For much the same reason that some doctors have found the practice of medicine too costly, high school districts in Southern California soon may be forced to abolish competitive sports and phys ed programs—even though the latter are required by state law.
The soaring cost of liability insurance, which in some cases has risen 400% over a two-year period, is to blame—the end result of insurance companies' preference for insuring activities that pose little risk and the frequency of personal injury suits filed against school districts.
In the Los Angeles area insurance rates already have forced some school districts to drop phys ed classes in skiing, surfing and scuba diving. If these sports seem expendable to some educators, the L.A. schools also felt obliged to eliminate trampoline, an essential aid in gymnastics, when the premium on each trampoline in use rose to $11,000. Escalating premiums also imperil long-distance running and cycling, and many school administrators feel the entire interscholastic sports program will have to be abolished if school districts are unable to get insurance at reasonable rates.
"It's the attitude of people who want to sue somebody because someone gets a slight injury," says James Crockett, an assistant superintendent for the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, in explaining the causes. "They expect to be compensated two or three times or more what the damage might be. If we don't have liability insurance, there is no way we can operate an athletic program. It is not uncommon to have a suit filed against the district for half a million dollars, and it goes up from there."
"We've been hit for everything," says Don Eshelman, an assistant superintendent for business affairs in the Inglewood district. "If someone suffers a hangnail, a suit is filed—and the courts make a very liberal award. It's really getting dangerous to our educational system."
Even in the absence of personal injury suits, and even when the carrier has made money from the policy, insurance companies have canceled their coverage with school districts, or raised rates precipitously.
"Insurance people are ratchet people," says Hugh Cameron, business manager of the South Bay Union District of Redondo Beach. "Any question you ask them is answered, 'It will cost you more.' There is nothing that will cost you less.
"I can foresee the day, if things continue, when there won't be any phys ed or sports. Not only that, but all kinds of activities beyond sports are in danger. The carriers now ask, 'Do you have a forge in your industrial arts department?' We do. They don't ask questions without reason. What they are going to do is increase the cost. We don't have enough money to run the school district now, and since we can't pay for the increased costs, the kids are going to suffer."
GOING THE DISTANCE
Filling out a questionnaire for next week's National AAU track and field championships, Olympic distance runner Duncan MacDonald listed his hobby as "Taking apart my Volkswagen." Asked to list his ambition, MacDonald wrote, "Being able to put my Volkswagen back together."
THE AGONY OF VICTORY
One would assume that a track athlete would enjoy any race he won, and that success would make him want to run his event often. Not so, says Boston Marathon winner Jerome Drayton.
"I try to avoid the marathon like a bad disease," he told Jim Proudfoot of The Toronto Star, "but because it's my best event, I have to do a couple a year to confirm my training methods.
"To describe the agony of the marathon to somebody who's never run it is like trying to explain color to a person who was born blind.... Everything suffers, even your internal organs. You're in pain all through the last six miles and for days afterward. Every atom of you aches.... It's torture.
"That's why I don't go around looking for marathons to run in. Two a year is plenty for me."
To eliminate a problem that bugs its patrons every year, Scarborough Downs, a harness track near Portland, Maine, has released 5,000 baby dragonflies in conjunction with a newly opened race meeting. The great insect emancipation, everyone hopes, will rid the marshy grounds of mosquitoes.
"The people who sold us the dragon-flies said that each one is able to eat 3,000 mosquito larvae at one sitting," says Peggy Cronk, Scarborough's group-activity director. "Maybe now I can get rid of that can of Off I keep in the winner's circle."
The dragonfly tactic is the track's latest attempt to scratch an old problem. Last year a fog-spewing, antimosquito machine was pushed through the crowd after every other race. Before that the track tried special lights that attract, then "zap" the pests.
"People still complained," says Cronk. "One man swore he heard one mosquito say to another, 'Do you want to eat him here, or drag him off into the woods?' "
BUT COME SEPTEMBER
Last week the racing world was startled to read that Trainer Billy Turner was considering running Seattle Slew against mighty Forego in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont on Memorial Day. Surely Turner would not risk Slew's chance of becoming the first undefeated Triple Crown winner in racing history?
Of course he wouldn't. Billy Turner was funning the press and perhaps needling Forego's trainer, Frank Whiteley, as well. He also had an ulterior motive. Experts felt that Turner would declare his horse out of the race before Racing Secretary Tommy Trotter assigned the weights for the handicap, often the procedure when a trainer does not intend to run. But Slew's owners, Karen and Mickey Taylor, wanted to know just what Trotter thought of their beloved animal. On Wednesday, he told them.
Once again, eyebrows were raised. Trotter, one of the most respected handicappers in the country, had rated Slew, described just weeks ago as "only the best of an ordinary crop," the equal of Forego, three times Horse of the Year.
