he employed to achieve such a sparkling résumé. There were whispers from parents and coaches at other city schools intimating that Wade recruited his players.

Three of his team’s new starters had transferred from other schools at the beginning of the ’81–’82 school year. Some people wanted an investigation and sanctions, referring to Dunbar as “the city All-Stars.” But the truth, as difficult as it was for some to accept, was that Wade did not need to recruit. Dunbar was the city’s marquee public school program, with an astounding talent pool that resided in the surrounding housing projects. Almost every talented kid in the city wanted to play there.

“I never recruited a player, nor did I have to,” said Wade. “Dunbar had a tradition of excellence that many kids dreamed of being a part of. That tradition was established long before I ever got there. I was just lucky enough that so many talented kids wanted to be a part of what we were doing.” Wade may not have “recruited” players, but he certainly singled out those youngsters he believed showed the most promise, regardless of their neighborhood or school district.

The Poets had lost three games the year before. Wade was more determined than ever that this new squad was going to do better. His challenge every year was to find which buttons to push with certain players; who could accept being yelled at and who needed quiet encouragement. At various points in practice, he joked, he cajoled, and sometimes he yelled and insulted. One minute, he’d appear surly, brusque, and dyspeptic, the next solicitous and benevolent. With the talent at his disposal, he drove them mercilessly, determined to make practices so difficult that every game, no matter who they faced, would be a cakewalk. In his eyes, the three losses that they had suffered the year before were three too many.

Wade emphasized the game’s details, the subtle nuances that many high school kids never learn to master. His practices were filled with hours upon hours of drills that fostered a mastery of things like defensive footwork, swift defensive rotations designed to keep players between the opposing man and the basket, how to take charges, how to set screens, the proper angles to take when rolling off the screen and cutting to the basket, how to box out for rebounds, and how to throw outlet passes, among a plethora of other details that could be the difference between a win or a loss in a close game. Wade ran the same drills over and over again, programming his players to react quickly and correctly to various game situations. The casual fans who packed Dunbar’s gym and didn’t have an advanced understanding of the game undoubtedly enjoyed the frenetic pace that the Poets played at, the alley-oops, the slam dunks, and the way they ran the ball down an opponent’s throat. They might have assumed that his players were just great athletes and that all Wade had to do was roll the ball out and let them run up and down the court. But sophisticated students of the game could see the discipline, how fundamentally sound and unselfish his Dunbar teams were, how they’d coalesced as a unit, always seeming to make the right plays by instantaneously adjusting.

Wade’s other obsession was academics. From the mandatory study halls that were required for his players year-round, even when their sport was out of season, to the teachers he convinced to give up a slice of their free time to volunteer as tutors, Wade’s commitment to his athletes’ classroom responsibilities was unquestioned. If a star player needed help, Wade had a support infrastructure in place. He’d make sure his kids worked in the classroom because he knew that one day the balls would stop bouncing. If a star player failed, there were no special provisions or demands on teachers to let his boys slide by for the sake of athletic victories. If they couldn’t handle their responsibilities in school, they simply couldn’t play for him.

Wade also had another mechanism in place that allowed him to keep tabs on his players outside of the school: the neighborhood grapevine. He’d walked the same streets during his youth, knew the neighborhood inside and out, and had a network of informants, from law enforcement personnel like his good friend Marshall Goodwin, who worked as an officer with the city’s sheriff’s department and served as the team’s de facto bodyguard, to folks involved in the less desirable elements of the underground economy. Having grown up in the area, he was well respected, even by the criminal element. Despite their illegal activities, even the drug dealers operated by a tacit code in East Baltimore: Bob Wade’s Dunbar Poets were off-limits.

But the city’s drug trade was metastasizing into something far more malignant; its victims were being snared at an earlier age than ever before. When Wade was a teenager, the heroin trade, with its scarce supply and great demand, was run by old-school traffickers whose inventories were, in effect, “regulated.” These were people who saw themselves as businessmen, who kept their circles small. It was a matter of ethics for them to keep the trade away from the street corners and the neighborhood children. Their drugs were processed in safe houses and later distributed through bars, pool halls, and nightclubs, or delivered to individual customers in their apartments or private homes. They had a conservative, long-term approach to their business philosophies.

