A story entitled Dear Chris: in the Nov. 26 issue of SI detailed the correspondence between college basketball coaches and coveted high school players. The focus of the piece, written by Bill Brubaker, was on Chris Washburn, a 6'11" center who elected to go to North Carolina State after receiving 278 letters, postcards and Mailgrams from the Wolfpack coaching staff. In one letter to Washburn, coach Jim Valvano wrote, "I've never met someone who enjoys life and lives it to the fullest as much as you do." Tom Abatemarco, Valvano's assistant, wrote Washburn's mother, saying, "Chris is very important to us as a player and a person."
On Dec. 21 Washburn was arrested and charged with second-degree burglary in connection with the alleged theft of stereo equipment from the dormitory room of a Wolfpack football player. Washburn was released on $1,000 bond, and a hearing on the charge is scheduled for Jan. 8. This was not the freshman's first brush with the law at N.C. State. On Sept. 19 he was convicted of assaulting a female student in a dormitory—he slapped her. For that misdemeanor he was fined $25 plus court costs, and a 30-day sentence was suspended. In October, while State was on tour in Greece, Washburn was reportedly apprehended for shoplifting. Valvano has declined comment on that accusation.
Valvano reacted to Washburn's burglary arrest by dismissing him from the team for the rest of the year. The coach later said he would review Washburn's case after the court hearing. The unnamed football player will probably drop the charge, which could carry a sentence of 14 years in prison, although the district attorney in Raleigh may still prosecute.
Valvano told SI's Greg Kelly, "It is very sad. I thought Chris was making good progress in all areas at State. But now all that I'm concerned about is helping him. After I take appropriate action I want him to know we're here to help him. I want to be part of the success story of Chris Washburn. But it's his decision now. I still feel he's not a 'bad kid.' I think he's immature and troubled and has shown bad judgment. We have to see if he can turn it around."
On the one hand, Valvano and N.C. State have a responsibility to Washburn. "We love you and you know we'll take care of Chris his four years here," two of the Wolfpack coaches once wrote his mother. "He has two friends forever." On the other hand, Washburn already has three strikes against him, and one wonders if State would put up with such aberrant behavior from a student without such extraordinary talent. Says Valvano, "I think he needs professional help. And if those people tell me he'd be better off with a goal to shoot for [basketball], then I'll have to consider that."
Valvano has a decision to make. Washburn has a lesson to learn. "Maybe this will just be an unhappy chapter in his life story," says Valvano. "He can still write the ending."
THE DIPLOMA BOWL
Postseason bowl games aside, the true champions of college football for 1984 were—surprise—Notre Dame and Duke. That notion may be hard to swallow, considering that the Fighting Irish finished at 7-5 after losing to SMU in the Aloha Bowl and that the Blue Devils were a miserable 2-9 on the field. But the two schools did win the College Football Association's annual Academic Achievement Award, presented at last week's Liberty Bowl, for graduating the highest percentage of their football players.
The 63-member CFA bases this honor on the percentage of scholarship players recruited in 1978-79 who graduated within five years, with no exceptions made for those who withdrew from school for any reason. Notre Dame gave scholarships to 28 players who started classes in 1979, and 27 of them (96.4%) graduated. Duke gave degrees to 22 of its 23 recruits (95.6%) from that year. To put those impressive stats in perspective, only two other institutions in the CFA, Virginia and Wyoming, had rates of 75% or better. The average rate for all recruits was only 46.8%.
Notre Dame and Duke are the only winners in the four years of the award. They may not play pigskin with the best these days, but the Irish and Devils certainly know how to lug that sheepskin.
RICH MAN, TALL MAN
Prince Charles, watch out. Polo has a new, rather imposing convert, namely Wilt Chamberlain. Having stuffed basketball and spiked volleyball, the 48-year-old Stilt has taken up the plaything of the rich and famous. Many an afternoon Chamberlain can be seen astride his aptly named pony, Hollywood, at the polo grounds in Los Angeles's Griffith Park.
"I am a neophyte in the truest sense of the word," says Chamberlain. "But I love polo. I've always had a penchant for horses—they are great athletes and I like working with other great athletes. I also like to keep the competitive thing going." The head pro at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, Dan Healy, has found Chamberlain to be an excellent pupil. "Even though he's had very little riding experience," says Healy, "he shows a lot of promise. He's well coordinated and pretty dedicated. Obviously, he has great reach." Because of his 7'1" frame, Chamberlain does need a larger horse, and at 16 hands, Hollywood looks down on most colleagues.
Chamberlain, who should be familiar with such polo terms as "dribbling" and "forward," feels at home with other aspects of the game. "Coming upheld is like coming upcourt," he says. "The offense gets a certain right of way over the defense. No such thing as a slam-dunk, though. It's a whole different sociological arena, too. Here we get a lot of movie people who love polo because they can get on a horse, put on a helmet and become a whole new person. Polo is a nice way to lose your identity."
