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with football back in those days, the pit was where we blocked one on one, man to man

where you earned respect or you faced a little brotherly derision and ribbing

 in the locker room and shower.



Remembering Reggie

By Clarence (Tiger) Davis


Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, has always inspired a sense of patriotism but for the past few years it has taken on a greater significance. It's the anniversary of the birth of an old friend who is no longer physically with us but will remain in our hearts and minds forever.

Reginald Francis Lewis was born three months after me on December 7, 1942. We became friends in the summer of 1957 at Clifton Park, the site of Dunbar High School football practice.

I and a few other sophomores, Billy Tinkler, Leon Stewart, Elmer Sewell, and James Mann decided to stay on junior varsity another year rather than move to varsity and "ride the pine." We would, in our minds, be the nucleus of a strong junior varsity. We would be the big boys on JV or so we thought.

The first week of practice is arduous calisthenics, running and more running, drills and more drills, as one by one the pretenders would quietly drift away. Wind sprints up "The Hill" would then separate the men from the boys and what remained would be our team. At the end of the first week, we're issued "pads" and practice uniforms and the next week we get physical. It was on that Monday that I noticed this quiet unassuming rookie, with his head tilted downward, looking up with a certain self‑assurance which seemed kind of mysterious. The freshmen had a camaraderie which we, sophomores, hadn't paid much attention to until it came time for "The Pit."

Now, for those unfamiliar with football back in those days, the pit was where we blocked one on one, man to man where you earned respect or you faced a little brotherly derision and ribbing in the locker room and shower. We, sophomores, couldn't wait to show these freshmen "who's boss." Calvin Lambson, the head JV Coach, called for two lines and I noticed that all the freshmen got into the same line which meant they would go head to head with us sophomores. They changed places in the line according to which sophomore they would be lined up against. This rangy, six foot two, two hundred and ten pounder, lined up and appeared to count down to assure he would behead to head with me. I was five ten and a hundred and eighty pounds, with a reputation.

No Big Deal

When our turn came, he lined up with a perfect three pronged stance. "Pretty good for a rookie." I went with the four pronged stance and gave him the impression I would "crab block." Saliva poured from the corner of his mouth as he wiped away the excess secretion. "Dag," I said to myself, "he's licking his chops." As coach prepared to give the signal for engagement, I stood up. "What's the matter," coach yelled, "you been here before ‑ lets go." I could see something was in the making as this scrappy freshman gritted his teeth and growled. My pride was being challenged and I knew I had been set up. My emotions built to a point of frenzy and no sooner than coach yelled "hut," I was into this freshman's chest, legs fiercely churning, driving and I wouldn't let up. I could hear yells and groans from our teammates as it was scorched earth in "The Pit, "on this day. Coach enjoyed the confrontation as it would set standards of true grit for the other players.

 I won the battle that day against Earl "Mad Dog" Divers who several years later played for the Atlanta Falcons. Later on, I realized that this freshman quarterback was orchestrating the activities and practice habits of the freshmen. After practice, "Mad Dog" and Reggie came over to me and began to compliment my power and skills. They referred to me as the "Bengal Tiger," after a movie which was showing at the local theater. I was amazed at the courtesy extended me by these rookies and somewhat befuddled.

Apparently, they had been organized and practicing for a week before scheduled practice but more than that they had intelligence data on each of us sophomores. Each of them had a role to play in establishing their presence and each had been designated a position to pursue. Gerald "Stick em" Broadway and Red Scott was to be guards and anchor the line with "Mad Dog," and James "The Prince" Prince would lead the back field. All would become prime time players led by Reginald Francis Lewis who brought something special to athletics at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.

From the outset, Reggie wanted to challenge the varsity to a scrimmage. "Are you nuts," I said. "The bigger they come, the harder they fall,” he replied. "Our fundamentals are better than theirs," he shouted, "We can beat them."

As the season progressed, we had to absorb taunts and deal with the indignities of the big boys on varsity as they threw dirty soap on us, in the shower, after washing various parts of their bodies. Finally, I said to Reggie, "Lets take `em on." Coach Lambson reluctantly, but with pride, gave in to our request and spoke to Coach William "Sugar" Cain about a scrimmage.

Coach Sugar Cain, knowing that we were no physical match for the varsity, started his second string against us. Midway through the scrimmage, as we vigorously and successfully pursued our revenge, he began inserting his first string, one by one, to shore up weaknesses, then he threw the first string defense at us. They were relentless in their pursuit of the quarterback, man handling our smaller line. Reggie was elusive but they got to him and he got to us in the huddle. "What's the matter," he yelled, "you're blocking like little girls."

