There has been a deep, disturbing and almost unnoticed change in the pattern of big-city high school athletics, once a form of sport that provided traditional rivalries, pleasure and excitement for millions of children and parents.
Not since 1965 have Detroit public schools been allowed to enter Michigan's high school basketball tournament. On the last occasion two city teams met on a neutral court, at night, and when the game was over nine youths had been stabbed.
Last February in Baltimore 3,000 teenagers rioted after a city basketball championship, and it took 200 policemen, mounted officers and police dogs an hour to subdue the melee.
Last May in Buffalo bus drivers carrying students from a major track meet asked for police protection after two drivers were robbed and the seats ripped up. Two policemen were assigned to follow each bus in a patrol car, but further disturbances caused the cancellation of the city's All-High meet.
These incidents are not extraordinary. The alarming violence at urban high school sports events is being played down by some authorities, but consider these facts:
Baltimore, Buffalo and Rochester, to name just three cities, permit virtually no public high school athletic contests at night.
In Detroit last week two high school charity football bowls, the city's oldest, were dropped. The unannounced reason: fear of roving mobs in the stadium. Only one high school football or basketball game can be scheduled in a Detroit police precinct on the same day—there would be insufficient police available—and students who attend the games must present a school identification card as well as a ticket at the door.
In St. Louis the public high school league games are held in the afternoon, on school property, with a heavy guard of uniformed ushers, policemen and police dogs. The city's public high school stadium is not used. "It was impossible to provide adequate police protection there," a coach explains.
In Washington there have been no city championship games in six years.
All of this has added a new dimension to the science of physical education. The Chicago schools' physical-education director, for instance, has just completed a treatise entitled Big City Approach to Crowd Control for Interscholastic Competition, a work that might also be called Playing in the Concrete Jungle.
As a new scholastic season begins one can only observe with sadness how much our cities have changed—and the sport within them.
It may be that Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders has been reading Poor Richard's Almanack. Like Ben Franklin ("Success has ruined many a man"), Davis has been poor-mouthing it ever since the Raiders won their way to the Super Bowl. "It's the most expensive thing a team can do," he laments. "We got $95,000 from playing in the Super Bowl. After paying transportation, buying rings with three-quarter-carat diamonds for our 22 partners and our players and pendants for the wives, we were left with $20,000. And the players have probably asked for $300,000 more in salary."
Poor Al. Rich Raiders.
Research being done at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville shows that present-day recreational noises are causing an alarming deterioration in hearing. Rock music, motorcycles, gunfire and even participation in school bands can have harmful effects, especially if a person is exposed to several kinds of these noises.
"We were shocked to find that the hearing of many U.T. freshmen had already deteriorated to a level of the average 65-year-old person," Dr. David Lipscomb, the supervisor of the audio study, says. Besides the Volunteers, Lipscomb tested 3,000 Knoxville public school students. He found that there was a marked decrease in high-frequency hearing as a student moved from the sixth to the 12th grade, a period during which his exposure to recreational noises greatly increased.
Children probably will turn a deaf ear to Dr. Lipscomb's warning, but he deserves a hurrah. Perhaps if he could come out for Tennessee's opening game against Georgia the U.T. cheering section could...shut up.
Despite a rigorous diet, Poland's Olympic triple jump star, Jan Jaskolski, has been putting on weight ever since he gave up smoking seven months ago. Last week his coach ordered him back on cigarettes. Jaskolski's recent jumps have been just too many silly millimeters off.
SPARE YOURSELF TROUBLE
In the future British motorists traveling abroad may have more than just a spare tire in the boot. The Royal Automobile Club now has a rent-a-part service for travelers taking their cars to foreign countries. For about 35¢ a day a motorist can obtain a kit including such things as spare bulbs for the lights, fuses, an electrical fuel pump, a condenser, a coil, a distributor cap, points, plugs and a fan belt. A spokesman for the RAC explained, "The cost of obtaining spare parts for British cars taken abroad by their owners is a very expensive business. Equally important, a slice of their holiday can be wasted just waiting for the part to be flown in, particularly if they are in a remote part of the country." The RAC says the kit will rectify 65% of all breakdowns experienced by English motorists. For the other 35%, the club has included a tow rope in the rent-a-kit.
LEANING ON FRUITCAKE
"It is the worst professional athletic team in North America," said its co-owner, Lamar Hunt. That was when the Dallas Tornado soccer team was running up an 0-18-3 record. But now the club has acquired some new personnel and is on a relative tear, winning two out of seven games, and Lamar Hunt feels perhaps he was too hasty in casting judgment. Before hiring a new coach, however, Hunt and Co-owner Bill McNutt, who is in the fruitcake business, had even tried running the team themselves for two games. They lost both.