The old-school kingpins had enduring links to small local businesses through legitimate investments and loans, where they effectively washed their money. They nurtured community support by giving away Thanksgiving meals to needy families, purchasing and having groceries delivered to the elderly, sponsoring bus trips to local amusement parks and neighborhood block parties and picnics. But the demarcation of keeping kids away from the narcotics trade was crossed in the late 1970s when a new breed of kingpin emerged and changed the business model in favor of swelling profit margins. The drugs moved out of the nightclub scene and into open-air markets. But perhaps their most treacherous attempt at modernization was the recruitment of kids to join the expanding workforce. And among the prime recruiting targets were the teenagers in the Lafayette Courts housing projects, where many of Wade’s players had resided over the years.

When Wade was coaching in the early 1980s, cocaine experienced a phenomenal growth in popularity on the already battered streets of urban America. With the bountiful supply of cocaine available, enterprising teens began setting up their own shops, running back and forth via Greyhound bus or Amtrak trains to Upper Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, where they could buy unlimited supplies of high-grade cocaine at wholesale prices. As the adolescent army and new breed of drug dealer flourished, they proved to be wantonly reckless and indiscriminately violent in settling turf wars with rival dealers for the prime drug market corners.

In addition to their fancy clothes, flashy cars, and sparkling jewelry, they also owned a stupefying amount of high-powered semiautomatic weapons. Where the teen gangs of Wade’s East Baltimore were fighting with their hands or knives to settle who the toughest crew was, the teen gangs of East Baltimore in the 1980s were fighting with deadly assault weapons to control the multimillion-dollar narcotics trade. And the body count was becoming increasingly filled with innocent children and working folks who happened to get caught in the crossfire.

“The drug culture in Baltimore underwent a significant change with the emergence of a dealer by the name of Maurice ‘Peanut’ King in the late 1970s, whose rise was precipitated by a joint federal and city law enforcement task force that basically took down the older, major heroin dealers, one by one,” said Sunni Khalid, a former crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. “They thought they’d be able to dry up the market for heroin, but I-95, which ran right through the heart of Baltimore, was the East Coast’s main drug corridor, and Peanut King simply filled the vacuum. But he changed the dynamic of the city’s drug business philosophy because he took advantage of Maryland’s lax juvenile justice system, employing teenagers to sell his drugs.

“This was at a time when Baltimore was deindustrializing. East Baltimore was a collection of blue-collar neighborhoods from the 1920s through the late 1970s and early ’80s, but when the shipyards and steelyards started closing down, the neighborhoods and schools started falling into disrepair. These teenage drug dealers became their family’s main wage earners. The proximity of the drugs drew closer to the schools and as cocaine moved in, you had guys like Peanut King reconfiguring the old drug territories, giving the responsibility on the retail level to this army of young, undisciplined, and uneducated kids. As the years progressed, the drug dealers became younger and younger.

“The Eastern District used to be the smallest of the city’s nine police districts, only 3.1 square miles, but they started experiencing the highest number of drug-related shootings. The dealers were fighting for territories, and they were arming themselves with arsenals. AK-47 assault rifles started showing up on the streets, as did bulletproof vests. The open-air drug markets opened in the early 1980s and stayed open for business, twenty-four hours a day, for close to twenty years. So you had this erosion of respect for elders and any type of authority figures. The effects devastated the community, and the incarceration rates skyrocketed. The mothers, once the strength of the family unit, were now out in the streets chasing the cocaine and crack high.

“The local economy had broken down, the neighborhoods were being transformed for the worse, the good jobs dried up, and family units and schools broke down. It was all such a vicious cycle.”

But while the street culture and mentality of the community were changing, Wade remained rigid in his adherence to old-school principles. One thing he would not tolerate on the basketball court was showboating. No one was ever allowed, after a great play or a victory, to thrust his pointer finger in the air, signifying that he was number one. The Poets were inculcated with the philosophy that to disrespect one’s opponent was disrespectful to the game itself. If a player threw a behind-the-back pass where a simple chest or bounce pass would have sufficed, he found himself sitting on the bench shortly thereafter.

When the final school bell rang on that late autumn afternoon in 1981, the Dunbar players made their way to study hall. At exactly 3:30 p.m., study hall commenced, and the only sounds to be heard were the opening and closing of textbooks, the whirring of the ventilation system, and snippets of conversation from the adjacent corridors and stairwell.

