ON DEALING WITH FACES THAT EMERGE FROM THE CROWD
In a letter published two weeks ago in 19TH HOLE, a reader named Kent Rasmussen, of Van Nuys, Calif., complained about a 6-year-old boy who scored 83 goals in a 12-game season of youth soccer, including 14 goals in one game. The boy had been featured in FACES IN THE CROWD (Jan. 19), and Rasmussen criticized SI for publicizing "such a one-sided display." Arguing that domination of games by "a 6-year-old scoring machine" could hurt the youngster, his teammates and his opponents, Rasmussen challenged us to check on how many of the boy's humiliated opponents were still playing soccer a year from now and on how the youth himself was faring in another decade or so "when the goals and glory don't come so easily."
The issues raised by Rasmussen are important ones. Sport suffers when one player or one team is vastly superior to another, which explains why, when fans say "it was a good game," they invariably mean it was a close game. Mismatches are abhorrent, and people with true sporting instincts recoil from them. Thus, after Canada thrashed South Korea 31-0 in ice hockey two weeks ago in the World University Winter Games in Spain, there was no jubilation among the embarrassed Canadian players, one of whom, Chris Helland, called the game "a sad, sad experience."
In the case of younger athletes, winning too easily may, as Rasmussen suggests, cause long-term ill effects. In 1971, 8-year-old Gene Mirkin of Rockville, Md. ran a 5:40.8 mile and earned national attention (including a mention in FACES IN THE CROWD), and it was said that his father, Gabe Mirkin, a University of Maryland allergist, author and running enthusiast, had plotted a training regimen intended to gain Gene a berth in the 1980 Olympics. But when he was 11, Gene Mirkin lost interest in competitive running. Now 18 and a freshman at Guilford College in North Carolina, he says of his days as an athletic prodigy, "I just wanted to be a kid."
To be sure, there will always be some athletes who stand head and shoulders above others, a fact that isn't necessarily bad. Dr. Stanley Cheren, a Boston psychiatrist who writes on sports, says, "A kid should be allowed to achieve great things and to have the joy of his achievement." But Cheren also warns that if a gifted athlete is treated as "something apart from the human race, he'll be made a lesser person in the process. A parent or coach must instill a sense of limits or proportion to the athlete's accomplishment." As Cheren's words suggest, there's only so much that can—and should—be done to clip the precocious athlete's wings. Benching him for too long a period would amount to penalizing him for being talented. Going to undue lengths to hold down the score demeans opponents, cheats fans and breeds bad habits for future games. Nor is it always desirable to arrange to have young world-beaters play against older kids. "I'd do that only if the youngster is stable and anchored to his peer group in other ways," says Dr. Morris S. Lasson, a clinical psychologist in Baltimore. "Just because he's advanced as an athlete does not mean he'll be that far advanced socially."
Little League parents sometimes get carried away in encouraging excellence, as do the likes of Clarence Turner, the basketball coach at Camden (N.J.) High School, which has averaged 103 points a game en route to a 25-0 record this season. Despite beating opponents by scores like 122-51 and 115-57, Camden has often played its first-stringers and maintained a full-court press until the waning seconds, a practice that so infuriated Ira Levine, the coach of Brooklyn's Lafayette High, which lost to Camden 122-59, that he ordered his players to hand Turner's hotshots the ball and let them score. Shrugs a notably unrepentant Turner, "If you get a chance to beat the hell out of somebody, you beat them."
SI is in the practice of reporting on outstanding athletes. Thus, for better or worse, we write about Linda Page, a basketball star at Philadelphia's Dobbins Tech High who recently scored 100 points in a 131-38 win over Mastbaum. Linda played 30 of the game's 32 minutes, and her coach, Tony Coma, who used to be the men's coach at Cornell, virtually admitted building up Linda's scoring statistics to get himself "back in the limelight." Linda appeared in FACES IN THE CROWD (Feb. 9), a feature—one of the magazine's most popular—that recognizes lesser known athletes, both old and young. Of the latter, some, like Gene Mirkin, never fulfill their potential, often because they are pushed too hard by their elders. But FACES IN THE CROWD has also highlighted such early bloomers as 12-year-old Nancy Lopez, 14-year-old Chris Evert and 17-year-old Lew Alcindor, all of whom went on to much bigger things. The recognition of achievement, even when it involves the very young, is a worthy journalistic endeavor.
The 6-year-old lad who was the subject of Rasmussen's letter, Matt Garrett of Solana Beach, Calif., developed into a one-boy gang under the tutelage of his father, Mike, a lawyer, who coaches his son's soccer team. Whatever the future may hold for Matt, for now anyway he genuinely loves soccer. Although parents of rival players grumble about Matt's prodigious scoring, the elder Garrett can't be accused of pouring it on. Before the season, he suggested that the boy play with older kids but was told by league officials that this wasn't "a good idea." He then tried Matt at different positions, but Matt continued to dominate play. Mike also occasionally benched his son but admits, "It hurt him to be on the sidelines." Somehow Matt's scoring prowess becomes more palatable when the elder Garrett tells of the time the team's goaltender let in a cheap goal, and Matt went up to him and said, "Don't worry about it, it's just a game." Putting his son's goal-scoring exploits in just the right perspective, Mike says that this gesture toward the beaten goaltender "made me feel the proudest of anything Matt did all year."
THE BEST, DAY IN & DAY OUT
A year ago we reported that Jed Brickner, then a Columbia University law student, had drawn up a list of the top track and field performances according to the days of the week on which they occurred and found that only one athlete held the "records" in his specialty for all seven days—Edwin Moses in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles (SCORECARD, March 17, 1980). Now a lawyer in Los Angeles, Brickner has just updated his research and reports that last summer Moses not only broke his world record with a 47.13 performance in Milan on July 3—a Thursday—but also improved his marks for Monday (47.90), Wednesday (47.81) and Friday (47.17). Unbroken were Moses' records for the other three days of the week.
But Brickner also reports that depending on how you look at such things, Moses may no longer be the only "seven-day wonder." That appellation might now also apply to Italian sprinter Pietro Mennea, who announced last week that he was hanging up his spikes at age 28. Mennea's world record in the 200 meters of 19.72 was set on a Wednesday—in Mexico City on Sept. 12, 1979—and he also has turned in the fastest clockings ever on a Sunday and Monday (both 19.96), and on a Friday (20.05), and is tied with Clancy Edwards on Saturday (20.03). Though Donald Quarrie has the fastest time on a Tuesday (19.86) and John Carlos on Thursday (19.92), those performances (like Mennea's world record and his mark for a Monday) benefited from having occurred at altitude—that is, 3,281 or more feet above sea level. But the fastest times for those days at sea level, 20.01 and 20.20, respectively, were achieved by Mennea. In other words, Mennea has or shares either the altitude or sea-level record for every day of the week.
We'd like to bid Godspeed to the retiring Mennea, even though the salutation seems, in his case, superfluous.
THE GREEN (AS IN MONEY) DEMONS
SI's Bruce Anderson reports from Chicago on the basketball mania gripping top-ranked DePaul University on the eve of the NCAA tournament:
The fortunes of Ray Meyer's Blue Demons sank so low in the 1970s that the Vincentian Fathers who run DePaul considered dropping to Division II or III as a way of pruning what one administrator called "a bad limb on a tree." Through much of the decade, DePaul was lucky to sell 400 season tickets in 5,308-seat Alumni Hall, and the athletic department lost as much as $250,000 a year. But that was before Mark Aguirre & Co. arrived to awaken memories of the glory days of Center George Mikan in the '40s. Last fall the ageless Meyer moved his Blue Demons into the 17,000-seat Horizon Center in suburban Rosemont, and the school sold 14,106 season tickets, a figure that exceeds DePaul's enrollment. DePaul's games are televised on Chicago station WGN, and the Blue Demons made four appearances this season on national TV. Meyer's son, Joey, has a column in the Chicago Tribune, one of the few assistant coaches in the country with that kind of media exposure.
The city of the Bears, Cubs and other perennial disappointments was obviously starved for a winner. DePaul fans have been buying lamps, ice scrapers and other merchandise bearing a stylized drawing of the team mascot, Billy Blue Demon. A new booster club boasts 950 members and has already raised $90,000. The athletic department hopes to show a $250,000 profit for '80-81—not counting the loot that would be generated by an appearance in the NCAA's final four. Last December Vince Battaglia, the school's comptroller, was named director of men's basketball and made accountable directly to DePaul's president, the Very Reverend John R. Cortelyou. Bypassed in the new arrangement, the Reverend Robert Gielow, the athletic director, resigned. School officials explained that somebody with greater business experience was needed to run the now lucrative basketball program.
The move to the Horizon Center has left some fans grumbling about potholes in the parking lot and poor seats. But the Blue Demon basketball team has gained recognition for DePaul, an urban commuter school that used to be confused with DePauw, a Methodist college in Greencastle, Ind., and Cortelyou says the attention generated by the Blue Demons has helped swell the number of applications for admission. He quickly adds that enrollment, which has increased from 10,915 in 1975 to 13,356 last fall and represents a $5 million annual increase in the university's revenues, would have grown in any event. Still, the situation is doubtless different from that at a major state school, Indiana University, where Coach Bobby Knight, participating in a recent panel discussion, asked how many members of the audience of 250, most of them students, had decided to attend IU because of its vaunted basketball program. Two hands were raised. One suspects that in a similar gathering of DePaul students, the number of hands in the air would be greater.
THE DOW-JONES CLASSIC
In a high school wrestling tournament in Greenville, N.C., New Bern High's Albra Stocks met Plymouth High's Robert Bonds in the consolation semifinals. Investors looking for possible economic portents, please take note. Bonds pinned Stocks in 1:18 of the second period.
A wire-service story the other day said that bird watchers were descending on the wildlife refuge on Merritt Island, Fla. in hopes of espying a blacktailed godwit that a visitor reported seeing on a mud flat on Feb. 15. The blacktailed godwit had been seen fewer than a dozen times in North America, never south of North Carolina, and it had to stray 3,500 miles from its northern European habitat to reach Florida's east coast.
As it happens, the trek of Merritt Island's blacktailed godwit pales in comparison with a journey evidently undertaken by a gull whose sighting in the Samoa Islands on Jan. 23, 1980 has been reported in the magazine American Birds. Strange to say, no species of gull had ever been sighted in the Samoas until Corey, Shirley and Dirk Muse of Walla Walla, Wash, saw and photographed what they believe was a laughing gull on a beach in Western Samoa. The three Muses are bemused by the fact that the bird somehow wound up 5,000 miles from the species' nearest breeding areas in the U.S. and Mexico. But Samoans didn't take special notice of the exotic interloper, simply referring to it as a tuli, their name for any shorebird.
THEY SAID IT
•Bob Stanley, Red Sox pitcher, whose children are named Kyle and Kristin: "We've got two K's. One more and we'll have the inning over on strikeouts.
•Willie Nelson, country singer, asked what par is on a golf course he recently bought near Austin, Texas: "Anything I want it to be. For instance, this hole right here is a par-47—and yesterday I birdied the sucker."