A QUESTION OF RESOLVE
World Team Tennis appeared to be on the verge of collapse last week. The New York Apples and Boston Lobsters both suspended operations, reducing the 5-year-old league from 10 teams to eight. And the Seattle Cascades and New Orleans Nets were not answering the phone, fueling rumors that they, too, were going under. Looming over everything was the WTT's problem in lining up talent. Having endured the defections of Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg in the past, WTT teams have been unable to win commitments for next year from the stars they did have, including Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Ilie Nastase and Vitas Gerulaitis.
Whether or not the WTT folds, however, depends on the resolve—and the bankroll—of Jerry Buss, a Los Angeles chemistry-professor-turned-real-estate magnate who exerts tremendous influence on the WTT. If Seattle and New Orleans expire, the WTT would be left with six teams, four of which are to one extent or another under Buss' sway. Buss owns the defending WTT champion Los Angeles Kings. His main partner, Frank Mariani, owns the San Diego Friars. Larry Noble, another partner, owns the Indiana Loves. And Buss and Mariani have a piece of the Anaheim Oranges.
And what does Buss say? He and other WTT officials were scheduled to meet in Los Angeles early this week to discuss the league's future. Meanwhile, he was vowing that the league would keep going. He argues that several WTT franchises are relatively strong; he says, for instance, that despite his failure to sign Evert, L.A. season-ticket sales are running ahead of last year, when the Strings led the league with an average attendance of 7,140.
November 6, 1978
Nobody doubts that if Buss sticks to his guns, he and his associates could keep the WTT alive in some fashion, perhaps as a predominantly West Coast operation. But would it be worth it? Without big-name stars, or teams in cities like New York and Boston, the "World" in World Team Tennis' name, always a bit of a stretch in what has been a U.S.-only league, would have an even stranger ring.
Through the NFL's first eight weeks, the number of roughing-the-passer calls—mostly for late hits—was up 59% over last season. This presumably indicates that officials are finally cracking down on some of the sport's more blatant violence. That interpretation is certainly preferable to another possible explanation: that defensive players are taking more cheap shots than ever.
YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY, JOCK
It was 11 years ago that Jock Semple, the flinty Scotsman who has long been the driving force behind the Boston Marathon, forever cast himself as an archvillain in feminist eyes. Old Jock earned his ignominy by dashing onto the course of the '67 race and attempting to rip the number off the back of Kathy Switzer, a young woman who had sneaked into the field of what was then a men-only event. Since then, of course, the Boston classic has gone coed in a big way, and so have other distance races; in the recent New York City Marathon (SI, Oct. 30), there were 1,009 women among the 9,875 participants—and Switzer was on radio with expert commentary.
Semple has always denied harboring ill feelings toward women runners. "I was brought up that a rule's a rule," he says, explaining the Switzer confrontation. Be that as it may, there is no doubting where Semple stands today. Now 75, he was the official starter last month at the Bonne Bell road race in Boston, an all-woman event that attracted 4,524 entrants. "I was agreeably surprised," Semple says of that race. "The women didn't get into arguments the way men do. They were all waving and so happy-looking."
Semple even advocates introduction of a women's marathon at the Olympics. He says, "The women's race could start with the men's. There are only about 100 males in the marathon. They could put 25 to 30 good women marathoners in there, too. I would like to see it but I don't know if I will. Some of the officials are so fuddy-duddy."
Soccer officials in the gray textile-producing center of Bradford, England (pop. 288,000) had a problem. Bradford City, the local entry in the English football league's lowly fourth division, was playing home games before depressingly small crowds, consisting mostly, or so it seemed, of young rowdies. Then last summer Bradford City officials paid a visit to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, a North American Soccer League team that attracts a respectable family crowd by throwing parties for fans, giving flowers to the ladies, and the like. Impressed, the English visitors invited Ken Small, at the time the Strikers' marketing director, to introduce U.S.-style promotions that might draw bigger—and more wholesome—crowds in Bradford.
That proved easier said than done, as Small conceded last week following a three-week stay in Bradford. Small, who recently became marketing director for the NASL's new Atlanta Chiefs, said, "You just can't get away with American promotions over there. The Bradford fans care only about winning, and it's when they lose that the fighting is worst. They don't care about frills."
Everything considered, it was probably lucky that Small was not run out of Bradford. Even before he arrived, club officials tried introducing cheerleaders, an adornment they had seen in Fort Lauderdale. Although the girls selected were mostly 12- and 13-year-olds, the crowd greeted them with obscene chants, and the cheerleading corps was promptly disbanded. And when Small suggested setting off aerial fireworks after each Bradford City goal, a stunt that had been a success in Fort Lauderdale, club officials balked. "They knew the fans would be angry that the club had spent money on fireworks instead of on new players," Small said.
