A NEW LAW CUTS DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
The aftershocks of House Bill 72, a controversial new Texas law that requires public junior and senior high school students to pass every subject during a six-week grading period or give up extracurricular activities for the following six weeks, were felt on Oct. 18. That was the day the penalties for the fall term took effect. About half of the students in Texas high schools flunked at least one course and thus were banned from extracurricular activities. Decimated debating clubs, cross-country squads, 4-H clubs, volleyball teams and school orchestras have had to disband.
But the impact of No-Pass No-Play, as the far-reaching legislation is known, has been greatest on high school football, the lifeblood of a Texas Friday night. Eisenhower High in Aldine lost 83 players. King High in Corpus Christi lost 13 of 22 starters. Junior-varsity schedules in Dallas were canceled when Seagoville High lost 12 of 19 jayvees, Hillcrest lost 26 of 30, Wilson lost 12 of 18. In greater San Antonio, 1,070 football players flunked at least one course. All told, 15% of varsity athletes in fall sports—and 40% of jayvee and freshman football players—are now ineligible.
Sixty schools in the state play six-man football, and Marathon High is one of them. Marathon, a town of 800 in desolate southwest Texas—there are only 37 students enrolled in the high school—is rabid about its team. "This is a football town," said coach, phys ed instructor and history teacher Gary Lamar. "That's all they have here."
Oct. 18 was Homecoming in Marathon, but because five of the team's 10 players were now ineligible, the game—and the rest of the schedule—had been canceled. Nevertheless, the Homecoming parade assembled at the gas station and made its way up Main Street to the field. Horses, go-carts and floats straggled along in a strangely funereal procession. The junior-class float sported a banner: WE STILL LOVE YOU MUSTANGS, BUT PLEASE STUDY HARDER NEXT YEAR. The fifth-graders were more blunt. They sat at their desks on a flatbed truck, all of them wearing dunce caps. Their banner read: BACK TO THE BOOKS.
Backers of House Bill 72 say that's exactly the message they hoped to get across. "The vast majority of high school students in extracurricular activities passed and are eligible," said Texas Governor Mark White, who had pushed for the measure. "It's a sign that most students took the task seriously and buckled down."
That was apparently the case in El Paso, where Independent School District athletic director Clay Cox said, "Our coaches and players worked themselves to death to pass. They probably spent more time with schoolwork than they did with the fundamentals of the game." John Kincaide, A.D. of the Dallas Independent School District, said varsity flunk-outs were few because new educational practices—weekly grade checks and tutorials—had been instituted.
But the new plan also has its opponents. Some of them are afraid that athletes who are sidelined by No-Pass No-Play will drop out of school. Others fear that high school athletes will try to get around the academic roadblocks the way so many college athletes do. "The kids are dodging the tougher courses," said Mike Bailey, football coach at Piano East near Dallas. "No-Pass No-Play is hurting kids academically because they're not taking the courses they should take." There have even been reports of coaches and administrators pressuring teachers to pass borderline athletes. Critics also question the law's fairness. Coach Charlie Long, whose Martin High team in Laredo lost 43 football players, said, "To me this bill has racial overtones. The minorities are the ones who are suffering."
Both the efficacy and fairness of No-Pass No-Play may take time to gauge. But without doubt life in Texas has already been altered by the law. As Naomi Garcia, who was crowned Marathon's Homecoming Queen on a field where there would be no football, complained, "It's not the same without a game. It doesn't feel real."
LET'S TRY PAC-MAN
Chicago Bulls center Jawann Oldham isn't much of a trivia buff. Told he is part of a question in a video sports trivia game—"Of Patrick Ewing, Manute Bol and Jawann Oldham, which player was born in the United States?"—the Seattle native replied, "What's the answer?"
CLEAR GOALS IN MIND
While would-be reformers of college sports fret about whether student-athletes are getting the academic grounding they need for life, a couple of University of Texas football players deadpan that there's no need to worry about them. Longhorns kicker Jeff Ward said in an interview that he would like to grow up to be a game-show host, explaining, "That's the ultimate profession where you don't need a degree." In the same vein, tailback Edwin Simmons said of his long-range goals, "I'm going to go pro, get rich, sit down and get fat—be a slob."
