Many of David Lang’s friends said there wasn’t a person the Western High athletic director didn’t like. But you’d be hard pressed to find someone like Lang.
He was a fixture on the Baltimore City public schools athletic scene as a coach and athletic director, spanning four decades before his death Memorial Day weekend. On and off the field, Lang left an indelible mark.
“He was like a father to me,” said Doves basketball coach Tiffany Silver.
“He was always a thoughtful guy and real good leader,” said Poly football coach Roger Wrenn, who knew Lang more than 30 years. “He had that ability to orchestrate things and sit in the background.”
Lang along with childhood friend Jack Nehsmann, Wrenn and John Hammond were fresh-faced teachers at Patterson, where they cut their coaching teeth under Hy Zolet, a legendary figure in Baltimore City athletics. Wrenn said it was special for Lang, who grew up in Highlandtown and played at Patterson, to start his career at his alma-mater.
“Hy Zolet had a big influence on him. He [Zolet] used to call us the young bulls,” Wrenn said. “We were young and crazy. It was great fun. We couldn’t wait to get to school every day.”
Lang later became boys’ soccer coach at Patterson, leading the Clippers to prominence. Wrenn remembers one season where Lang discovered and reported a violation, costing Patterson a league championship.
“Nobody would’ve known but him,” said Wrenn, who served as Patterson athletic director for two decades. “I thought to myself what integrity he had.”
“He was stern, believed in right and wrong and never cut corners,” said Silver. “You knew he cared about you and had your best interests at heart.”
Though soccer was his specialty, Lang coached successful baseball and wrestling teams at Walbrook as well as football at Mervo and Southwestern. At Mervo, he helped athletic director Mark Schlenoff coach the team after Schlenoff didn’t have anyone in place.
Lang found himself in the same situation years later as AD at Southwestern.
“I’m pulling out my Highlandtown Salvation Army 10-12 playbook,” Wrenn remembers Lang telling him. “They didn’t win a game so we got him a trophy that was a rear end of a horse. We got it engraved ‘David Lang, Football Coach of the Year for a perfect season.’
It was a big joke, and Dave put it in the middle of his desk.”
Lang was known for being a practical joker. After Wrenn became Patterson athletic director, Lang glued Wrenn’s staplers and tape dispenser onto his desk.
Tina Queen, now Douglass’ athletic director, remembered getting a voicemail from Lang while coaching a girls’ basketball game for Southwestern years back.
“My new Mazda 626 was having problems so he left a message that Mazda called and they said there was a recall,” Queen said. “I got back to school and called the 800 number and the person he left on the note. I got the person and she said ‘Maam, we don’t have any record of a recall on your car.’
I went into my office and he had left a note saying ‘you’ve just been had.’ The next morning I get to my desk and there’s a lemon. When he got you, he got you.”
Lang’s sense of humor complimented an eagle-eye attention to detail, making him the dean of city athletic directors.
“He was always right on point,” said Queen, who was mentored by Lang and later became AD at Southwestern. “He really loved being an athletic director. Some people do it for the title but Dave truly enjoyed it.
You felt secure with the fact he was very knowledgable. He was always willing to share.”
When Lang became AD at Western, it raised a few eyebrows. The all-girls school never had a male atop of its successful athletic program. But Lang was the perfect fit to stabilize the department after a couple of tumultous years after longtime AD Eva Scott retired.
“We all kidded him about going to Western. He was exactly what they needed,” said Wrenn, who regularly got together with Lang, Nehsmann and Hammond for breakfast. “He inspires greatly loyalty.”
Silver, a Western alum, said Lang gave her the opportunity to coach at her alma-mater several years ago after not being retained as girls’ basketball coach at Towson Catholic. She said Lang often shot around with the team during practice, even choosing a play the team called “Lang Lang” during a game.
“He was by the far the best thing that happened to the school, from athletics to administrative,” said Silver, who played under legendary coach Breezy Bishop at Western. “He gave that balance. You would think he was a product of the school, he had just as much pride in what the school stands for.”
Lang represented everything that’s good about high school athletics. He was a coach, an administrator, and a friend.
“He was an outstanding individual. He led a simple life, he always put others ahead of himself,” said longtime City College athletic director George Petrides. “He was a people person. Everyone liked him and respected him. Sometimes, you don’t get both.”