To hear some of the talk at the NCAA track and field championships in Champaign, Ill., it wasn't a matter of giving your all for the old alma mater, but rather of giving it for the old U.S. of A. The cursed enemy was "those foreign schools," a label given to U.S. colleges that have stacked their track rosters with proven overseas talent.
Indeed, American youth had suffered at the hands of foreigners this season. At the NCAA indoor championship at Detroit in March, Washington State had won the title by getting 24 of its 25½ points from foreign athletes. At last week's outdoor championship in Illinois' Memorial Stadium, foreign Olympians outnumbered U.S. Olympians two to one and collectively the contingent of seven Kenyans outscored the winning team. Yet it was a school chock full of good old American boys—Arizona State—that ran off with the title. Let's hear it for the red, white and blue!
And three cheers for that good old American tradition, the college try, because to win its first-ever championship Arizona State had to survive more than foreign hordes. Everything seemed to go wrong for the Sun Devils, who had finished third in the Western Athletic Conference championship meet and were picked to finish no better than fourth or fifth in most of the pre-NCAA polls. Even that seeding looked optimistic when the school's strong relay teams were upset by USC in both the 1,600 and the 400. Then the Sun Devils' best 110-meter hurdler false-started and was disqualified. ASU's pole vaulter was hampered by a hamstring pull and passed at the opening height of 16 feet for a door-die shot at a mark that might be worth some points. In the field events, there had been an outside hope for a point or two by the school's javelin or discus throwers but none materialized. Nonetheless, with a lot of good old-fashioned grit, Arizona State piled up 64 points, 14 more than its closest competitor, the University of Texas at El Paso.
"We came here as a team and performed like a team," said ASU high jumper Kyle Arney. "It was the underdogs on the team who did it." For openers, Rick Walker, a senior from Apple Valley, Calif., ran the 110-meter hurdles in 13.75, to finish second to UCLA's Jim Owens (13.49). Walker's performance, which gave ASU eight unexpected points, more than made up for Gary Burl's disqualification. Walker added two points more with a fifth place in the 400-meter hurdles. Injured pole vaulter Ralph Haynie cleared 16'6" on his first try and never cleared the bar again, but that one jump got Arizona State six third-place points.
June 12, 1977
At the end of Thursday's long jump qualifying, when the field was narrowed to 12, freshman Dennie Jackson was told that he had finished 13th. He went off into the stands and sat down by himself. A double check showed he had finished 12th. Kyle Arney went to give his teammate the good news. "Don't think I'm pouting because I didn't get into the finals," Jackson snapped when he saw Arney approaching. Jackson's teammates hoped that with his reprieve he might just sneak up to sixth place for a single point. Instead, he jumped a personal best, 26'½", good enough for four fourth-place points.
"That jump really got us rolling," said Arney. No one got rolling more than Arney himself. A junior from Glendale, Ariz., he was facing UTEP's Greg Joy, the silver medalist at Montreal, in the high jump, held on Saturday, the meet's final day. A big point swing for either school appeared to be the key to victory because earlier Saturday UTEP had grabbed the lead on the strength of Wilson Waigwa's 3:39.89 win in the 1,500 over Steve Scott of the University of California at Irvine. Arney cleared 7'4" on his third and final attempt at that height to guarantee himself at least third place, and victory over Joy, who had missed.
Again on a third attempt Arney went on to make 7'5", a height he had never before reached, and remained in the competition with Fairleigh Dickinson's Franklin Jacobs, who had cleared the bar on his first attempt. At 6'6½" and 200 pounds, Arney is the biggest world-class high jumper. By contrast, Jacobs, a freshman from Paterson, N.J., who only started jumping 15 months ago and calls his style the "Jacobs Slop," is just 5'8" and 146 pounds. (By jumping 21 inches over his head, Jacobs set a "world record" in this category.) On yet one more final attempt, Arney cleared 7'6", the best high jump in the world this year, to win the event and give ASU 10 more points. Combine these performances with a 400-meter win in 45.51 for Herman Frazier, the Olympic bronze medalist, a second in the 200 meters for freshman Tony Darden, usually a quarter-miler, and the two second-place relay finishes—and Arizona State had upset UTEP.
The Miners were the perfect fall guys for all those coaches and fans whose xenophobia was showing. UTEP fields a team that includes six distance runners, a hurdler and two sprinters from Kenya, a hurdler from Nigeria, a long jumper from Ghana, a high jumper from Canada, a pole vaulter from France and a discus thrower from Norway. There are two often-voiced arguments against stocking teams the way UTEP has. First, the foreign athletes get scholarships that would otherwise go to Americans, and second, by training foreigners at our universities we are in effect supporting the Olympic development of other nations. "My administration and the people in my community aren't interested in developing Olympians," counters Miner Coach Ted Banks. "They're interested in winning." But increasingly, Banks finds himself on the defensive. It is perfectly acceptable—no, laudable—to train foreigners in medicine, the arts and even war. But help them to a gold medal?—perish the thought.
The most outspoken opponent of overseas recruiting is UCLA Coach Jim Bush, but he does not oppose foreigners, per se. "What most of the coaches are griping about is the age of those athletes," he says. "The NCAA has a double standard. It's allowing foreigners to go to school in their home countries and then come over here and start as freshmen. Why don't they let our athletes go to junior college for two years and start as freshmen? American youngsters are getting cheated." Bush and most other coaches feel that the NCAA has exacerbated the situation by a decision two years ago to limit track and field scholarships to 14. "That's forcing coaches who want to win to go for the proved athlete," he says.
Bush directs much of his invective toward Washington State Coach John Chaplin, whose three Kenyan distance runners—Samson Kimombwa, Henry Rono and Joshua Kimeto—accounted for 36 of their school's 46 fourth-place points. Earlier this season it was suggested to Chaplin that a suitable place to hold the 1977 Pacific Eight Conference meet would be Nairobi. On the last day of that meet, when it was clear that Washington State was going to edge UCLA for second place behind USC (which finished third at the NCAA championships), Chaplin wore a safari outfit to the track. "I'm paid to compete in the NCAA, not the American championships of the AAU," Chaplin argues. "I follow all the rules and if the NCAA tells me to recruit guys 22 to 22½ with a striped head and a white spot on their rear, that's what I'll do. I'm not against any age restrictions and I'd vote for them if a rule was proposed. But we had an age-limit rule that applied only to foreigners and the courts threw it out because it was discriminatory."
At present the foreign-athlete controversy has produced little more than talk. Bush and USC Coach Vern Wolfe, among others, argue that one solution would be to get rid of the team title at the NCAA championship, making the meet simply a contest for individuals. Taking the pressure of winning off the coaches might remove the need to recruit foreigners who are established athletes. This may seem a singular bit of charity on Wolfe's part, because his Trojans have won 26 NCAA outdoor titles while their closest competitors, UCLA and Illinois, have just five apiece. But then it's easy for the rich to say that money isn't everything.
For Arizona State last week's team title seemed far too precious to consider doing away with it. Semon (Baldy) Castillo had coached ASU track teams for 28 years without finishing higher than third in the NCAA meet. A cheery man with a ready smile and thick, wavy black hair (the nickname has stuck with him since a friend in grammar school noticed a minute and long-since-gone bald spot), he termed winning the title "the greatest thrill of my life." His exuberant team members tried to cool his enthusiasm by dumping him in the steeplechase water jump pit, but to no avail. Castillo emerged dripping, with his smile still agleam. "Gentlemen," he said, "it's been a pleasure."