West, by God, Virginia
This is an article from the Jan. 26, 1959 issue
While Elgin Baylor, their best player, sat on the bench in his street clothes, the Minneapolis Lakers lost to the Cincinnati Royals 95-91 in Charleston, W.Va. last week.
A few weeks before, Baylor and two other Negro players had been denied rooms at a Charlotte, N.C. hotel where the Lakers had planned to stay. "You fellows can stay here," Baylor heard the room clerk tell a white teammate, "but the colored boys have to go somewhere else. This is a nice, high-class hotel."
"Bob Short [the Lakers' owner] assured me that this wouldn't happen again," Baylor says. "I told him that if it did, I just wouldn't play." In Charleston it did happen again, so Baylor sat the game out and he said he would do it again, even if it cost him an entire year's salary.
"I still can't figure out what Elgin's so excited about," Short claimed. "We had reservations at the hotel and there was a slip-up of some kind. We had no indication anything like this was going to happen. He should have played. I think it would have been better for him to show he could rise above the situation. If Elgin had played, we would have won. Look at the score."
We have, and we think Baylor played his finest game by sitting firmly on the bench. We think he won something there, and that rising above a situation is often just another way of avoiding it. It would have been easy for him to show Charleston that he is a superior basketball player. But it was a more important and difficult job to accept the responsibility of eminence and to show Charleston, and remind all of us, that he is an average American—proud, uncommon, high-class.
After Musical Jack
Whenever reporters asked Theodore Francis Atkinson, 42, if he could recall the name of the first winner he ever rode, a distant smile would cross his face and he'd say, "Yes, sir. No jockey alive ever forgets that first one. Mine was named Musical Jack. May 18, 1938. Beulah Park, Columbus, Ohio." The other afternoon, as he wiggled into a set of purple silks and popped a gold cap on his head, Ted Atkinson had very little idea that he was about to ride his last one. Vet's Boy. January 10, 1959. Tropical Park, Coral Gables, Florida.
He left the jockeys' room and went to the tiny paddock, slapping his whip against his right leg as he walked. Statistically, Ted Atkinson was going to join a post parade for the 23,660th time. The start was no different from any other. He ran his left hand up along the back of his head to make sure his cap was on firmly and pulled his riding goggles down over his eyes. The field of nine broke, and he rated his mount third, three lengths off the leader. At the head of the stretch he was second and by the middle of it he was leading. But Vet's Boy was tiring badly. To his right Atkinson could see a horse striking at his lead, pulling right alongside. He whipped furiously and the two horses went under the wire together. Ted Atkinson and Vet's Boy were the winners—by a nose.
Statistically, it was winner number 3,795 for a fellow who had once been a laborer in the casserole division of the Corning (N.Y.) Glass works. He went out for one more race and finished eighth, but when he reached up to get his saddle and cloth he felt an immense pain in his sacroiliac. As he said later, he "betrayed the pain [concealed it from the fans] by the way in which I walked." Later he made a statement: "The people in racing, the owners, trainers and bettors, deserve nothing but the best.... It's no use going on feeling like I do.... There's no sense riding downhill to nowhere."
Ted Atkinson has gained much respect around the race tracks because he rode horses like Tom Fool, Capot, One Hitter and Hall of Fame, and because he won over $17 million in purses. But what made him entirely different from every other jockey was a gay erudition which he exposed only when he thought racing needed it. A few years ago, for instance, Rex Ellsworth, owner of Swaps, called his horse "nothing but a dumb animal." Atkinson, not too much later, was approached in the paddock at Belmont and asked for comment. "I never rode Swaps," he said, "but I'm sure he's a little bit more intelligent than his owner gives him credit for being. Mr. Ellsworth thinks horses are dumb. Perhaps I'm inclined to be a bit sentimental, but I don't agree. True, I don't suppose that Swaps can build a Univac, but I don't imagine that Mr. Ellsworth can either."
When he announced his retirement the other day Atkinson said, "It isn't easy to say goodby to what has been my life for more than two decades. After all, I've lived out of a trunk for 21 years. I do hope there is still a place for me in racing."
Speaking for an awful lot of people, Theodore, just name the one you'd like.
Song of the Open Road
To the harmless pastime of devising new words for old songs, no one brings more skill or less logic than the characters in the comic strip Pogo. A day or so before Christmas they were gathered around what may have been a Yule log but was probably just a swamp log, joyfully redoing the Christmas carols to the accompaniment of a concertina, a mandolin and a bass drum:
Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla Walla, Wash., an' Kalamazoo!
