Skip to main content
Original Issue


Cradle Wars

Coaches may get the O.K. to prey on preadolescents

The recruiting process is troubling enough when it involves college coaches courting high school athletes. Now, in an even more disturbing twist, a nine-member league of private high schools in the Washington, D.C., area called the Metro Conference is considering a rule that would allow its coaches to recruit athletes who are in junior high school.

The principals and athletic directors of the conference schools, which include perennial basketball power DeMatha High in Hyattsville, Md., will vote on the rule by the end of May, according to Metro commissioner J. Dallas Shirley. If, as expected, the proposal passes, coaches will have the go-ahead to approach eighth-graders, some of them as young as 13 years old, and attempt to convince them to come to their schools.

"[The conference] already has the reputation for this type of stuff, so I don't see where passing the new rule will hurt us," football coach John Ricca of St. John's College High, a Metro member, told The Washington Post last week. The rationale behind the proposed rule is that it's wiser to try to regulate the practice than to pretend that it doesn't exist. "At least it will be aboveboard now," says Ricca.

But when coaches aren't being aboveboard, the solution isn't necessarily to lower the board. It was probably inevitable that high-pressure recruiting would trickle down from high schools to junior highs, but school administrators should be fighting that trend, not sanctioning it. Every day, it seems, we're confronted with another story about avaricious recruiters exploiting and twisting the values of 17-and 18-year-olds, and now we're subjecting children who are four years younger to some of those same predatory practices.

Advocates of the Metro proposal say that the recruiting of an eighth-grader isn't nearly as intense as that of a high school junior or senior. Not yet. But if passed, the rule would encourage even fiercer competition for top junior high school athletes, which will inevitably lead to improper inducements and other abuses so familiar in the recruiting of older athletes.

The idea of coaches offering 13-year-olds, say, free skateboards may sound absurd, but then there was a time when the thought of the recruiting of children sounded absurd too.

Heavy Doings

Razor cuts out, and a Tyson-Holyfield bout looms

Last week's announcement by Don King that Donovan (Razor) Ruddock had agreed to pull out of his scheduled June 28 rematch with former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson—a bout for which Ruddock had been guaranteed $6.5 million—raised a host of questions and as many seemingly contradictory answers. According to King, Tyson's promoter, Ruddock "agreed to step aside and agreed to let Mike Tyson fight Evander Holyfield for the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world." King added that he would have no difficulty in making the deal for a Holyfield-Tyson fight with Holyfield's management team of Dan Duva and Shelly Finkel.

Meanwhile, Ruddock's promoter, Murad Muhammad, insisted that Ruddock pulled out of the bout because Muhammad was banned for a year from promoting fights in Nevada and fined $25,000 for his role in the brawl that erupted following Tyson's controversial TKO of Ruddock on March 18 in Las Vegas. Other boxing insiders indicated that Ruddock sought a postponement to give his sore left shoulder and biceps a chance to mend. Muhammad denied a report that King had paid Ruddock $2 million to step aside, saying his fighter would receive only $100,000 to $200,000 in expenses.

Left scrambling by the cancellation was Steve Wynn, whose Mirage casino in Las Vegas was to have hosted Tyson-Ruddock II. According to Duva, Wynn called him at 3 a.m. last Thursday, just a few hours after King had made his announcement, hoping to salvage his now-KO'd June 28 extravaganza by substituting Holyfield for Ruddock, even though that would give Holyfield barely a month to prepare. Wynn, said Duva, wanted to know if Holyfield would take $20 million to fight Tyson on that date. "I said, 'Am I dreaming this? No, thank you,' " says Duva.

No matter what King says, Duva maintains there have been no negotiations yet on a Holyfield-Tyson match. "King is getting desperate," he says. "He promised Tyson a rematch with Buster Douglas. He didn't deliver. He promised him a fight with the winner of Douglas-Holyfield. He didn't deliver. He promised him the WBC would strip Holyfield. He didn't deliver. I think Tyson said, 'Forget it. Get me Holyfield.' " Indeed, Holyfield can afford to wait, with his next three bouts (including a rematch with George Foreman next April) lined up. But still, Duva knows that Holyfield-Tyson is the match to make. If Tyson-Ruddock II is truly dead, expect Holyfield-Tyson I in late September or late October.