Before anyone could practice, he was required to complete every homework assignment due the next day. Wade set no specified time to start practice; it came after study hall. Only after the homework was reviewed by one of the teachers who volunteered as tutors could players go to the gym. Practice began when the last textbook was closed.

“There are certain expectations that are placed on you as a player who wears the Dunbar uniform,” Wade said, launching into his standard speech before commencing the inaugural practice of each season. “You should have been working out on your own, and if you haven’t, we’ll soon find out. It’s not going to be easy. Because of who we are, there is a target that will always be on your back. In order to deal with that, day in and day out, we will go that extra mile. No one will be more prepared and in better condition than we will. No one has invented a pill that you can swallow to get you in the kind of shape that you need to be in. It starts right here.”

He spoke as if he were reciting items on a grocery list, but Wade was still burning on the inside at how the previous season had ended. He was eager to begin again. Although there were many recent additions to the team and personalities that needed to be incorporated into his system, he liked what he saw early on. This team had size, speed, and quickness. They were tough and looked hungry.

He blew his whistle, and the players strapped on the sand-filled backpacks that sat at their feet. They then scooped up two bricks, one for each hand, and a seemingly endless number of full-court sprints followed. Then, to half-court and back followed by suicide runs—sprints to the nearest free-throw line and back to the baseline, followed immediately by a sprint to the half-court line and back to the baseline, with an ensuing sprint to the free-throw line at the other end of the court and back to the baseline, concluded by a full-court dash to the far baseline and back.

The players were then separated into small groups and instructed to continuously jump as high as they could, with the bricks extended over their heads, up and down and up and down, for twenty minutes straight. Next were agility drills, defensive footwork and step-slides, quick dashes to certain spots on the court and swiveling on a dime, knees bent, arms outstretched while sliding and pivoting around the floor.

Then senior guard Gary Graham dropped a brick. As soon as it hit the ground, Graham smiled at the collective groan of his teammates. At the sound of the whistle, the torturous regimen began again. Sprints, suicides, jumping and agility drills, footwork. When finished, the players removed one another’s backpacks—with bricks still in hand. Then the routine started again. Then they started yet again, this time without the bricks. And only when that was done, were the balls rolled out and the passing drills begun. They ran through their offensive and defensive sets, as well as the various full-court and half-court press alignments that they would be implementing in more detail over the next few weeks. It would be hours before a single shot was taken, before they finally segued into fast-break drills, along with half-court and full-court scrimmages. At the final whistle, some four hours after practice had begun, they came to a halt in front of Wade.

Despite their fatigue at the end of that first practice, the players listened intently as they gathered around their coach. Wade was, undeniably, the boss. For the newcomers—even though they had been warned by the veterans—the intensity of the practice was a shock.

Among those struggling to stand was 5-foot-3 junior point guard Tyrone Bogues. It was his first official practice as a Dunbar Poet and he, of all the team’s new players, should not have been surprised by the intensity of the workout. He’d been watching Dunbar practice since he was a little kid. Yet he was astonished. Watching the team practice for years was one thing; experiencing the brutality of Wade’s practice was quite another. Wade had long been eyeing Muggsy and his childhood friend Reggie Williams. The Lafayette Recreation Center, which was a short walk from Dunbar and where the boys grew up playing the game, was almost a farm system for Wade’s teams. Wade knew that Bogues, despite his tiny stature, and the tall, slim Williams were rare talents. He’d been studying their development since middle school, while also allowing them the privilege of watching his teams’ closed-door practices.

Wade would also have open-gym sessions during the fall, spring, and summer, where neighborhood youth could come in to play pickup games on the hallowed court. This wasn’t done with any charitable purpose in mind. Wade knew the power that the Dunbar brand carried in the community. He also knew that the neighborhood’s best players who weren’t of high school age would be there.

“When we were kids, we would love to play in those pickup games on Dunbar’s court,” said Bogues. “Coach Wade would be in his office, and we’d be playing as hard as we could. We were hoping that he would notice us. That’s all we ever talked and dreamed about growing up: playing together at Dunbar for Mr. Wade.”

At the start of each new season, Wade would walk past Bogues and Williams, who were watching practices, and ask them the same question, “How many years until you guys are going to be playing for me?” And while the length of Williams’s arms and legs grew over the years as the countdown proceeded, Bogues never did grow much, though over time he began to look like a miniature bodybuilder.