And thus they may have offered inspiration to a man on a bar stool in Los Angeles, who was observed there just the other evening, muttering and humming as he made notes on a small piece of paper. Finally he straightened up, cleared his throat and, reading from his scrap of paper, began to sing. The tune was Adeste Fideles, but the words went like this:
Jaguar Sunbeam Talbot
Ferrari, Ferrari, Triumph MG!
Alfa-Romeo, Frazer-Nash Lambretta,
O Ghia Aston Martin,
O Peugeot Aston Martin,
O Daimler Aston Martin,
If you'll sing it out heartily, pronouncing all the words right, you'll find that the new lyrics fit the old tune perfectly and make an excellent drinking song, especially useful for that time of evening when the spirit matters more than the sense.
We have no proof that the composer got his inspiration from Pogo. But it is nice to think that he did, and that it took him from Christmas Eve to the second week of January—or somewhat more than 10 nights in a barroom—to make his words come out right.
Have Team, Will Matriculate
In his first year at the University of Houston, Swimming Coach Phil Hansel, having nothing much to work with, scored a season's meet record of only one win against five defeats. This year, having spent the summer collecting a squad of high school and junior college All-Americas, including pretty Carin Cone (SI, Dec. 22), holder with Britain's Judy Grinham of the Olympic 100-meter backstroke record, Coach Hansel hoped for better things. But the fates, or maybe just simple economics, were against him.
The university to which Hansel brought all this aquatic wealth just couldn't afford it. Thanks largely to the generosity (some $25 million in various gifts) of the late oil millionaire H. R. Cullen, the once minor University of Houston has grown too big for its boots, or rather its swimming pool. Boasting an enrollment grown from 8,692 a decade ago to 13,700 today, Houston is now second in size in the state to the University of Texas (17,000). But the costs of mass higher education keep increasing faster than income or new donations. And, since Houston is not yet a member of the big-time Southwestern Conference, its football gate receipts (against such out-of-state rivals as Tulsa and Wichita) have not been enough to keep Houston's athletic budget out of the red.
Swimming Coach Hansel and the 15 tank stars his hopes were pinned on found themselves caught in the very first shift of the academic belt buckle, along with the track, tennis and golf teams. "It's unfortunate," said Hansel, "that the football coach has to be shackled with the rest of us, that we have to live off him so to speak, but that's the way it is, here and everywhere."
Meanwhile, what to do about 15 fine swimmers with no prospects of swimming? "Some of the boys," says Hansel, "have had individual offers from other colleges, but the boys think they should stick together and so do I. If I stay in Houston the girls will stay with me [there are few girls' college swimming teams], but if I go the girls will go with me." In the face of this unanimity Hansel is now desperately seeking some college which will take on himself and his entire team of boys and girls alike before the start of the new semester in February. "The swimmers," he says by way of sales talk, "would like to stay together, and all the kids believe we have the makings of a terrific team. Even colleges not interested in five girl swimmers as such might be interested in five girls who are nationally prominent and would bring attention and credit to any institution."
Time's a wasting, athletic directors of America! Fill out the coupon now and get yourself a swimming team. If you don't, says the handsome and eager young mentor who was just last month elected president of the American Swimming Coaches' Association, "All that's left is to drown the swimming coach in effigy."
Have Stadium, Will Name It
Some 500 miles northwest of the University of Houston, with its straitened athletic budget (see above), sits little West Texas State College (enrollment: 2,145) near Amarillo. WTSC has undertaken the construction of a $700,000 football stadium to replace the rickety wooden benches on the scruffed-up lawn of its campus. And no just-another stadium either, mind you. When completed this fall, it will have streamlined room for 20,000 patrons (later expandable for 30,000 more), 5,000 cars and any big-time team caring to drop by. To stimulate the trade of stay-at-home types, many of the seats will be fitted with chair backs and electrical outlets. The outlets, says the college, should accommodate all those who wish to keep warm, make hot chocolate, shave or follow their favorite Western on television.
For whom will they name this splendid facility? For a contribution of $50,000, says Athletic Director Frank Kimbrough, they might very well name it for you.
Until we broke it, the world's record for staying aloft in a manned balloon was 84 hours," said Arnold Eiloart the other day. "But we, in the Small World, remained in the air for 94½ hours and traveled 1,200 miles across the Atlantic." After that, of course, the Small World was forced down at sea. But its gondola, which was oddly boat-shaped, wallowed on across the Atlantic with the help of a simple sail and a rudder, and brought its adventurous crew of four to safety and fame in Barbados. (The four: Arnold Eiloart and his son Tim; Colin Mudie and his wife Rosemary.)
