TAXES AND SPORT
A survey prepared for the National Sporting Goods Association, which understandably is keenly interested in the situation, indicates that in many cases interscholastic sports are in danger because of the current taxpayer revolt against school expenditures. The increasing costs of salaries and construction, combined with the general economic decline and the fact that school budgets and bond issues are about the only area where the citizen has a direct vote on how he will be taxed, have led to rejection of bonds and budgets all across the country. A significant 66% of the people questioned in the survey said that while they recognized the value of sport they would nonetheless favor a reduction in spending for interscholastic athletics if it meant a reduction in taxes.
Coupled with this is a growing feeling that interscholastic competition benefits relatively few students. And yet it appears that physical education programs for all students—particularly in inner city schools where they are most important—are too often inadequate. In Philadelphia, for example, where varsity sports were killed last year and then, after considerable controversy, revived (SI, Sept. 6, 1971 et seq.), as many as half the students in a class regularly cut phys ed.
Some put the blame for this on the teachers running the classes who because of budgetary inadequacies are either untrained in physical education or are varsity coaches whose primary interests lie elsewhere. "Most physical education teachers think coaching is more important than teaching," said one Philadelphia teacher-coach. "Coaches look for kids who are natural athletes. They see athletics as an end rather than as a vehicle for teaching."
He added that he did not think varsity athletics generally had the benefits so frequently attributed to them during last year's dispute. "Most kids who make it in high school sport could have continued to play in Boys Clubs, the YMCA, recreational leagues and so on. But when it came down to the [budgetary] crunch, it was remedial physical education classes that were cut out. Where are our priorities?"
SKI AND SEE
This solution comes a touch too late for the just-ended Winter Games, but surely the International Olympic Committee's Avery Brundage would be pleased to endorse Germany's Family Sport Society (FKK) whose members never, but never, display commercial brand names while skiing the Allg√§uer Alps in the southwest corner of Bavaria. The society skis without really displaying much of anything in the way of labels: the area is restricted to nude schussers who pay $1.70 a day for the privilege of racing about raw. Nonmembers are welcome. Don't call us, call the German National Tourist Office.
The fetal World Hockey Association is trying to develop new teams in a variety of cities. The venerable National Hockey League is prepared to defend both its old, established franchises and its newer, hopeful ones. Oddly, neither group has moved toward the fertile ground—or ice—of San Diego. While NHL teams in Los Angeles and Oakland are struggling to attract fans—crowds have been as low as 3,000 and about the only time they get to 10,000 and above is when one of the six original NHL clubs come to town—the minor-league San Diego Gulls have been a hit ever since they came into existence in 1966. Average home attendance is far better than that in the higher population areas farther north in California.
Hockey expansionists say the crowds in San Diego are the result of minor-league ticket prices ($4.50 top), and the pension-based economy of that retirement city will not support the inflated ticket scale ($6.50 top) major league hockey had grown accustomed to. Maybe so, but where there are crowds there is interest. The old commercial theory that low price times high volume equals good profits could prove more valid than the high price, low volume situation in the rinks farther north.
Serious horse players have been saddened to find their ranks infiltrated by people to whom money is more important than winning a bet. There has been a spate of thefts at mutuel windows where bettors, usually lithe, swift kids, suddenly reach into the cage, snatch a handful of cash and are gone in an instant.
When a $50 window was closed in a would-be bettor's face at Maryland's Pimlico, he smashed the glass, grabbed some money and threw it to the crowd, which kept it. At Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania a more deliberate thief sprayed mace on a mutuel clerk at a $100 window and took his money box, which contained more than $11,000. Chased and cornered by track police and realizing he could not get away, the thief flung the money box into the crowd. Alas, the horse players lost a chance to improve their image: only $1,500 was recovered.
LONG DAY'S VIEWING
If you like auto racing, you'd better get in shape. This June the 24-hour Le Mans race will be televised via satellite in its entirety, all 24 hours of it, and will be shown over closed-circuit TV in theaters around the country. It will be, for one day, anyway, kind of like the old six-day bike races, when spectators would drop in from time to time and watch for an hour or so, go off about their business for a while and then stop by again later. Tickets, the promoters hasten to point out, will be good for all 24 hours and you can enter and leave the theater at will during the race.
Or else bring a pillow and stay twice around the clock.
One of the many experiments in baseball the forward-looking Kansas City Royals have dabbled in deals with the visual perception and physical coordination of their players. A couple of California ophthalmologists who had worked on improving such skills in retarded children wondered if their methods might not help ballplayers, too. In Kansas City this winter they tested about 15 Royal players, putting them through various exercises (for instance, a player would bounce on a trampoline while moving his legs and hands in prescribed motions) and evaluating their vision (the player was asked to react to a pinpoint of light on a wall in a dark room by indicating what part of his body was the same height as the point of light).