Maybe if you're a movie star, but not if you're The Stilt.
DAY IS DONE
The writing is on the ivy-covered wall. The Chicago Cubs, responding to a directive from the office of commissioner Peter Ueberroth, filed a lawsuit just before Christmas asking the state Circuit Court to block enforcement of city and state laws designed to prevent night games at 70-year-old Wrigley Field. The Cubs' argument is that the prevention of night baseball will deprive the club of a home-field advantage if it makes the playoffs or World Series. Baseball, of course, is really concerned with the loss of millions of dollars of TV revenue if the Cubs qualify for postseason play.
So the Cubs want lights now. Even the people of Chicago seem to be coming around to the idea of night ball in Wrigley—a recent poll revealed that only a slight majority preferred day ball. It all seems so inevitable. If the Cubs give in on lights, they'll soon be giving up on Wrigley Field altogether. Not enough seats to pay those salaries. Not enough parking. Not enough luxury boxes.
The arguments for preserving the integrity of Wrigley Field seem old and fatigued, worn down by the calls for progress, which is often just a euphemism for greed. The neighborhood around the park has shouted itself hoarse, and before long that voice will give out.
The real shame is that nobody speaks for the children. The Cubs' extraordinary constituency has been built on kids who could go off to a ball game and be home in time for dinner, kids who grew up to raise Cub fans of their own. Because of Chicago's WGN superstation—ironically, another target of the commissioner—the Cubs have a new following of youngsters all across the country. A July 18, 1983 SCORECARD item told of 3-year-old Scotty Dunn of Portland, Ore., who had become so captivated by the Cubs and Harry Caray that he started singing Take Me Out to the Ball Game in church when the organist played a hymn.
The lasting image of baseball is a game played by kids in sunshine on green grass. Wrigley Field is baseball's last shrine. The Cubs have something special, but they'll probably throw it away for money. There's nothing that special about money.
22-SKIDDOO: FLIGHTY OVER FLUTIE
The passion for Doug Flutie, the Boston College quarterback who took his team to the Cotton Bowl this week, seems to know no bounds. The Boston College Bookstore, a small campus emporium catering mostly to BC's 10,000 students, has been doing a land-office business since Flutie threw The Pass to beat Miami on Nov. 23. The store has sold more than $425,000 worth of Flutie and Cotton Bowl items, including hundreds of "six-second" shirts depicting a No. 22 throwing to a No. 20 in the end zone ($7.95). Peter Palmese, a sales representative for Champion Products, says, "Anything with No. 22 on it sells immediately. I've been in the bookstore business for 15 years, and no one has ever, at any time, been as big as Doug Flutie is now."
So a still unidentified young man found out on the Thursday before Christmas, after he slipped into the BC locker room and slipped out with a helmet, which happened to have No. 22 on it. Flutie, who is more than a little superstitious, was more than a little upset by the theft of the helmet he had worn in every game for four years, and the people in the Boston area echoed his outrage. Two days later, the thief dropped the helmet off at the offices of The Boston Herald, saying, "I didn't know it was his. There was no name on it. I figured I'd snag one, maybe make it into a lamp or something." Sure.
Flutie fanatics also got some measure of satisfaction last Thursday when David Delprete delivered a Boston cream pie to Chicago Tribune sports columnist Bernie Lincicome. In November, Lincicome had written that Flutie was "a dwarf playing football for a dwarf college" and that his popularity stemmed from his being "your basic runt of the litter." These observations incensed the Boston media, and Lincicome didn't help matters when, on a WROR radio show, he insulted Boston cream pie by saying, "You people can't make up your mind whether you want a pie or a cake."
When WROR held an auction to benefit the station's Children's Christmas Fund, one of the prizes was a trip to Chicago to throw a Boston cream pie in Lincicome's face. Delprete bid $1,050 for the honor—the next-most-expensive prize was a $650 Cabbage Patch doll. Flutie's champion flew to Chicago, took a limousine to the Tribune's offices and, wearing a No. 22 shirt, did his deed. Afterward Lincicome said, "I felt like Bozo the Columnist, but I did wear a tie to try to lend some dignity. I still don't know if it was a pie or a cake."
SAM Q. WEISSMAN
THEY SAID IT
•Brigham Young football coach La Veil Edwards, on whether speed or quickness is more important in a wide receiver: "We'd like our receivers to have both, but if they had both, they'd be at USC."
•Pete Gavett, women's basketball coach at Maine, explaining a 115-57 loss to Virginia: "I think the whole game hinged on one call—the one I made last April scheduling the game."
•Ohio State quarterback and co-captain Mike Tomczak, on meeting Rose Bowl grand marshal Lee Iacocca, chairman of Chrysler, for the coin toss: "You want to have your résumé in one hand and shake his hand with the other."
•Joe Barry Carroll, the 7-foot free-agent center who went off to Italy to play basketball after failing to reach an agreement with Golden State: "It's time for me to go to an unknown country."