AILING GOLDEN GOOSE
Harness racing is under siege. Four top trainer-drivers in New York were denied stall space after a suspicious race at Yonkers Raceway on June 7, and last week the steward there was relieved of his duties after an investigation into the race. Incident after incident is shaking public confidence in the sport. As the onetime country fair pastime grows ever larger and more lucrative, its ability to govern itself has not kept pace.
A glaring example of this occurred recently at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania. Driver Gaston Guindon was suspended for driving an odds-on favorite "with a design to prevent his winning." In simpler English, that means the authorities felt Guindon deliberately lost the race. How long a suspension was he slapped with? Life? Ten years? No, Guindon was set down for 30 days and soon after was driving at Batavia Downs in New York State. Hoof Beats, the U.S. Trotting Association's own magazine, called the slap-on-the-wrist punishment "madness" and wondered about some 60 other suspensions at Pocono.
Even as all this was going on, the New York State Harness Racing Commission approved Roosevelt Raceway's proposal to introduce a superperfecta, a race in which bettors try to select the first four finishers in order. Betting payoffs on the "superfecta" can be huge, as much as $30,000. Tracks, thoroughbred and standardbred both, love outlandish payoffs because they generate huge publicity—and hopefully, though not always, increased attendance, increased betting and increased revenue. But big-payoff races also attract the schemers and fixers, and these are not all lovable Guys and Dolls types in snap-brim hats and white-on-white ties. Drivers (who can bet on themselves, even in superfectas) can read those $30,000 figures on the tote board as well as anybody.
Yet, despite warnings from people like Edward Hackett, executive vice-president of the USTA, too many harness racing people are choosing to ignore a trend that could destroy their sport. As Hoof Beats has said, "Somewhere along the line someone is going to have to show some guts."
WHERE EAGLES DARE
This isn't a knock at Miss Ohio, who breezed home first in the Miss America Derby last Saturday, but environmentalists feel that rightfully the winner's crown should have gone to Miss South Dakota. In the talent competition, Miss South Dakota dressed up as a bald eagle, presumably one facing extinction, and intoned, "I am the scapegoat of technology, Homo sapiens, the industrial revolution. I am the shadow of all that are going and have gone before—the brontosaurus and the whooping crane. Yes, I am the bald eagle." In the background a tape softly played America the Beautiful.
Caused quite a flap.
TEXANS AT BAY
Steam is beginning to hiss from the upper reaches of Houston's Astrodome, near where the high-rent skyboxes—$2,400 for the football season—are. The wealthy Texans who buy up the luxurious boxes each year (if you want, you can stay in a private room behind your box, have a small cocktail party and watch the game on closed-circuit TV) have been told by the Astrodome management that they can no longer bring their own food in. Instead, they must buy their party vittles from the Astrodome concessionaire. Sixty pieces of fried chicken, delivered to the box, cost $22.50. Fifty Gulf shrimp go for $30. A more modest cheese-and-cracker tray is $15, and an urn of coffee is $7.50.
"We've been bringing our own food for five years," said one indignant lady. "Then this year they said all food had to be bought from them. Except desserts. They don't sell desserts."
The lady admitted that she had found a way around the problem. When the Oilers played the Chicago Bears recently, she ordered hot dogs and coffee ($15 for the package) from the caterer. "Then I cooked up some chocolate brownies for dessert, like I always do, and then I added a roast and some salad—enough for 24 people—and had the butler bring it up the back way."
But, hah, an Astrodome official dropped by during the festivities, glowered and said, accusingly, "You brought some food up here, didn't you?"
"Just desserts," the lady said airily, "and a few leftovers."
She won the battle, but now she wonders if she lost the war. There is a waiting list for football skyboxes. When she goes to buy the box next season, will she be looked at coldly and drummed out of the dome, with nothing to show but a roast and some salad and her just desserts?
This should be the last fish story ever about the one that got away. An Australian lady named Agnes Tait was on a party boat fishing for coral trout along the Great Barrier Reef. She and the 11 other ladies on board were startled when a 35-foot humpback whale surfaced near their 37-foot boat, and they became frightened when it began to dive back and forth under it, since they feared it might get tangled in the anchor chain and drag the boat under. On the whale's fourth dive Mrs. Tait felt a pull on her line. The whale surfaced behind the boat and turned toward it. There in his huge lower jaw were the two hooks at the end of Mrs. Tait's 80-pound-test line.
As if aggrieved at this unpleasant intrusion into an afternoon of fun, the humpback slowly moved away. Mrs. Tait gave him line as he did but then, realizing she was never going to land a 70,000-pounder (the rule of thumb for estimating a humpback's weight is a ton a foot) on an 80-pound line, she broke him off.
The moral of the story? Just be sure when you hook into a whale that you have 11 witnesses with you.
