OKLAHOMA NOT O.K.
Who was to blame for the unsavory incidents that bedeviled Oklahoma's football program under former coach Barry Switzer? Both Switzer and Charles Thompson—the Sooners' starting quarterback in 1987 and '88, the last two seasons of Switzer's 16-year tenure in Norman—would have you believe the answer is, absolutely nobody. They imply that the transgressions committed by Oklahoma, such as gunplay in the athletic dorm, gang rapes and drug peddling by players, and payoffs by boosters, just sort of happened.
Thompson is serving two years in prison for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. In an interview two weeks ago on ESPN, which he used to promote his forthcoming book, he claimed that he and Switzer got drunk together, that Switzer and school boosters gave him cash and that the latter practice continues today under the current Sooner coach, Gary Gibbs. University officials declined to comment, while Switzer brushed off Thompson's comments, saying, "He has no credibility. He is a criminal and a sociopath."
Yet the two were in accord in one sense: Both had trouble ascribing responsibility for the wrongdoings. "I haven't said Barry Switzer is to blame for the mistake I had," Thompson said. "I haven't said that the University of Oklahoma is to blame for the mistake I had. That would have been like saying my mother is to blame...." And Switzer said, "There's nothing at the University of Oklahoma that created or influences criminal acts.... There ain't nothing wrong with this game, but you have a few bad apples every once in a while...."
Well, what of the well-documented climate of permissiveness that pervaded Oklahoma during the Switzer years?
Didn't school officials, coaches and boosters ignore rampant misconduct, leading players to assume they could do whatever they liked so long as they won each Saturday? At another point in his interview, Thompson said, "For a while there, I thought I could do things differently than other people and still get away with it, that I could cut corners in life." He also said, "In sort of a sick way, it was an adventure. I never believed anything could happen to me."
Sounds to us like a lot of people at Oklahoma share the blame.
OFF TO THE RACES
Father Ed Droxler was presiding over Carl Schneider's wake at Hardesty's Funeral Home in Gambrills, Md., last week when his gaze happened to fall upon the open casket. Droxler has been a Roman Catholic priest for 44 years and insofar as the contents of coffins arc concerned, he thought he had seen it all. "I've seen rosaries, flowers, cards, but this is the first time I've ever seen this" was what flashed through Droxler's mind as he spotted a copy of the day's Racing Form tucked snugly into Schneider's breast pocket. Schneider was a machinist who had frequented the nearby Bowie and Laurel racetracks during his 70 years, and the Racing Form was a parting gesture from his wife, Ida.
The sight of the paper in Schneider's pocket reminded Droxler that he had overheard two parishioners before the service praising a 6-1 entry named Millersville who was scheduled to run that day in the fourth race at Laurel. Droxler told Schneider's mourners about Millersville. "I don't know how the horses are running up in heaven," he said. "That's not my thing to say. And I don't know Carl, but I understand by seeing the Racing Form that he was a fan. Wouldn't it be funny if we put a little bet on that horse and it came in?"
After the eulogy, Schneider's grandson Melvin and another man collected $60 from a dozen mourners, went to Laurel and bet the sum on Millersville. The two then watched the horse come home a wire-to-wire winner. Among those who divided up the $426 in winnings was Ida Schneider, who says her husband wouldn't have been offended. "Not at all," she says. "He would have liked to have been in on it."
JOCK POETS' SOCIETY
Harvard has produced more than its share of celebrated poets (Robert Frost, e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot) and now and then some respected athletes (punter Pat McInally; tennis player Dwight Davis, for whom the Davis cup is named; and Billy and Bobby Cleary, who led the U.S. Olympic hockey team to a gold medal in 1960). Now some Harvard men are merging muse and motion.
A few weeks ago, five freshman athletes—football players Mike Betsy, Mike Agrillo and Phil Kelley, hockey player Derek Maguire and soccer player Guido Giordano—were planning to throw a party when they learned of a university policy banning alcohol at gatherings in freshman dorms. So they had the bright idea of calling their dorm party a poetry reading. And then they had the even brighter idea of having a poetry reading. They chose John Harvard's statue as a suitably romantic location.