Despite the Tornados' dismal season, they are drawing an average of 2,500 people per game, but that is scant solace. When they appeared in the Rose Bowl not long ago only 1,251 of the 94,405 seats were filled. "When the season ends," says McNutt, "we'll just have to sell the heck out of fruitcakes."
FAITH, HOPE AND DRAPEAU
On August 7, Montreal came within five minutes of returning its franchise to the National League. At the conclusion of a dismal meeting that produced no real hope for either a satisfactory temporary stadium or a permanent domed structure, there appeared to be nothing left but to announce the surrender to the waiting press. Mayor Jean Drapeau, who had by then already driven League President Warren Giles to distraction by constantly assuring him that "there are no problems, only solutions," pleaded that they at least delay official announcement for one more day and pray or something in the meantime. "Faith," the mayor suggested.
A few hours later John McHale, who is part owner and president of the new team, shrugged and proposed a visit to a recreational area in the north of town called Jarry Park. A local all-star game was in progress on the diamond there, and when the revered little mayor was recognized a scene of high emotion followed. The 2,000 fans rose and applauded, and cried, "We must have a team." The potential for constructing a temporary 30,000-seat stadium on the site was suddenly as obvious as the demand. "This is what I have been looking for," Giles beamed. "This is a baseball park."
There are still no firm plans for the promised domed stadium, but Mayor Drapeau and faith will probably solve that one, too. McHale, a believer now, like everyone else in Montreal, just assumes "he'll pull that other rabbit out of the hat, too."
Now that there appears to be a team, it has to be named. Voyageurs and Expos—neither of which seems to be a fortunate choice—are the favorites. Miracles or Faiths (Les Fois) are more recent and more appropriate candidates. But why not be obvious and just call them the Drapeaux? With that name, Montreal would be a cinch to win the National League flag its first season.
OUT OF AMMUNITION
That fine British pastime, croquet, is currently the craze—well, call it the enthusiasm—of the United Arab Republic. President Gamal Abdel Nasser has a well-tended croquet lawn behind his home—it is said he plays a wicked game—and the sport has even become popular with sugar-factory workers. Mallets are being made from the steel shafts of golf clubs (is golf dying in Cairo?), but there is a shortage of suitable croquet balls. "We've had some of our best engineers trying to make them," Ahmed Hamroush, the president of the Egyptian Croquet Federation, reports, "but they fall apart after a few games." Balls could be imported from England, but there is a shortage of currency. Since the U.A.R. government is only willing to release a few hundred pounds a year in foreign exchange to the croquet clubs to pay for balls (they cost about $17 for a set of four), the supply of authentic English models is fast diminishing. And this is one time Nasser cannot turn to Russia for aid.
In 1930 Leroy (Satchel) Paige beat Babe Ruth's major league all-stars handily, striking out 22. In 1947 he beat Bob Feller's major league all-stars 8-0, striking out 15. In 1948, at age 42, he was finally signed by a major league team, the Indians. (He drew 72,000 to his first game in Cleveland.) The American League handicapped him slightly by banning his "hesitation" pitch, but he saw the justice of it: "It was pretty tough on those boys having to play against somebody like me. They'd had expensive coaches and guys like that to teach them how to throw. They didn't have to figure things out for themselves."
Paige's intermittent major league career ended in 1965, leaving him 158 days short of the five years required to draw the minimum pension. Learning that Satchel had been shortchanged by baseball and feeling they could give their fans something to talk about, the Atlanta Braves last week signed Paige as a pitcher-coach. His contract will run through the 1969 season.
At a press conference in Atlanta, Paige was asked about his pitching prospects. "I'll just have to get out there and see how I unfold," he said. "I got bloopers, loopers and droopers. I got a jump-ball, a screwball, a wobbly ball, a hurry-up ball, a nothin' ball and a bat dodger." Asked about his age, he appeared not to be satisfied with recently discovered evidence that says he is 62. "They've done a lot of investigating," he said, "and to tell the truth, it's got where it puzzles me myself. They couldn't find my record in Mobile, because the jail had moved and the judge had died."
It is good, if incongruous, to see Satch get a chance to be a five-year man, like Mike de la Hoz and Galen Cisco. But that gesture will hardly acquit major league baseball of neglecting him—or of cheating itself out of 20 years of great pitching and press conferences.
THEY SAID IT
•Hubert H. Humphrey, U.S. Vice-President, on President Johnson's golf game: "You'd better be careful any time you play golf with President Johnson—he always brings his own Birdies."
•Elvin Hayes, former Houston basketball star, on his turning professional: "If I had decided to play in the Olympics, I would have had to maintain my amateur standing. Then if I got hurt, who would have taken care of me? International basketball players aren't that good, but they play rough and some of the players are out to hurt you. Basketball is my profession. I have been looking forward to the pros for 17 years. I think the Olympics are more for the average players. Going to the Olympics is their last chance at glory."