Gordie Howe, who retired last week after 25 seasons in the National Hockey League, had an almost invisible off-ice personality, and his fame, such as it was, never came close to reflecting the enormous extent of his ability. "Gordie Howe? Oh, yeah, the hockey player" would be a standard response from an average U.S. sports fan more interested in baseball, football and basketball, and maybe even in things like golf and auto racing, than in ice hockey.
Yet Howe is one of the half-dozen or so truly superior athletes of all time, as far beyond the very good hockey player as the storied names—Babe Ruth, Red Grange, Bobby Jones, you know the list—were beyond the second-best in their sports. And he has been outstanding for an astonishingly long time, an All-Star in 22 different seasons. It is difficult to imagine NHL hockey without him.
One almost irrelevant memory of him curiously persists. Some years ago he made a television commercial in which his two small sons, on skates and in hockey uniform, stood side by side protecting the goal. Howe, huge as a bear in contrast, was gently trying to poke the puck past the two little boys. The grace, the control, the persistence, the implied insistence that the boys pay total attention to what Father Bear was doing with the puck somehow seemed to sum up Howe as a hockey player. He was so much more than anybody else.
THE OTHER WAY
Dave Williams, the University of Houston golf coach, is disturbed by a current move to reduce the number of athletic scholarships and limit those to athletes demonstrating financial need. Williams says it should be the other way around: athletic grants-in-aid should be increased.
"The way I look at it," he says, "rich folks and middle-income people pay for most of the schools we build, most of the churches, most of the hospitals, most of the things necessary to keep things going. Let's not do anything to hurt them, like denying their sons athletic scholarships because they are affluent. Those are the people who keep the bread on the table.
"Competition makes the world go round. We would never have gone to the moon if it hadn't been for Russia. We would never have had a great golf team at Houston if Fred Cobb of North Texas State hadn't reached the moon as golf coach. We wanted to beat him. Texas wanted to beat us, and they did it this year. This is what it's all about.
"Some of the schools want to cut back. Let them, but don't let them cut everyone back to their size. This should be an individual matter for each university. Awarding scholarships on a need basis has been tried and has proven to be a failure. Why continue it?"
Chuck Wellsand, a halfback who scored 22 touchdowns last year as a junior at Valparaiso High School in Indiana, was banned from interscholastic sports by the Indiana High School Athletic Association when he married in December. Wellsand went to court, arguing among other things that he had been scouted by coaches from 15 to 20 colleges and his chances of getting a college education through a scholarship depended to a considerable extent on his playing football in his senior year.
He won his case. U.S. District Court Judge Jesse E. Eschbach ruled that the state athletic association could not cite marriage as a reason for banning a student from interscholastic sport. The IHSAA argued that married students should use their extra time—presumably football playing time—to take care of their family responsibilities, but Eschbach said that argument ignored the unmarried student who works to help his family. The IHSAA claimed the rule was needed to keep married and unmarried students apart, but the judge pointed out that there was "sizable opportunity" in other areas of school life for married students to mingle with unmarried ones and, presumably, advise them on the facts of life. The IHSAA said the ban gave unmarried students more opportunity to participate in sports, but Eschbach ruled that there was no rational basis for that argument, nor was there evidence to support the contention that there was a higher dropout rate among married students. The IHSAA ban, the judge declared, was simply a "punitive sanction for entering into marriage." As such, it violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, which is intended to "protect all, not just the majority."
The IHSAA indicated it would appeal to a higher court, but in the meantime Wellsand rejoined Valparaiso's football team. Asked if he was pleased to have his star ballcarrier back, Coach Tom Stokes said, "Well, he won't hurt us any."
FUN AND GAMES
Here is something cheering for those who remember playing sandlot sports without benefit of leagues, uniforms, promotion, publicity, trophies and significance. The Beachwood, Ohio board of education has an active but de-emphasized intramural program for its elementary and middle schools. The program prohibits uniforms and spectators; no records are kept, and there is no public reporting of scores. Sherman Hollander, president of the school board, says the policy was instituted for "the clumsy kids. We're trying to give these kids a chance to develop without making it too much of a hotly contested thing. Some parents were organizing tackle football teams with these children, and we were afraid somebody might get hurt. We want the kids to enjoy sport for the pleasure of it, to play for the fun of it."
THEY SAID IT
•Charles McClendon, LSU football coach: "I know we're playing 11 games, our players know we're playing 11 games, but our fans think we're playing only one: Notre Dame."
•Abe Pollin, Baltimore Bullets owner, on negotiations with the NBA players' association: "The reserve clause is outmoded in its present form, and basketball can exist without it. A player doesn't have to be bound to the same team for life."
•Don Buford, Baltimore Orioles outfielder, on the way to beat the wage-price freeze: "Just take your normal salary, then get an interest-free loan from the club that you forget to pay back."