The boys of Dunbar High School’s championship football team were preparing Friday night for a preseason scrimmage the next morning when the news spread among the team.
Federal authorities were investigating their popular, longtime football coach, Lawrence Smith, over his timecards and possible overtime fraud, news articles reported. FBI agents had visited the payroll office of Baltimore school headquarters. The boys showed the articles to their moms.
“It would be a huge loss to the community. I’m hoping it’s not the case,” said Nkenge Williams, the mother of a sophomore lineman. “I’m staying positive and hoping nothing shakes out.”
If the investigation concerned parents and players there was no sign of it Saturday as Smith coached the Dunbar Poets in a scrimmage against Boys’ Latin. Dunbar Athletic Director Dana Johnson watched from the sidelines and declined to comment.
Smith works as a school police detective and it’s unknown if he discussed the matter with the team. Players took a knee at midfield and he spoke to them after the scrimmage. Walking off, he declined questions.
“I don’t have nothing to say, man.”
His attorney could not be reached Saturday.
The U.S. attorney’s office has declined to comment. The office typically does not discuss ongoing investigations.
In the Dunbar stands, one parent after another praised the coach as a mentor and role model to the boys. Smith requires his players to attend study hall, stay out of trouble, and he invites them to his home.
The Poets are coming off an undefeated 13-0 season finished off with the class 2A-1A state championship; they are hopefuls for another winning season. Smith has led the Poets to seven state championships. In February, the Baltimore Ravens honored him as the high school coach of the year. He’s the only coach to win the honor twice.
In his resume posted online, Smith writes that he won 50 games faster than any coach in state history. He put his record at 143 wins and 23 losses after the 2020 season.
Williams, the mother of the sophomore lineman, said the program isn’t just about football under Smith. He helps the boys attend college visits and summer camps. She said her son has looked forward to playing for “Coach Lawrence,” as all the boys and parents call him.
During the scrimmage, at least, all attention was on the boys on the field — not the coach’s troubles.
“I don’t think anybody’s even thinking about that. I haven’t heard a thing,” said Jessie Sigmon, the mother of a senior linebacker. “He’s a father figure for a lot of these boys. He gets into my son when he’s not doing right. I appreciate that. It takes a community to raise some of these Black boys in Baltimore City.”
Dunbar mother Marlen Foster added that “Coach Lawrence” has her full support.
Families also rallied around the coach eight years ago when he was suspended for not monitoring the locker room during a hazing incident.
Smith, of Perry Hall, is listed online as the president of the Maryland Association of School Resource Officers. He served as a city schools police officer since September 1998, according to his resume.
“I would like to create classrooms that foster success for students, the focus is shifting from a reliance on suspensions and expulsions to one that keeps students out of the juvenile justice system,” he writes in his resume.
Smith earned about $94,000 in overtime pay on top of a salary of about $62,500 between October 2020 and October 2021, according to school district data. He’s listed as the highest-paid school police officer during those 12 months, and he made nearly $30,000 more in overtime pay than any other officer. City schools officials declined to comment.
On Saturday at Dunbar’s East Baltimore football stadium, no one seemed to be keeping score during the scrimmage. A Boys’ Latin parent said he was glad the Lakers, a private school, would not play the bigger Dunbar team during the season.
Afterward, Smith directed the Poets to the sideline. It was nearly 90 degrees.
“Let’s go! Spread out!” he called. “We got eight!”
The Poets ran sprints as Boys’ Latin walked off the field.
This story has been updated with school district salary data.
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