A LOOK AT MINICYCLES
The evils long thought to lie mainly in the overly competitive world of Little League baseball—or any other sport for kids (see cover) that is dominated by parents and adult coaches with limited understanding of the child's psyche—now would seem to have found another home. On page 42 Ernest Havemann presents the story of minicycle racing for children as young as 2½ years up to 16.
Dr. Thomas P. Johnson, San Diego child psychiatrist and member of the National Athletic Health Institute's medical advisory board, has this to say, stressing that his observations are based on "the very limited sampling of the 15 to 20 youngsters with whom I've worked who were actively participating in this sport.
"Many children don't just choose it but are encouraged to choose it by the parents, often in very subtle ways," he said. "The majority of parents would be uncomfortable with young children in such a high-risk situation. And there is risk. I know of a grade-schooler who spent several months in a cast, immobilized from the waist down....
"But why can't these kids get pleasure from the involvement and excitement of competing in running races, bicycle racing, sailboat racing? There is tremendous excitement in these sports without the danger and speed. For some children, and for some parents, these things are not scary enough, not glamorous enough. It takes something pretty dramatic to turn some people on.
"I recognize there are risks in crossing the street, but I'm just raising the question: Need we introduce this high-speed element?"
The opposite philosophy holds: a man's life is studded with risks, some of which he can learn to calculate. The earlier a kid knows that, the better.
DR. J, SOLD UP THE RIVER
The most complicated deal in sports history may well have been the sale of Julius Erving of the ABA Virginia Squires to the New York Nets. The extraordinary Dr. J (SI, Dec. 11) has established that he is capable of stuffing arenas as well as baskets, but the Squires' owner, Earl Foreman, is reported to be cash poor, and that was at the heart of the deal. Now, with Erving's departure, the team is apt to become fan poor.
The deal was one of those good old one-player, four-team transactions involving the Nets and the Squires, along with the NBA Atlanta Hawks, who had a contract with the 6'7" forward effective at the start of the 1975-76 season, and the Milwaukee Bucks, who hold the NBA draft rights to Dr. J. The Nets agreed to pay Erving, the Squires and the Hawks a total of almost $4 million with roughly $2.5 million of that going to the player over the next eight years. The Bucks, distraught at being left out of the dole, have threatened to sue any and all parties on whatever grounds they can conjure up.
Acquisition of Erving must immediately help the Nets at the gate and on the floor. Fourth-place finishers last season, they are now championship contenders. For the ABA the sale could improve the league's chances for a lucrative TV contract and a merger with the NBA by putting basketball's most attention-getting player smack dab in the middle of medialand.
But the Erving deal represents the appearance of an unfortunate phenomenon in the ABA. Like other sports leagues it has now fallen into the pattern in which a richer, big-city team acquires a superior athlete not because of its shrewdness but rather because it is wealthier than some of its partners struggling in less-populated areas.
New York fans will have a chance to see Erving operate in the best of circumstances almost immediately. The Nets meet their local NBA rival Knicks in two exhibition games this fall, and Erving will surely be matched against Dave DeBusschere, who will retire at the end of the upcoming season to become the Nets' general manager. Will DeBusschere take it easy on the man who will be buttering his bread in the years to come? Will Erving dare to embarrass his future boss with one of his behind-the-head dunk shots?
Business relationships aside, the match between Dr. J, the best offensive forward in basketball, and DeBusschere, the strongest defender among cornermen, should be a dandy. It will be a much more even contest than the one in which the Nets got Erving for some guys named Washington, Franklin and Jefferson, none of whom can dribble, pass or shoot.
There is always something marvelous about teaching a dog to retrieve, whether it be sticks or ducks, but there is something extra special about Jasper, who is part golden retriever and part collie and has been jovially retrieving lost golf balls since he was a mere pup 10 years ago. Over that period he has enriched his master, Paul Lafleur, with 22,698 balls. Lafleur is a statistician with the Canadian government in Ottawa, so one would expect that his count would be reasonably accurate.
The very special thing about Jasper is that he returns only unblemished balls. He has learned that a ball which is damaged in any way will be thrown back into the rough and he will not get his pay—a dog biscuit.
Jasper also has learned by long and hard experience that lurking in the rough to pounce on balls which roll by on the fairway is against the Rules of Golf. He was not taught that so much by Lafleur as by scores of irate golfers waving their clubs at him.
BEEF FOR THE BEEFY
Restaurants around the country are predicting, and in some cases experiencing, a beef shortage resulting from whatever your local politician wants to blame it on. But not at the Philadelphia Eagles' training table.
Richard Williams, camp food director, made a big purchase of meat in July, and so the 100 team members and staff will continue to eat their usual steaks and roasts until Labor Day, when camp disbands. In Williams' freezer are stacked some 1,800 filets mignons, 1,300 other steaks and 500 pounds of prime rib.