The racing secretary begins his handicapping task with a standard scale of weights established decades ago. The scale calls for 3-year-olds in May to carry 113 pounds at a mile and older horses 127. But Forego, of course, is far superior to the average horse, so Trotter added six pounds, assigning the 7-year-old gelding 133. "You can't give him too much weight, because you've got the whole year ahead of you," says Trotter, who levied the 137 pounds that Forego and Bill Shoemaker carried to a stunning victory in last year's Marlboro Cup. "I started with 132 for the Roseben, which wasn't run last week because of the strike of pari-mutuel clerks, but when Forego ran over the field in Monday's seven-furlong race, he showed he was back in top form, so I penalized him a pound.
"Slew is undefeated, has shown he can both sprint and go a distance, and he is a good mile horse," says Trotter, who assigned the colt 119, also six pounds over scale and five pounds more than anyone could recall a 3-year-old being assigned in the Metropolitan. Does that mean that Slew is as good as Forego? "Well, yes, I guess it does," says Trotter. "At least, in my opinion." Trotter says that at any distance shorter than a mile and a half, which Slew has never run, he would rate the horses equal, and at the longer distance he would probably drop him only a pound.
When handicappers highweight their horses, owners are not usually very happy, but the Taylors were delighted. "We're honored and so proud," said Karen, "and if he ran, we're sure he would win."
The financial outlook for the four NBA teams formerly with the ABA is, to put it mildly, bleak—especially that of the Indiana Pacers. The final payment on the $3.2 million entrance fee into the NBA is due this week and the Pacers are already several million dollars in debt.
Last week, while the current owners were out of town looking for a new buyer, Roberta Sussman, a secretary in the Pacers' office, tried to do her part. She made a sign and put it in the front window: MILLIONAIRES WANTED—INQUIRE WITHIN.
Unfortunately, there have been no replies, and according to Director of Public Relations Sandy Knapp, there are not likely to be. "We're practically in the basement of this building," says Knapp, of Market Square Center in downtown Indianapolis. "The only way a millionaire would come down here would be if he were desperate for a men's room."
NO SOFT TOUCH
Don Kessinger, second baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals, was walking to Busch Stadium one afternoon last week when an elderly and somewhat unkempt man approached and began staring at him. Kessinger, figuring he was being mistaken for Jim Nabors, which sometimes happens, merely smiled, nodded and kept walking. He tried to, anyway.
"He ran around in front of me and stuck his feet right on mine," Kessinger says. "I mean there was less than an inch between our noses." Again Kessinger smiled and kept moving, and again the old man ran in front of him and stuck his face directly into Kessinger's. "I finally said, 'Man, what are you doing?' And that's when it happened."
What happened was that the old man doubled up his right fist and threw a roundhouse punch that caught Kessinger flush on the jaw. More shocked than hurt, Kessinger grabbed his assailant by the shoulder. "What in the world do you think you're doing?" he demanded.
The old man peered at him again, began apologizing and backed away. "I'm sorry," he said. "I thought you were someone else. Please forgive me."
"Hold on," said Kessinger, gripping him securely. "Now why would you want to act that way toward anybody?"
"The other fellow robbed me," the old man said glumly. "Took me for all I had. Left me a broken man. I'm awfully sorry. I thought you were him."
Holding the man with one hand, Kessinger reached into his pocket with the other, drew out two dollars and some change and handed the money to him. "Here," he said. "If this is a panhandling approach, I'll give you credit for originality."
BAD NEWS IS GOOD
The team loses more than 80% of its first dozen contests; irate fan mail demands the scalps of the coach and the general manager; the press raps players, coach and management.
If it all sounds like April with the New York Yankees, score a publicity ace for World Team Tennis and the losing, problem-ridden Los Angeles Strings. In achieving the kind of irate fan reaction common to older professional sports, the new league has succeeded in winning acceptance of its brand of tennis as a team sport rather than an individual one.
Last year, when Strings GM Bart Christensen received only one critical letter during the season, he said, "The day we start receiving more letters like this will be the day we know we're accepted." This year fan reaction to the Strings' woeful start has resulted in a flood of critical letters. Christensen, however, abides by his earlier statement.
"Obviously, we are tremendously disappointed in our record," he says, "but we are gratified to have fans who care about us as a team. Painfully, we are learning we've been successful in selling WTT's team concept."
THEY SAID IT
•Tim McCarver, the Philadelphia Phillie who catches all Steve Carlton's games: "When Steve and I die, we are going to be buried in the same cemetery, 60'6" apart."
•Julius Adams, New England Patriot defensive end, on whether the Oakland Raiders hold: "Every time I rush the passer, I have to tuck my shirt back in."
•Tom Sneva, race car driver, on the hazards of driving at Indy: "You just have to treat death like any other part of life."