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Dunbar coach’s demeanor helps mold city champions

(Published April 5, 1999)


Staff Writer

Three weeks ago during the City Title game, in which Dunbar High School upset top-ranked Gonzaga, senior point guard Brian Chase made a bad pass and then glanced over at his coach, Gary Lampkins.

The coach "just gave me a calm look and vote of confidence," Chase said. A few plays later Chase hit a three-pointer from NBA range.

With under a minute to go, Bernard Robinson hit the biggest basket of the game and was fouled. He looked over to the bench where everyone else was going crazy, except for coach Lampkins. Lampkins gave Robinson a determined look and a confident nod. Robinson hit the free-throw and the Crimson Tide won its first city championship game since 1993.

During post-game interviews, knowing Dunbar had dominated the area in basketball earlier in the ‘90s and that people were bound to compare him to then-coach Mike McLeese, Lampkins had his chance to let everyone know that he had made it, but he humbly gave all the credit to his kids.

"I’m just fortunate to be a part of this," he said. "I’m more happy for them, and what they’ve accomplished."

Growing up as the middle child of six brothers and sisters, in a single-parent home in the notorious Valley Green neighborhood of Southeast Washington, Lampkins displays a calm and unassuming demeanor today that most folks might not expect. But, he said, "growing up with that many children around, you learn humility at a young age."

When he wasn’t being well versed on the do’s and don’ts that all younger siblings go through, Lampkins spent most of his days playing football for the No. 11 Police Boys Club in Southeast.

"I loved it, and the teams I was on were fortunate enough to win five championships in five years," he said. There he not only learned how to be a winner, but also learned life lessons from his mentor, Dr. Joe Carr. "He helped me not only with sports and things like that, but with life as well," Lampkins said.

Upon graduating from Ballou Senior High School in 1978, with some help from Carr, Lampkins received a basketball scholarship to attend Yakima Valley Community College in Yakima, Wash.

When talking to Lampkins, you get the feeling that it was there he developed a certain spirituality and even greater degree of humility.

"You see people everyday complain about this and that, but when you visit a reservation and see what some Native Americans have to go through in a place that was originally there’s, you learn a lot about complaining, quick," he said.

"I grew very close to the people there, and learned a lot from them."

After receiving his AA degree in general studies from Yakima, he went to Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa, where he became the first African-American to obtain a degree in English at that institution.

Soon after school, he received an invitation to return home to D.C. to try out for the then Washington Bullets. After his release from the team, he started his career in coaching. His cool-but-intense manner probably made him an easy candidate for a job as the head coach of L.A. Hair, a basketball team in Maryland. In his three years as the head coach, the team accumulated a record of 121-9 and won two titles.

Lampkins said his true calling seemed to be coaching in the District, though, so in 1992 he came to John Carroll Senior High School, where he became the freshman coach. As a testament to Lampkins’ positive presence on a team, the same freshman team that had never had a winning season before, played powerhouse DeMatha for the league championship and finished the season at 22-5.

In ‘94 he decided to move from the Catholic school ranks to the DCIAA (District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association). It was at Dunbar that he joined the coaching staff as an assistant, then became the head coach the following year. "I was truly blessed to have been given a chance like this so early," Lampkins said.

His teams have steadily made their way up the ranks in the District as they have finished with a first-round loss to eventual champion Anacostia his first year, then places of fourth, third, and the title this year.

Lampkins said he really has no desire to be praised for the job he does. He is quick to help one of his athletes out with a difficulty in their game, but is just as willing to help them out when they are experiencing a personal problem.

As the subject of basketball goes, his philosophy in many ways translates into an idealistic perspective that not too many coaches take on.

"Some people say that a team usually mirrors their coach’s personality," he said. "I don’t know if that is always true, but it would be a compliment to me if I was blessed to have all the fine attributes that this team has as a group."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator