- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2005

FREDERICK, Md. — Tom Dickman was king of high school basketball in Maryland. As coach at Gov. Thomas Johnson, he won seven state titles and amassed 592 victories — a state public school record.

The job was his for as long as he wanted it.

Then Hood College president Ronald Volpe came calling with this less than scintillating offer: Take a pay cut and create from scratch the school’s first men’s basketball team — a task that included devising a Division III schedule, finding a place to play, getting uniforms and assembling the first recruiting class.

At one point during the interview, Dickman shook his head and asked, “Do you guys have any basketballs?”

Volpe replied, “That we have. I can get you all the balls you want. And if you run short of players, I think I have a year of eligibility left.”

Incredibly, Dickman took the job. He’s been at it for nearly two years now and has worked wonders at a school that for years didn’t have any male students on campus, let alone a men’s basketball team. Men started attending Hood, founded in 1893, in 1971, but the school didn’t become fully coeducational until 2003, when men were permitted to live on campus.

Working with a team made up entirely of freshmen, Dickman led the Blazers to a 13-11 record in their inaugural season. They’re 9-8 this season going into today’s game against Philadelphia Bible — no small feat for a school that offers no athletic scholarships and doesn’t have an on-campus gym.

“I won’t tell Tom this,” Volpe says, “but they’re winning more early than I ever thought they would.”

When Dickman announced his decision to leave Thomas Johnson, his friends were stunned. Why leave a comfortable, well-paying job for less money and far more aggravation?

“You get to a certain point in your life where change is good,” Dickman says. “I would have been completely content to stay at TJ, and we would have continued to have pretty good teams. But I love the atmosphere on a college campus, and I could tell how important it was to the president, and the entire school, that we do this basketball thing right.

“I thought it would get my energy going because it meant so much to so many people. At TJ, it meant a lot to the kids involved, but it didn’t mean a lot to anyone else.”

It also helped that Hood is within a few miles of his house.

“I definitely didn’t want to pick up the family and move,” he says. “I wasn’t sure how this thing was going to work out, but I figured if I wasn’t ready for it, I could always find another job as a high school coach.”

Dickman, 54, has dealt with issues he never faced in high school and problems that would drive some college coaches into early retirement. The Blazers play their home games at nearby Thomas Johnson, and because academics are a priority at Hood, Dickman never knows when a busy class schedule will force one of his players to miss practice — or a game.

“Most schools at 3 o’clock are pretty much done for the day. We have practice at 3, and four guys are still in class,” Dickman says. “We’ve also had some 7 o’clock games where kids roll out of their class at 6:30 and get there 11 minutes before the tip-off. If a kid has a class the same time as a game, he goes to class.”

He has yet to summon Volpe — a former Division II player — to practice. But there are times when he probably has been tempted.

There’s also the matter of filling out the schedule. Hood does not have a conference affiliation and has been tough to beat, factors that have made it nearly impossible for Dickman to get a game.

“I took the job in January [2003] and got calls from everyone wanting to play the new guys, figuring it was an easy win. I had a 25-game schedule, and it could have been 125,” Dickman says. “Then we went 13-11. I’ve got all the games I can use next season in November and December, but no one wants to play out of their conference in January and February against someone decent.”

Volpe says the school is trying to join a league and alter the class schedule to make it easier for the athletes. He’s also seeking funds for an on-campus recreation center. Until that happens, however, Dickman and his squad will simply have to persevere.

At this point, the best thing Hood has going for it in terms of attracting players is a fine education and the guarantee that incoming freshmen won’t have to compete against a senior for playing time.

“When I was looking for schools, my options were walking onto a D-I or D-II school and maybe playing my junior or senior years, or playing right away at a good program in D-III,” says sophomore forward David Wilson. “I really liked the fact that we had a chance to come in and build something from the start. We’ve had our growing pains, but I see this program going a long way.”

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