"There are no negatives for that fight," says Duva. "It's a home run."

Run and Chute
Training is becoming a drag for some athletes

When Al Miller, the Denver Bronco strength and conditioning coach, asked running backs, wide receivers and defensive backs to strap small parachutes onto their backs before running sprints in spring workouts, the players howled with laughter. "I chuckled at first, too," Miller says of the parachute-training concept, the brainchild of a Soviet track coach who brought the idea with him when he immigrated to the U.S. last year. "But when you think about it, it makes sense. It does not alter the technique of the sprinter, and it puts direct resistance on the muscles used in sprinting."

After a few weeks of experimentation, the results are impressive. For example, running back Blake Ezor has lowered his time in the 40-yard dash from 4.77 to 4.63 seconds, an improvement Miller attributes largely to the chutes.

The inventor, Ben Tabachnik, began marketing parachutes through a Memphis-based company called All-Star Athletic last year. The chutes attach to a belt that the athlete wears around his waist and come in three sizes: 3.5, 4.5 and 5.5 feet in diameter. There is no rip cord: The chute drags behind the runner, inflating as his speed increases.

The Speed Chutes, as they are called, sell for $60 to $80 apiece. Miller heard about them at a coaches' clinic and ordered 20. So far, more than 1,000 have been sold to pro, college and high school teams for football, hockey, track and other sports. The Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots and New York Giants are the other NFL clubs using the chutes. And Tabachnik's invention may have nonhuman applications. A smaller version is being used by a greyhound trainer who hopes to turn slow-pawed sloggers into champions. It's called the Pooch Chute.

Damage Controller

The Giants' road back to the Super Bowl gets bumpier

When New York Giants coach Bill Parcells told general manager George Young last week that he wanted to be an ex-coach, it was only the latest crisis in Young's 12-year reign atop one of pro football's flagship franchises. Until Tim Mara sold his 50% share of the Giants in March to Robert Tisch, Young had to continually referee the feud between Tim and the uncle Tim hates, Wellington, who owns the rest of the team. After coach Ray Perkins left New York in the lurch when he unexpectedly quit in 1982, Young had to whisk Parcells into the job. When Lawrence Taylor signed with Donald Trump's New Jersey Generals of the USFL in '84, Young had to pay a ransom to get Taylor back. Over the years Young has also had to deal with some tricky holdouts, most prominently those of Taylor, Carl Banks, Mark Bavaro and Mark Haynes, and with Taylor's four-game suspension for drug-policy violations in '88.

So Young was prepared when Parcells resigned with a year left on his contract. In fact, in anticipation of just this sort of development, he had had Ray Handley, a 46-year-old assistant coach, in mind to take over the Giants since last fall.

Last Friday Taylor cast Young as the villain in the Parcells story, criticizing Young for not trying to sign Parcells right after New York's victory in the Super Bowl. But in fairness, it was difficult for Young, a roundish fellow with two master's degrees who never seems as if he's having any fun, to proceed on Parcells's contract until the deal to sell Tim Mara's half of the team was done. Young didn't want to spend $6 million on a long-term contract for a coach without consulting the new owner first.

Young refuses to defend his handling of the Parcells negotiations, but he did hop off his home exercise bike over the weekend long enough to say: "If I'm perceived as the heavy in this, that's fine. I'm the black-hat guy. I have to have the thick skin. I'm in the damage-control business. My job is to make sure that no changes are disasters. None of us is irreplaceable, including myself."

Having lost a two-time Super Bowl-champion coach two months before the start of training camp, Young may face yet another crisis after the 1991 season. Each Giants assistant has a clause in his contract that says he can terminate that contract if Parcells is not the New York coach, and one assumes that if and when Parcells chooses to take a coaching job elsewhere in the NFL—Minnesota and Tampa Bay are being mentioned as possibilities—he would like to surround himself with familiar company. Young had no comment on why he consented to give the assistants this out, but he can take some comfort in the comments of one Giants assistant who said he didn't think more than two or three coaches would follow Parcells to another team.