It's different with the Atlanta Falcons, who have only a two-week supply on hand, and the Cincinnati Bengals, who are serving more spaghetti and lasagna. The New England Patriots are eating as much beef as ever, but simply paying more for it.
Then there is Allan Sachs, football fan and president of a sausage company in Minnesota. Lacking season tickets for Viking games, he ran a newspaper ad offering to trade one hindquarter of beef for two season tickets between the 30-yard lines. He got quite a response.
"I haven't done any work for two days," Sachs complained. "I have canceled the ad. It's not only the people who want to trade tickets for beef—I've had 15 of those offers already—but others who know I'll begetting tickets now want to buy them. The phone has been driving me crazy."
He has already made a deal for two season box seats on the 50-yard line.
REVOLT IN THE LOCKER ROOM
The Tournament Players Division of the professional golf tour is considering a new format, one that would force major players to appear in certain events. Static from the stars was predictable.
Joe Dey, TPD commissioner, announced that the pros' policy board envisions a series of 15 "championship tournaments," a new category with prize money expected to average at least $260,000 per tournament.
The rub is that "all leading players would be obliged to play in all 15 of the TPD tournaments." Should leading players not appear, except for reasons "of illness or grave personal emergency," they would be subject to disciplinary action.
Some player reactions:
Jack Nicklaus: "Don't lock me in. I'm not an employee of the TPD. If they want me to play in 12 of the 15, that's something else. But you've got 15, plus the four big tournaments, plus certain others you want to play. That's 22 or 23 tournaments. I want to cut back, not expand."
Arnold Palmer: "With other tournaments outside the country that I want to play, and with my personal business, well, that's just an awful lot of golf. They might lose me."
Gary Player: "If you're saying what I think you're saying, I'd have to give up the American tour. They can't expect me to fly over here every two weeks or 10 days. And what if one of these tournaments was opposite the South African Open? They couldn't expect me to miss that."
COMEBACK FOR CATHY
A swimming cliché of recent years has been that girl swimmers can no longer succeed in world-class competition after they are 17 or so. According to Cathy Corcione, a former Olympian who now swims for Princeton at the age of 20 and will compete Aug. 15-25 at the World University Games in Moscow, this is nonsense. Donna de Varona, former Olympic swimming champion (Rome and Tokyo), agrees with her. Donna, retired at age 17, now feels that women swimmers peak at about 23.
According to Cathy, who quit at 15, she just got fed up with the rigors of training. Those who retired at such an early age, she said, "are probably worn out from the long hours of training and the pressure of competition.
"At nine I was practicing 2½ hours a day," she recalled, "and by the time I was 11, I was training twice a day. I was swimming 10 miles a day.
"I didn't think about boys. I rarely had dates. When I got through one workout I would go home and rest until the other one."
But now Cathy is back in the pool again. She decided to try for a comeback when she got to college.
"Swimming was fun again," she explained. "I am sure the length of a swimmer's career depends more on her state of mind than anything else."
SOME CHANGES MADE
In some ways the most fouled up franchise in the National Hockey League is not one of the expansionist teams such as the New York Islanders but the long-established Detroit Red Wings.
Coach Johnny Wilson was cashiered and went to the Atlanta Flames as assistant general manager.
Gordie Howe, vice-president and Detroit's alltime great, resigned and joined sons Marty, 19, and Mark, 18, with the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association.
Only the other day the popular Baz Bastien departed as assistant general manager to take a similar post under Sid Abel, longtime friend, with the new Kansas City entry, the Scouts.
Now it appears that Alex Delvecchio, graying center of the Red Wings, may or may not join his old buddy Howe in Houston. "We've made him an attractive offer," Houston President James Smith conceded as rumors spread that Delvecchio had already signed. But then the Red Wings made him an attractive counter offer.
The legalized slaughter of thousands of robins in New Brunswick, Canada (SI, July 30) has been stopped. Jack Davis, Canadian Environment Minister, has announced that permits to shoot the birds, given last year to blueberry farmers, will not be renewed this year. The farmers have been advised to protect their berries with noisemakers.
THEY SAID IT
•Larry Brown, Redskin running back, after hitting a three-run homer in a softball game: "I can understand now how Henry Aaron feels when he slams one and trots around those bases. Unlike football, nobody stops you on the way."
•Johnny Rodgers, former Nebraska football star who is now with the Alouettes in the Canadian Football League, about the 13,000 crowd for a game at Regina: "We had that many people selling hot dogs in the stands at Nebraska."
•Chuck Estrada, last-place Texas Ranger pitching coach, on how he decides which reliever to use: "Whoever answers the bullpen phone."
•Jim Jamieson, pro golfer, recalling he was offered a football scholarship at Iowa: "I was invited there to see a big game. Some players had blood on their uniforms. Others had teeth missing. I said to myself, 'This is only college football. What must pro football be like?' So I stuck to golf."