“All we cared about as kids was wearing that maroon-and-gold uniform for Dunbar when we got to high school,” said Williams. “In elementary school, we’d sit up in the stands going crazy like everybody else. We knew all of the team chants and all the words to the team songs and cheers that the cheerleaders would do. We felt like we were part of the team, like we were part of the Dunbar family. Mr. Wade made sure that we would get into the games for free. But it wasn’t like he did that because he knew we would one day grow up to become great players. We were in elementary school, so he didn’t know what type of players we would grow up to be. The older guys from the projects that played for him would tell him, ‘Hey, Coach, Muggs and Russ [Williams’s nickname] are pretty good,’ and he’d just smile and look at us and say, ‘Okay, we’ll see one day.’ But it was beyond basketball; he was interested in us as kids because you have to understand that our parents, uncles, and siblings had all gone to Dunbar. He knew my parents, he knew Muggsy’s parents, and he knew people in our families before we were even born.”

In addition to his stellar accomplishments in the city’s youth basketball leagues, Bogues was a phenomenal Ping-Pong player who possessed an incredibly fast set of hands and superior eye-hand coordination that couldn’t be taught. He was also an outstanding youth wrestler whose aggressive mauling of opponents was legendary.

“When I wrestled, I didn’t have to worry about the short jokes and being too small, which is what I heard all the time when I played basketball,” said Bogues. “But despite what everybody was saying, I always believed in my basketball abilities. My mother didn’t know much about basketball when I was a kid. And she really didn’t come to see me play. But when I would tell her about the negative things people were saying and how they doubted me, she always said, ‘Don’t worry about it. No one can be an expert on your life. They don’t know how big your heart is, and they don’t know what you’re capable of. Keep doing what you want to do.’?”

It was Elaine Bogues who kept the family together after her husband, Richard “Billy” Bogues, was arrested on an armed robbery charge when Tyrone was twelve. Billy was sentenced to a twenty-year federal prison term, which he served at the correctional facility in Jessup, Maryland. Prior to Billy’s incarceration, Tyrone, his brothers, and sister thought their dad’s sole job was working as a stevedore, unloading the cargo of the massive steamships in Baltimore’s ports. But they soon learned that Billy didn’t spend all of those irregular hours and days away from home solely working at the docks.

“Whenever we asked where he was, our mom always said that he was out working, and we never had any reason to think otherwise,” said Bogues. “I remember piling in the car as a family, going to drive-in movies or the beach or amusement parks, just having fun. We would love to sit down with my mother on the weekends while she watched her favorite kung fu movies and westerns. But I also remember that my dad was out of the house a lot. When he got locked up, I started to understand that when he wasn’t home, he was getting into some things he shouldn’t have. He was selling drugs, committing armed robberies and stickups, living a life on the streets that he eventually paid for.”

Bogues would harbor a resentment against his father for years. As he later said, “I was so mad at him, but I didn’t know how to release it.” After a few trips to see his father in prison, Bogues stopped visiting him until his college years.

Having depended on Billy financially, Elaine was forced to go on public assistance when he was incarcerated. She immediately went back to night school and earned her high school equivalency, working alongside her oldest son, Chucky, who was also there finishing up his studies. Tyrone watched his mom work menial jobs during the day, go to school at night, and study whenever she could. Elaine eventually would secure full-time employment as a secretary at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a renowned medical and psychiatric institution that worked to improve the lives of children with developmental and behavioral disorders. With her extended family and older siblings chipping in when times got hard, she managed to keep the bustling household afloat.

Whenever he stepped on a basketball court, Muggsy played with a sense of purpose, determination, and hunger that was incomparable. When he got to Dunbar, the derisive voices of people mocking his chances of succeeding at an elite level pushed him even harder. There was also something else that propelled him every day, a frightening circumstance that had taken place eleven years prior that few knew about. It would continue to motivate him for the remainder of his life.

The sun was setting on the east side of Baltimore on an early autumn weekend in 1970. At 1115 Orleans Street, a squat, red-brick, low-rise building like countless others in the Lafayette Courts housing projects, five-year-old Tyrone Curtis Bogues had just come down to the living room from the upstairs bedroom he shared with his two older brothers in the family apartment.