"We thought it would be, like, pretty funny for someone six-two, 255 to be reading, like, love poems," says Betsy. Two were already well versed in the genre. Maguire, an engineering major, had wowed his friends with a spontaneous recital of William Carlos Williams's The Red Wheelbarrow, and Kelley had long been scribbling his own poesy. The others began doing the same, declaring themselves Althletes for the Cultural Development of the Community.
On Sept. 21 the group, adorned in togas and sneakers, arrived at the statue for the first of their twice-monthly recitations of verse by themselves and others. They informed a crowd of a hundred that their aim was to "give all students a chance to enjoy original and attributed works in a serious yet informal setting." They then launched into rhyme.
Some of the poems were well known, such as Shakespeare's sonnet that begins "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" which Giordano, while on one knee, recited to fellow freshman Sharon Johnston. "It wasn't really romantic," he says. "I think she has a boyfriend back home." The original works ranged from the humorous to what Betsy terms "romantic poems to make girls swoon and stuff." One that fit this latter category was his own Ode to Shelley, a work that will in no way diminish the reputation of Percy Bysshe Shelley but may well enhance that of freshman Shelley McDonough. It reads, in part:
Oh Shelley, my love for you is like a ripened fruit on the vine.
It is a beautiful sight to gaze upon from afar,
Yet once picked, time becomes precious.
For though the fruit of love is sweet,
We are always left with the pits.
BANNING BASKETBALL ON BLUEBELL STREET
Since Alexander Turney Stewart, a multimillionaire department-store magnate with a passion for shrubbery, founded Garden City, N.Y., in 1869, the swank Long Island village has been known for shady streets with names like Bluebell and Primrose, perfectly tonsured lawns, lush flowerbeds, rambling houses and some persnickety laws. The 22,500 residents of the village may not have cracks in their sidewalks, may not own cattle and may not have freestanding basketball hoops on the front portion of their property. This last restraint is a consequence of a 100-year-old town zoning law that prohibits "accessory structures" in the front half of building lots.
Until two years ago, nobody dreamed that the law might be interpreted as applying to driveway hoops. But then an offended citizen complained to the village board of trustees that these particular fixtures degraded the aesthetics of the community. The Village of Garden City Building Division agreed, and Peter Gall, the mayor at the time, hastily took down the basket that had loomed over his own driveway for a decade.
But hoop removal was the furthest thing from the mind of Michael Epter, then a freshman guard for the St. Paul's High varsity, who thinks of the goal in his family's driveway as "a nonliving part of me." The zoning law in question was originally intended to prevent the construction of hitching posts, and the Epters owned no horses. So when they received a letter saying that their basket had to be removed or they would be liable for a $250-per-day fine, Michael and his brother Larry, then a Villanova law student, drafted a petition asking for pole support and collected more than 1,000 signatures. The trustees decided not to force the issue.
In recent weeks driveway baskets have again become a hot topic in Garden City. When Michael, now 16 and a senior at St. Mary's Boys High, learned that the matter would be debated at a trustee's meeting on Oct. 4, he sprang into action, rounding up supporters. On meeting night, to Epter's surprise, two engineers and two lawyers emerged from the throng in the village hall and addressed the Garden City Fathers. The engineers argued that basketball poles do not constitute structures. The lawyers questioned the town's right to ban the hoops and declared that should Michael wish to pursue the matter in court, they would represent him pro bono. Unimpressed, the trustees voted 5-2 that front-yard baskets on poles had to go. Garden City Mayor Jack McGowan later called it a "beautification" issue and said he doesn't think a pole is "a pretty sight at all." He also said, "How many people read a petition they sign? I don't trust petitions."
Among those who object to the action are two former professional basketball stars, Dave DeBusschere and Bill Melchionni, both of whom live in Garden City. "If you drive down the street and see a few basketball hoops, it shows that it's a vibrant, healthy community," said DeBusschere, a member of two Knick NBA championship teams and the basketball Hall of Fame.
"It's absurd," adds Melchionni, a three-time ABA All-Star with the Nets and now a New York City investment banker. "I think Picasso would have found some beauty in a basketball pole."
In Garden City, scenes like this may soon disappear.
THEY SAID IT
•Andy Van Slyke, Pirate outfielder, to Steeler offensive tackle Tunch Ilkin, while they watched the Steelers, who had gone four weeks without a touchdown, working out: "Why do you guys practice kicking off?"