Young just sighs at the mention of further defections. "What's new?" he asks. "We'll do what we've always done when problems come up: Stay the course."

Chariots of Ire

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your jeers

If you think today's fans take their sports seriously, consider the chariot-racing buffs of ancient Rome. According to archaeologist Anne Haeckl, the field director of the University of Georgia excavations at the Roman circus at Carthage, fans at chariot races inscribed curses on thin lead tablets, then nailed them near the starting gates. One tablet read: "I conjure you up, prematurely dead demon. Bind the horses whose names and images I place for you on this tablet. Paralyze them in their course, destroy their power, their soul, speed and èlan. Take victory away from them. Make them stumble and be unnerved so that they will not be able today in the circus to run, walk or win, or leave the stables, or traverse the arena, the track, or to make it around the turning posts. But make them fall, along with their chariot and charioteers."

Such maledictions were sometimes accompanied by illustrations or a genealogy. Haeckl says, "A tablet might say, 'Oh, Demon, destroy the soul of Euphemius, son of Dionysius and Glauke,' so the demon would be sure and get the right person." And you thought Duke basketball fans were tough on opponents.





Ruddock (left) may have had his only shot at Tyson last March.



Broncos Kip Corrington (left) and Lelo Lang pull their weight and more.



Young has his work cut out for him.






Judgment Calls

[Thump Up]To former heavyweight champion James (Buster) Douglas for buying a disused roller rink in Columbus, Ohio, his hometown. He plans to convert it into a recreation center.

[Thump Up]To Iowa Lutheran Hospital and the Iowa Heart Center for conducting free screenings for athletes from 12 Des Moines-area high schools. Researchers will be able to detect heart abnormalities like the one that killed Loyola Marymount basketball star Hank Gathers.

[Thump Down]To the Big Five—Philadelphia schools La Salle, Perm, St. Joseph's, Temple and Villanova—for scrapping a 36-year tradition of each team playing the others during basketball season. Because of scheduling conflicts, each school will now play only two games against Big Five rivals.


Lee Smith, St. Louis Cardinals reliever, on a pitch that Eric Davis hit for a home run: "It was a slider that didn't slide. Well, it slid once—off the facing of the upper deck."

Brady Anderson, Baltimore Oriole outfielder, after saying he would like to ask Queen Elizabeth about Princess Caroline, and being told that the two aren't related: "Yeah, but they all talk to each other."

College Credit Check

Following in the footsteps of the Knight Commission, the 22-member panel that urged college presidents to take control of runaway athletic programs (SCORECARD, April 1), a regional association that accredits colleges and universities has proposed scrutinizing athletics just as it does academics. Should the 800 members of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools ratify the proposal in December, schools throughout the Southeast could lose their accreditation if their athletic departments are not up to snuff. This would mean that, at least, the flow of federal aid to students would be cut off, and, at most, the institution would be rendered academically bankrupt.

"In the past, there has been a perfunctory kind of review of the athletic program [during the accreditation process]," says Ron Carrier, president of James Madison University and chairman of the committee that recommended the proposal to the association. "Now there will be someone on the team whose sole assignment will be to review athletics." That investigator will look at an athletic department's finances, admissions practices and treatment of athletes.

That an accrediting body would demonstrate such concern about athletics is a measure of how alarming the abuses in college sports have become. However, it's questionable whether the association's proposal will have much impact. Schools seldom lose their accreditation for any reason, and it's doubtful any institution would suffer that fate for even the most egregious athletic wrongdoing. That's too bad, because when it comes to policing college sports, the NCAA the organization now charged with that task, needs all the help it can get.


Replay 20 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated

Oakland A's pitcher Vida Blue was 10-1 when he appeared on the May 31, 1971, cover. We also reported that Montreal had won the Stanley Cup, for the third time in four years, defeating the Black Hawks in Chicago. Boston had been the '70 Cup winner, so when one of the Canadiens declared the Cup at Canadian Customs inspection, the agent said, "There's no problem, we'll classify that as Canadian Goods Returned."