We then ran a trap, quarterback sneak up the middle. Mad Dog had the trap assignment and laid this fiercely charging lineman flat on his backside and Reggie headed for open spaces. As Reggie ran down the field, he had an escort of two lineman and two ends, trailed by six other joyful teammates. In fact, the entire junior varsity team ran down the field to the amazement of Coach Cain, who then called off the scrimmage to chastise his "big boys." We had outplayed the varsity with our thinking, preparedness, and fundamentals, which became the hallmark of Dunbar football for the next two years as we faced one challenge after another.

We gained respect in the field house and no more dirty soap was thrown on us. The sophomores and juniors, on varsity, sought our friendship as they knew we would be teammates the following year.

Integration of the black schools into the Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA) was moving rapidly. Football was the last hurdle and some of us were not too eager to engage the big white schools such as Poly, Patterson and City, which had large male student populations to draw from while we were relegated to a hand full of male students. In fact, Robert Royster, who would make first team All Conference at tackle, had to work and couldn't make all the practices.

On top of all that, our first opponent in the MSA was none other than the mean engineers from North Avenue. Poly, in those days was awesome  Ron Klages, Ed Stuckgrath and a rolling ball by the name of Winder at guard. These boys were seasoned and ready. Sugar Cain was angry at being scheduled to face Poly right off the bat, but he made the most of it exclaiming from the first day of practice, "they didn't want you in the league, so they're feeding you to the lions." Being fine young Christians, we got the message the first time but Coach reiterated it from time to time to motivate the seniors who were lackadaisical.

The former JV players needed no motivation. We were ready to challenge for every position on varsity. Encouraged and led by Reggie, we had practiced all summer. Reggie, Tinkler, Leon, Elmer, Gerald and I would become first string by the second game of the season. Mad Dog, MacArthur Cheeks, James Mann, The Prince and Boonie Royster, Robert's little brother, put pressure on their counterparts to include our three All Conference players, namely Robert Royster and Carl Hite our tackles, and Willie Joyner, our full back, three of the greatest football players to ever wear the maroon and gold. Another one of our seniors, George "Jake The Rattlesnake" Benjamin should have been All Conference end, but this was only our first year in the league and there was no way four Dunbar players would corner that many first team picks, not in 1958 Baltimore.

Getting Back to Summer Practice

Deep down, none of us had faith that we could beat Poly. After all, the News American had us as four touchdown underdogs. Never the less, we worked hard so as to not embarrass our community and school. Reggie insisted that we could beat their socks off if we believed and prepared. "Those white boys are slow and big headed. We can beat them, we are better than them." Those of us, who knew Reggie from JV, knew he was dead serious and even though, at the time, he was not the starting quarterback, his presence was strong and to be reckoned with by even the seniors who lacked a sense of mission. Reggie volunteered to play safety on defense. This got him into the game. Granville Collins, the starting center, couldn't snap the ball on fourth down punts, this got me into the game.

Hank Richmond, a great 880 man in track, was injured and Tinkler took over. Leon began to spell The Rattlesnake and The Prince came in for Willie at full back, running the ball with great power, rooting "lets go Prince" breaking one tackle after another for short gains. The other former JV players were substituted for the more seasoned players, keeping them fresh. By now, the seasoned varsity veterans were rooting for their younger replacements. The spirit and commitment to team which Reggie brought to the JV had transcended the mind set of the seasoned varsity players. Final score: Dunbar 12, Poly 8.

Reginald Francis Lewis was special. On this, the 58th Anniversary of his birth, most will remember his one billion dollar leverage buy out of Beatrice International, one of the top five food companies in the world. For those of us who knew Reggie, up close and personal, we thank God for his presence in our lives. His determination and commitment to excellence, his desire for achievement, and sense of mission will never be forgotten. 


Written on December 7, 2000

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Reginald Francis Lewis grew up in a middle class Baltimore neighborhood. He won a football scholarship to Virginia State College (now Virginia State University) and graduated from Virginia State with a degree in economics in 1965 and from Harvard Law School in 1968. After working at several law firms, Lewis opened TLC Group, a venture capital firm. In 1987 Lewis bought Beatrice International Foods for $985 million, and created TLC Beatrice, a snack food, beverage, and grocery store conglomerate that was the largest black-owned and black-managed business in the U.S. At its peak in 1996, TLC Beatrice had  $2.2 billion in sales and was number 512 on Fortune magazine's list of 1,000 largest companies.

Reginald Lewis was also a prominent philanthropist. His 1992 gift to Harvard Law School was the largest single donation the school had received and created the Reginald F. Lewis Fund for International Study and Research. After his death January 19, 1993, his half-brother and former football player Jean S. Fugett took over the company.

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Clarence "Tiger" Davis is a member of the Maryland General Assembly.  He has been a State Delegate, (Democrat, District 45), representing East Baltimore for almost 20 years. 

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