Paul Holmes made his way through the hallways at Reginald F. Lewis High last Saturday. He glanced at the black lockers that were once green when he walked the same halls 30 years ago as a teacher, coach and athletic director for Northern.
There aren’t many reminders of Northern, which became Lewis in the early 2000s. Northern’s memory has been rekindled as Lewis’ gym was renamed Paul Holmes Gymnasium.
“It’s heartfelt. You can feel how much the alumni really cared,” said Holmes. “It’s been almost 20 years since the school closed and people still remember this building as being Northern High School.”
“Paul Holmes gave his life to Baltimore City,” said Reginald Lewis athletic director Tina Queen. “He was a coach, he was an athletic director, he was a special ed teacher, he was an administrator, he was a curriculum specialist at North Avenue. You have to give people like that their roses while they’re alive.”
Holmes was Northern’s boys basketball coach from 1992 to 2002 and athletic director from 1999 to 2002. He also coached baseball, girls track and softball and was an assistant for the varsity and junior varsity football teams.
Queen, who’s been Lewis athletic director since 2018, said there are no championship trophies or plaques from the Northern years. The only thing left of Northern’s green and white colors is the green seats in the front row of Lewis’ auditorium and some memorbilia in a case outside of the school’s library.
Now, there’s a sign - in green and yellow letters - inside Lewis’ black and yellow gym.
“You see the Northern alumni on Facebook and they’re strong, but they don’t have a home,” said Queen. “Today, they came back.”
“He was a mentor, teacher, he kept us in line…It was a village that kept us in line when we weren’t doing what we were supposed to be doing,” said Torrance Williams, a 1991 Northern graduate who played football. “We understood these guys wanted the best for us….education was the most important thing.”
Holmes came to Northern in 1984 from Eastern where he coached boys basketball, softball, track, tennis and was a varsity football assistant under Warren Schwartz. He became Northern’s boys basketball coach in 1992-93 after Manny Werner, who led the program from the school’s opening in 1965, retired.
Holmes was the junior varsity coach and varsity assistant for five seasons under the late Pete Pompey at Dunbar. The 1991-92 Poets, featuring Donta’ Bright, Keith Booth and Michael Lloyd, went 29-0 and claimed the mythical national championship.
“Those were magical years,” said Holmes, who won two city JV titles. “Pete Pompey was my mentor…he helped me understand how to matriculate in such an environment.”
Holmes said he and Pompey, then-Edmondson’s basketball and football coach and athletic director, relationship started in the early 1980s, working together at a summer basketball camp at Morgan State University.
Holmes didn’t come close to experiencing the heights at Dunbar (123-15, 4 MSA A titles, 3 city titles, 3 national Top 25 rankings as varsity assistant), but he grew professionally at Northern. Holmes led the school’s improvement team for then-principal Morgan Brown, then transitioned into athletic director for principal Helena Noble-Jones.
“I didn’t have a physical education background,” said Holmes, a 1966 Dunbar graduate who participated in football and track then joined the Coast Guard after playing two years of basketball at then-Coppin State College.
After leaving Northern, Holmes was boys basketball coach and special education department head at Samuel L. Banks. He became a student support liaison, working out of city schools headquarters, from 2008 until his retirement in 2013.
Holmes’ wife, Linda, was athletic director at W.E.B. DuBois, which along with Reginald F. Lewis was housed inside Northern’s Pinewood Avenue building starting in the 2002-03 school year. DuBois was closed in 2015 by the city school system as part of its 21st Century renovation program.
Achievement Academy at Harbor City High School is currently housed with Lewis on Pinewood Avenue in Northeast Baltimore.
Queen, who was athletic director at Douglass and Southwestern, has admired Holmes since he helped her learn to shoot free throws and layups as a beginning basketball player more than 30 years ago at Dunbar.
“I’ve watched him to become a staple in the community,” said Queen, who played basketball for Coppin. “He groomed so many young men. They were good basketball players, but most importantly, they’re great human beings. I contributed that to Paul Holmes being a great mentor.”
Several former players, co-workers, friends and family attended the ceremony that was part of Lewis’ winter sports awards ceremony. Holmes received a picture frame-sized version of the sign.
“This doesn’t happen everyday,” said Holmes. “This brings back a lot of great memories.”