Outfielder Lou Piniella was found to have better coordination in the upper than the lower half of his body, perhaps accounting for his considerable aptitude as a hitter and relative ineptitude in fielding ground balls. Catcher Ed Kirkpatrick found that in his closed batting stance his nose blocked the vision in one eye so that he was virtually a one-eyed hitter. First Baseman Bob Oliver, who has trouble hitting high pitches, consistently tended to think the point of light was higher than it really was.
The doctors outlined programs for the players designed to rectify such weaknesses. Now, if they can also come up with a formula for hitting the long ball or consistently nipping the outside corner with a fast curve, Kansas City will have the pennant wrapped up.
Score a point for the anti-hair forces. Last Saturday at the Champions meet in Los Angeles (page 57), Al Feuerbach, who wears his hair down to his shoulders, tried desperately to become the second man ever to put the shot more than 70 feet. He missed by 12½ inches and blamed his hair. "I could definitely feel it on my last throw," he admitted. But do not assume that the burly shotputter ran out looking for a barber. He also said, "It was the first time my hair was ever a deterrent to my putting. I'm not going to clip it unless it bothers me on all six throws."
TEXAS AND BROOKLYN
Rice University has recruited a football player from—it's hard to believe—the heart of Brooklyn. Bernardo Paez, a 6'2" quarterback, was approached by 200 college teams before settling on scholastically prestigious Rice (Paez ranks in the top 10% of his class at Thomas Jefferson High).
Al Conover, Rice's coach, lapsed into Texas-style hyperbole in describing Paez' Brooklyn background to the Houston press. "The kids have to fight their way to school and home again," he said. "Those who can't fight have to pay protection or get beat up. One day when I was there the team was working out on cement, scrimmaging without pads on frozen concrete. They had shoveled the snow off and were doing agility rolls and forward rolls, the entire bit. The team's field doesn't have a blade of grass on it. The field house is a converted subway station. Trains rumble overhead every 15 minutes or so, shaking loose dirt and bricks."
He praised the football program of Jefferson's coach, Moe Finkelstein. "He has sold the kids on the idea that their only chance of getting out of that environment and improving themselves is by making it in athletics and getting a college scholarship. As a result he has a very disciplined group."
In Brooklyn, Finkelstein was pleased by Conover's praise but gently corrected some of his statements. "It isn't all that rough," he said. "The kids don't fight their way to school or pay protection. And it wasn't a scrimmage on concrete, it was just a workout." The field house is not an abandoned subway station but a small building that nestles under the elevated tracks. The subway does rumble overhead, but bricks and dirt don't shake loose, not really. Finkelstein did concede that the field had no grass.
He had only one serious exception to Conover's remarks. He welcomed the educational opportunity football gave his players but not because it enabled them to escape forever from their environment. Rather, Finkelstein said, he urges those who go to college to come back to Brooklyn afterward and teach and work in the community.
The use of drugs to stimulate high school and college athletes is on the increase, according to a report given to the annual convention of the California Medical Association. Dr. Philip McFarland, head of the committee on the medical aspects of sport, said efforts by the state medical body to stop the growing use of drugs have not been successful.
"We're trying to get to those relatively few who think winning is more important than their own health care," he said. He added that one reason for the continuing rise in drug use is that collegiate and scholastic players are "influenced by pros who play with a cast on their arm or who get knocked out in one quarter and come back in the next." Dr. McFarland put some of the onus on coaches. "When you have to depend on somebody else's performance for your job," he observed, "you tend to be enthusiastic about something that will improve your players' performance."
He also blamed "sympathetic doctors" who, infected with an overdose of school spirit or hometown patriotism, help promote the use of drugs, particularly anabolic steroids, amphetamines and pain-killers.
THEY SAID IT
•Joe Torre, St. Louis Cardinal third baseman and last year's Most Valuable Player, on his holdout at spring training: "They're even charging me for coffee and gum at the clubhouse."
•Orville Henry, Arkansas Gazette columnist: "Do you reckon that the Greenville officer who arrested Duane Thomas on charges of possessing marijuana bothered to advise him, 'You have the right to remain silent'?"
•George Armstrong, Toronto Maple Leaf scout who is part Indian, on the controversy over Indians as the subject of team insignia: "When I was playing, it wasn't the Black Hawks' crest that bothered me. It was Bobby Hull's slap shot."
•Dave Wohl, Philadelphia 76er guard, on his rebounding ability: "I am a 6'2", deceptive non-leaper. I have one good jump in me a month. I try to make sure I use it wisely."