The strangest comment on this remarkable achievement comes from the Small World crew themselves. "After all," they agreed modestly, surrounded by admirers in New York's Victoria Hotel, "we did fail."
For their aim was not just to come through the adventure alive; it was to cross the Atlantic in a balloon. To do so they needed, on their first attempt, to stay in the air more than twice as long as any balloonists had ever stayed up before. The odd thing is, they thought they could do it; and now, having failed, they are convinced that it can be done.
The great problem of balloonists, like that of oldtime motorists, is running out of gas. If a rising air current takes you high enough, you must allow some gas to escape from your balloon. If you don't, the expanding gas will burst its bag, and you, the balloonist, will become merely a falling object. After encountering a certain number of upcurrents and losing some gas in each of them, a balloon can no longer remain airborne.
But Eiloart and his crew had a plan: when atmospheric conditions caused the Small World to rise, they would drop a line over the side of the gondola and haul water up from the sea in a canvas bag. The added weight of the water would make the balloon less buoyant and keep it from rising to a dangerous height. Thus the Small World would add and lose water across the Atlantic and keep its loss of gas to a bare minimum.
In practice, however, there were problems. The water bag sometimes tossed about on the waves and refused to fill. If the balloon hit a really good updraft the ocean dropped away from beneath it with dismaying speed, so that the distance for hauling up water increased rapidly as the need for acquiring it grew more urgent. The lifting device was a pulley operated by four sets of bicycle pedals, but if the line tangled as it dropped a thousand feet to the sea—and it often did—no amount of pedaling would draw it in. By the time the citizens of the Small World had solved all these problems they had sacrificed a good deal of gas to inexperience, and when a really terrifying thunderstorm threatened to carry them up to 20,000 feet, they were forced to sacrifice even more and come down on the sea.
"Another time," says Mudie, "we would be better prepared for a storm, and able to cope with it. For 36 hours before we were forced down our water lift had worked perfectly and we had lost no gas at all."
Will there be a next time? "We have decided to think about it seriously," says Mudie. And that answer, coming from adventurers such as these, can be roughly translated as "Yes."
Sabbatical at Wedgeport
Skies should be blue and the winds fresh at Wedgeport, Nova Scotia next September. Offshore the long seas will be running, while back on the beach Wedgeport's easy hospitality and rustic camaraderie will be furnished to visiting fishermen as usual. There may even be bluefin in plenty out in the Atlantic. But there will be no Wedgeport Tuna Tournament.
For the first time since the war Wedgeport's international competition for the Sharp Cup will take a sabbatical. Since 1949 tuna have become fewer and fewer at Wedgeport, and rodmen from Europe, South Africa, South America and the U.S. have had increasingly disappointing catches or none at all. One proposal before the directors of the international tournament meeting in New York the other day was to move the match to a new site (SI, Oct. 13); another was to continue the tournament, fish or no fish. From Boston came the advice of Alton B. Sharp, donor of the tournament cup: "You can't move the atmosphere and tradition of Wedgeport. It would be like leaving a house you love." Asked S. Kip Farrington Jr., founder of the competition: "Where else can you find 30 boats of uniform size manned by crews of equal ability? Only in Wedgeport. It's there or nowhere."
For 1959, the directors decided, it'll be nowhere. So there the matter stands. The Sharp Cup is in custody of the Nova Scotia government, the competition is recessed, and where, oh where is the bluefin?
He golfs on coldest days, I've heard,
Alone, with his dog Rover.
For now that water hole, the third,
Thank God, is frozen over!
They Said It
The Bolsheviks, who arrived at the Harvard-Russia hockey match attired in black coats, black toppers and black beards to cheer the Russians wildly (and later admit through their beards to being Boston University students): "We weren't so much rooting for the Russians as we were rooting against Harvard."
Perry Jones, re-elected Davis Cup captain, flexing a bit of major-tennis power muscle for the cause of open tennis: "The International Lawn Tennis Federation flatly rejected such a proposal last year, but if the U.S. and Australia could agree on a position, the federation could change its mind."
Pauline L. Davis, Assemblywoman in California, on becoming the first lady chairman of the Committee on Fish and Game: "Many women hunt and fish and, besides, all of the men first have to get permission from their wives."
Ned Irish, president of the New York Knickerbockers, eying the roughhouse on courts: "The surest way to kill the pro game of basketball is to tolerate the kind of rough, overly aggressive type of game they are playing today."
Father Pedro Schaffner, of the Franciscan monastery in Anàpolis, Brazil, in a letter to the Armed Forces Radio Service: "Last night because of the Giant-Colt playoff our evening Mass did not begin exactly at the scheduled hour, and that is something that never happened before."