Built fifteen years earlier, Lafayette Courts rose out of the ashes of blocks of dilapidated row houses, 550 units, that had been bulldozed in a massive slum clearance to make room for eleven 105-foot-tall, high-rise towers and a host of surrounding two- and three-story low-rise buildings. It was an urban renewal project that aimed to house 807 families in what would become, at the time, 1952, the nation’s largest housing project outside of Chicago.

When the first towers were raised, instead of extolling the views of the nearby harbor that they offered, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun newspaper, in a bit of foreshadowing, focused on the chain-link fencing that enclosed the outdoor corridors and its concrete floors, comparing them to a well-kept prison. But early residents of Lafayette, before the plague of Baltimore’s stupefying drug problem and its attendant violence crept into the homes and lives of the average person, recalled the area to be wholesome, neat, and comfortable. It was a place where neighbors would look after one another in an extended-family village, courtyards awash with joyful sounds of children’s games, as opposed to what would come later—the frightful screams of residents scampering to evade the whizzing bullets, as warring drug dealers sought to settle conflicts.

But before the heroin and cocaine became widespread, before the buildings of Lafayette began to sag, before teenage drug dealers took over the stairwells, hallways, and outdoor courtyards, the neighborhood was a place where one could sit outside on warm evenings and snuggle in the comforting blanket of a caring community. Despite many of its residents living close to or below the poverty line, it was a place of shared dreams along with the frustration of the daily urban struggle, a place where kids didn’t necessarily feel they were poor in a hamlet that did its best to take care of everyone.

In 1970, when Tyrone Bogues was five years old, Lafayette was somewhere between what it had been and what it would become. From his upstairs bedroom window, Tyrone could see a large crowd gathering on Orleans Street, where a man and a woman were screaming at each other. A crowd, composed mostly of kids and young teens, along with a few curious adults, grew quickly.

Ty, as he was known to family and neighbors, dashed downstairs to see firsthand what everyone else was so eager to witness. It was only a few quick steps through a light rain before he joined the crowd, his darting eyes trying to make sense of the situation. He immediately spotted Sherron, his eleven-year-old sister who doted on him and refused to let him out of her sight whenever they were outside together. Sherron was the one who would take little Ty over to the Lafayette Recreation Center around the corner, the one he’d follow like a puppy, watching, studying, and trying to emulate as she ran circles around the neighborhood boys while playing sports.

Sidling up to Sherron on Orleans Street, Ty also noticed his thirteen-year-old brother Chucky. As the buzz and chatter elevated, the man arguing with his girlfriend ran a few short steps, grabbed something off the concrete sidewalk, and in one fluid motion, stood up clutching a brick. Screaming, in a rage, he lifted it above his head, leaned back, and hurled it into Mr. Chester’s soul food restaurant storefront window. The sound of the brick punching through the glass echoed through the air and floated above the traffic.

Mr. Chester’s establishment was one of several small enterprises that lined Orleans Street, directly across from the northern lip of Lafayette Courts. The proprietors of these businesses—like the New Store, where kids would ruin their teeth with cheap candy and ice cream; Mr. Buddy’s Barber Shop; Mr. Lou’s Liquor Store; Mr. Fats Penny Store, where you strolled in to grab some tasty cookies; and Miss Mickey’s and Mr. Ron’s, which served up grilled steak or cold-cut sandwiches—were fixtures in the community who were all well known to everyone. These entrepreneurs and enterprises were small cogs in the local economy, as much a part of the fabric of the lives of Lafayette residents as the larger neighboring shops in the nearby Old Town Market. Residents from all over the city took the trolley to put a few dollars on layaway for some of the latest fashions at Diplomats, which everybody simply called “Dips,” or to buy furniture at Epstein’s. But Lafayette residents mostly patronized the local stores like Mr. Chester’s.

“Old Man Chester,” with a healthy head of black hair that belied his age, was an ornery sort. So when the crowd saw him burst out of his store wearing his customary blue slacks, plaid shirt, and easy-walker moccasins, they could see his bad intentions.

When they heard the brick-throwing perpetrator point across the street and say, “It was those kids!” the gawking crowd quickly began to disperse. The infuriated old man darted into a shed in the adjacent alley. When he returned seconds later, he was pumping and aiming his double-barreled shotgun at those still standing around. Little Ty, Sherron, and everyone else, now terrified, crouched and sprinted away from Orleans Street toward Lafayette’s maze of walkways and alleys. Sherron was holding her baby brother’s hand as they began to run. And that’s when Mr. Chester, mean, old, and incensed, started firing.