HE'S A ONE-MAN TEAM
There was a new wrinkle at the recent national triathlon championship on South Carolina's Hilton Head Island. In addition to the 1,000 or so individual entrants, the field included 26 three-person relay teams, one of them an all-star team assembled by the promoters. First Paul Asmuth, who set the men's English Channel record in August, churned through the 1.5K swimming leg. Next John Howard, who four months ago set the cycling land-speed record of 152 mph, pedaled 40K. Howard then handed off to Rod Dixon, the 1983 New York City Marathon champion, who ran the 10K anchor leg.
As might be expected, the all-star team turned in a terrific time—1:50:23. But the trio was only seven minutes faster than the individual champion, Scott Molina of Del Mar Beach, Calif., who did all three events by his lonesome and whose 1:57:16 clocking beat Djan Madiuga of Brazil by 25 seconds. Most impressive of all: Molina, Madiuga and eight other triathletes finished ahead of the remaining 25 relay teams.
YOUR BASIC EIGHT
In a 7-2 loss to Boston on Oct. 13, Montreal right wing Chris Nilan, suddenly and without provocation, shoved the butt end of his stick into the mouth of Bruins wing Rick Middleton. Nilan got a match penalty for deliberately injuring a player. Middleton got his bridgework broken and needed three stitches.
The NHL, after reviewing films of the incident, suspended Nilan for eight games. "It's your basic eight," Middleton said to The Boston Globe, referring to what has become a standard NHL penalty for such violations. "If the league wants to cut down on sticking and cheap shots, the deterrent has to be higher. The league will wait around until something worse happens—until somebody loses an eye—and then set a new rule." Bruins GM Harry Sinden, who had called for a one-year suspension, asked rhetorically, "Will this prevent Nilan from doing it again?"
Of course it won't, and the league knows it. The NHL continues to treat violent players with kid gloves, arguing that hockey is a fast-paced game in which spontaneous outbursts naturally occur. This is nonsense. Consider the two principals in this incident. Nilan is a chronic fighter who last season led the league with 358 penalty minutes and had 81 more in the playoffs. In 1981, he threw a puck at then Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Baxter while sitting in the penalty box, drawing a three-game suspension. In his six-plus NHL seasons, Nilan has spent 1,449 minutes in the penalty box. Middleton, on the other hand, is a talented scorer who had all of six minutes in penalties last season and has accumulated only 130 penalty minutes in 11 NHL seasons. Is Nilan so much more spontaneous than Middleton? Obviously not; his role is to goon it up, and the NHL goes easy on such tactics in the belief that this is what hockey fans want. If the league really wished to minimize violence, it could do so immediately. Just give the next guy who pulls a Nilan a meaningful punishment instead of your basic eight.
THE NBA'S WAY
For the right way to deal with violence the NHL should look to the NBA, which experienced a rough-and-tumble preseason. Last week NBA commissioner David Stern handed down fines totaling $12,750 against 20 players who participated in two separate fights during exhibition games. New York Knicks rookie Patrick Ewing drew the largest fine, $1,500, for wrestling on the Madison Square Garden court with Indiana center Steve Stipanovich, who was fined $1,000. Los Angeles Lakers forward Maurice Lucas was fined $1,000 and the man he fought, Boston Celtics center Robert Parish, was docked $750. Other players drew lesser fines for leaving their benches and cursing at officials.
Just as significant as the fines is the fact that all four players were immediately ejected from the games. In the NHL, players who fight ordinarily are penalized no more than two to five minutes.
THEY SAID IT
•Joel Hilgenberg, New Orleans Saints center, whose brother, Jay, plays the same position for the Chicago Bears: "We're the only family I know that plays catch not facing each other."
•Tom Condon, recreation supervisor at Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., asked why the inmate football teams are allowed names like the Assassins and the Body Snatchers: "What are they going to call themselves—the Twinkletoes?"