One idea Small did implement was an organization that rabid young fans could join at no charge. Members of this ironically named "City Gents Club" were given their own section in the stands and lulled while there with pregame and post-game giveaways; for example, a drawing was held 30 minutes before kickoff, with winners receiving such prizes as a dinner with a favorite player. This was one frill the Bradford fans went for, and while the scheme didn't immediately increase attendance, it did curtail some of the behavior that had scared away upstanding citizens. Bradford toughs used to spend their time before and after games beating up fans of the visiting team. Now, thanks to what might be called "Operation Quarantine," many of them shun the rough stuff and wait in the stands for the raffle results.
Also concerned about unruly fans was fight promoter Don King, who staged a seven-bout program Friday night at Madison Square Garden, which had been the scene of recent fan violence at boxing events. To soothe the beast in the 16,136 fans, King trotted out 14 leotard-clad artistes of the dance who performed in the ring to the accompaniment of a 10-piece band, and who also took turns holding up signs indicating the round. King, who was promoting his first boxing card for the Garden, theorized that the fans would chivalrously refrain from raining chairs and bottles on or about the ring—a common practice in the past—if they knew that young women were in the vicinity. And, indeed, few if any missiles were hurled.
Unfortunately, the presence of King's Queens, as the dancing girls were billed, did nothing to protect fans from one another. Late in the evening an argument broke out in the Garden's far reaches. Before things calmed down, two men had been knifed, the alleged knife-wielder was shot in the chest (he was hospitalized in fair condition) and a woman was cut in the face by a bottle as she and other fans, frightened by the gunshot, surged for the exits. While all this was going on, a 10-rounder between junior welterweights Adolfo Viruet and Bruce Curry droned on somewhere far below. For the benefit of those who left early, Viruet won on points.
BUT WILL THEY HAVE CHEERLEADERS?
Here we go again and where we're going this time is Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Teheran and Mexico City. Those, anyway, are some of the cities that Los Angeles real-estate man Jack Heller insists will be in a new international football league that he means to launch in 1980. And to get things off to a nice start, Heller has made Bert Jones a $5 million, five-year offer to quarterback the league's Los Angeles franchise.
"I'd be a fool not to listen to a $1 million-a-year offer," allows the Colt quarterback, who nevertheless admits to being worried about the wear and tear of, say, a Rio-to-L.A.-to-Teheran road trip. (The Teheran team, by the way, would be known as the Iranian Oil Barons). Heller claims to represent a group of European and Middle Eastern investors, and while he won't divulge any names, he does say, "My guys are very wealthy. They all love football. And they all want to get into it."
Heller has been in the news before. Last summer he offered to buy the Los Angeles Rams for $50 million, only to be turned down cold by owner Carroll Rosenbloom, who said that the club wasn't for sale. That is just one of many offers Rosenbloom has received for the Rams. "We got one just recently for $65 million," he says. "It was reportedly all cash. But the wire came collect."
In 1967 a young football player named Joey Wojcieszak became the starting center at Martin County High School in Stuart, Fla. When Joey graduated two years later, his brother Kim took over at center for two years, after which two more Wojcieszak boys, Davie and Donovon, successively manned the position for two seasons each. A non-Wojcieszak sneaked in to play center for one year before Jerry Wojcieszak came along. Now a senior, Jerry is completing his second season as starting center at Martin County High, which has 3,000 students and a respectable football tradition.
One might assume that the Martin County High Tigers have a headstrong coach who simply decided early on that Wojcieszaks make good centers and has clung stubbornly to that conviction all these years. On the contrary, the five Wojcieszak boys have played for five different coaches. There are two more Wojcieszak brothers coming along, 15-year-old Randy and 11-year-old John, and they play center, too. If both become regulars at Martin County High, it will mean that Wojcieszaks, who have already held down the position for 11 of the last 12 years, would run that to 15 of 16. Then the string figures to break, the family's eighth and last child being the only girl, Ika Mae, now eight.
"Maybe it's born in us," says Jerry of the Wojcieszak brothers' affinity for center. And maybe he's right. The brood's father, Joseph Wojcieszak, who died last March, was a high school center in his native Chicago in the '40s.
Bob Short, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate from Minnesota (SCORE-CARD, Oct. 23), was in Washington, D.C. the other day on a fund-raising trip. Short, who once owned the Washington Senators, was immediately confronted by irate fans who had not forgotten that he was the one who moved the club to Texas. Meeting with one of his most vocal detractors, a bartender who calls himself "Baseball Bill" Holdforth, Short tried to argue that his ownership of the Senators had its beneficent side. At one point he asked, "Who else could have convinced Ted Williams to manage in Washington?"
Holdforth eyed Short coolly and replied, "Right, and you did give us Parity Hose Night. You guaranteed we'd see some runs."
And you thought Lincoln-Douglas was something.
THEY SAID IT
•John Wayne, on why he gave up bowling: "There weren't many alleys that would let me come back. I have an overhand delivery."
•Al McGuire, retired Marquette basketball coach: "I come from New York where if you fall down, someone will pick you up by your wallet."