Running through a small patch of grass in a neighbor’s front yard, Ty lost his footing in a stretch of watery mud and fell to the ground. Almost immediately, a neighbor named Ricky dashed out of his front door and picked up the little boy to get him out of harm’s way. Standing erect, before he could gather a head of steam to run to safety, Ricky dropped Ty the instant that shotgun pellets tore into his thigh. Back in the mud, and realizing that Ricky had been shot, Ty quickly jumped back on his feet and made it no more than a step or two before scattering buckshot ripped into his tiny arms, thighs, shins, and calves, sending him back to the ground in a heap next to a nearby fence that he’d hoped to scale.

“I had his hand when we started running,” said Sherron. “Everything happened so fast, I don’t remember letting go of his hand, and I thought he was still next to me. I didn’t know what happened until people started screaming, ‘Ty got shot! Ty got shot!’ I saw him lying there, bleeding, and everybody was hysterical. Mr. Chester stopped shooting, and I ran over to my brother. There was all this blood. I thought he was going to die. People were running to get my mother. She came out, and while the ambulance was coming, the police were spreading out, asking us what happened. They’d already taken Mr. Chester away. He was lucky that the cops got to him first, because when our father and his friends showed up, it looked like they were ready to kill him.”

The doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital told his family that the little boy was lucky that he hadn’t been shot in the face or head. He was also extremely fortunate that the shotgun had been loaded with pellets as opposed to the deadlier slugs, which he would have been unable to walk away from. Most of the pellets were removed from his body, but a few were lodged too deeply for the physicians to remove. Bogues would have to walk around with them for the rest of his life.

“Ever since that day, something happened inside of me,” said Bogues. “It’s hard to explain, but even as a little kid, getting shot, thinking I might die, and surviving, that gave me an inner strength. I felt like I could survive anything. I had this will, even back then, that if I wanted something, if I set my mind to something, I was going to work as hard as I could to get it. I wasn’t going to sit around, be scared, or not do anything. In the back of my mind, I knew that I could’ve been dead, that I was lucky.”

Bogues decided, after coming home from the hospital, that he wanted to achieve things. He wanted to be great at something. Coming from where he did, seeing the things that happened to people that he knew, he realized that life could be over in an instant. He took a vow that he wouldn’t let anything stand in his way.

“I had this belief in myself, this inner confidence, from the day that I got shot, as crazy as it might sound, that I could do anything that I set my mind to,” Bogues said.
About The Author
Photograph by Llewellyn Berry

A native of Brooklyn, New York, Alejandro Danois now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned a scholarship for talented minority students to attend Milton Academy in Massachusetts and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Danois is editor-in-chief of The Shadow League and a freelance sports and entertainment writer whose work has been published by The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, Associated Press, Bleacher Report, Sporting News, Los Angeles Times, and Ebony magazine, among others. The Boys of Dunbar is his first book.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 2017)
  • Length: 296 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781451666984

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Raves and Reviews

Boys of Dunbar is more than a book about basketball. At a deeper level, it’s an inspiring tale about the magnificence of the human spirit played out in the lives of young people on and off the court. . . . A gem of a sports story.”

 

– Bill Hughes, Baltimore Times

“[Danois’s] tale of the basketball exploits of a handful of high school students in the 1980s shows young men motivated by their coach and other recreation leaders to dream beyond the hardship of their geography. . . . Expertly re-creates not only a season but the mood of a growing sport.”

– Bijan C. Bayne, The Washington Post

“The numbers say everything about the magical run by the boys’ basketball team of Baltimore’s Dunbar High School in the 1981-82 and 1982-83 seasons. . . . Inspirational stories can be found everywhere in high-school sports, but Dunbar and its legendary coach, Bob Wade, stand out for the sheer talent to converge at Dunbar those two seasons.”

– Booklist

“Yes, The Boys of Dunbar is a book about high school basketball. But it is much more than that. . . . The Boys of Dunbar is a book about survival, a book about perseverance, a story about hard work and overcoming obstacles. . . . The courage, leadership, and drive are remarkable, and The Boys of Dunbar chronicles it from its beginning.”

– Frank Valish, Under the Radar

"A feel good story that’s timely as well as true."

– Glenn C. Altschuler, The Florida Courier

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