1981 grand-prize winner: Greg Brouse, Centennial

1981 grand-prize winner: Greg Brouse, Centennial (Handout photo)

The plaque hangs on the wall of the doctor's office, proof of its worth to Greg Brouse, 1981 grand-prize winner of the Greater Baltimore Chapter of the National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete award.

"My kids can't believe I was either a scholar or an athlete," said Brouse, who is now an oncologist in Monroe, N.C. "I think that, quietly, they make fun of me, but at the same time, they'd like to do the same for themselves."

Brouse, who starred at Centennial, turned 50 this month. On Wednesday night, the Scholar Athlete awards banquet does the same. Since it began a half-century ago, the local chapter of the NFF has honored more than 3,300 student-athletes from football-playing schools in the area, which now number 94.

Until 2010, a grand-prize winner was named each year, 50 in all (there were co-honorees four times). None was more stunned than Brouse, a 5-foot-9 running back, when his name was called.

"I felt overwhelming surprise and a lot of gratitude at Martin's West that night," he said. "I mean, the award isn't for one game or even one season. It's for a body of work — on the field, in the classroom, in clubs and in church — over a four-year career. You're being rewarded as an exemplary young man.

"For me, it's the complete package of what a young athlete should aspire to be. And now, at age 50 and on the 50th anniversary of the banquet, it brings a tear to my eye."

Back then, however, he saw it differently. When the hoopla subsided, Brouse accepted the $4,000 scholarship prize but appeared to shrug off the honor. An aspiring physician, he attended Bucknell and began to drift. He studied some, partied more and slid through school without a clue as to what to do.

"Frankly, I underappreciated the significance of awards like this," he said. "I thought I was more important than I was — and I was more worried about being liked than respected."

Lost, Brouse turned to his high school baseball coach, Chuck Bragg, for direction.

"Chuck urged me to do some soul-searching and gave me the courage to walk into the University of Maryland Medical School, knock on the door and say, 'I've got a business degree and a 'B' average, and I want to go here,' " Brouse said.

Denied at first, he took science classes at UMBC, beefed up his resume and was accepted. Now married and the father of four, Brouse has treated and counseled cancer patients at a small community hospital near Charlotte for 14 years.

"I can't imagine ever doing anything else," he said, adding that the plaque on his wall helped put him on track. "As a physician, I hope I've brought honor to that award."

'All I can say is thank you'

Forty-six years ago, before he was a Rhodes Scholar, mayor of Baltimore or dean of the Howard University School of Law, Kurt Schmoke won acclaim as an all-state quarterback at City College — and the region's first black Scholar Athlete.

In 1967, the fourth year of the event, Schmoke bested 39 other candidates to take the trophy and $500 scholaraship at the Eastwind. One memory of that night remains strong.

"I got the biggest bear hug ever from my father [Murray, who died in 2007]. He was so proud," said Schmoke, 63.

Then he proceeded to give the shortest speech of his life.

"All of my poise is gone," Schmoke told the crowd of 1,100. "All I can say is thank you."

In retrospect, he said, the award "was both humbling and a good frame of reference for me. I focused in on it. It was a real affirmation of my having worked as hard as a student as I did as an athlete. And I was really impressed that so many adults cared so much about student-athletes that they would put on a major event like this."

Schmoke had no idea he would win.