Hung Out to Dry
UCLA eliminates three water sports teams to save money
UCLA's water polo team was an hour into drills on March 6 when two athletic department administrators appeared at poolside. Said team member Philip Hadfield, "They called us over to the side and said the school could no longer afford to fund water polo. No warning. Nothing. We were completely shocked."
So were members of the Bruins' men's and women's crews when they were told their teams, too, would be eliminated effective June 30. According to UCLA athletic director Peter Dalis, the cuts were made because of the athletic department's $3 million budget deficit, which was on course to rise to $11 million by 1995. Dalis refused to be interviewed, but said in a statement, "We have investigated every possible way to erase our deficit, and in an era of limited resources, the university's conclusion is that we cannot do it without eliminating sports."
That crew and water polo were the chosen lambs was unfair, considering UCLA spends just $115,000 a year on water polo, $166,000 on men's crew and $50,000 on women's crew. The rest of the money the teams need comes from alumni and boosters. "They told us it was a financial decision, but given the amount they spend on other sports, our expenses don't seem like much," said women's crew coach Kelly Salonites. Indeed, UCLA's total athletic budget for 13 men's and 10 women's teams is estimated at $20 million.
March 18, 1991
UCLA's action brings to the fore a disturbing trend among Division I schools to cut so-called minor sports. Most athletic departments are suffering financially, and jettisoning minor sports is seen as an easy remedy.
As it happens, UCLA's water polo team and crews have 100% graduation rates, and all three teams have been successful athletically as well. Last year the water polo team and men's crew were third in the nation and the women's crew was fourth.
Water polo coach Bob Horn said that petitions in favor of restoring water polo will be circulated on campus. The crews, which start their seasons in early April, will also try to garner support for reinstatement. Still, the future looks grim for those water sports at UCLA.
What a Card
A 13-year-old is sued over a $12 misunderstanding
Kids do the darndest things. Take Bryan Wrzesinski, a dimpled 13-year-old from Addison, Ill., who last April paid $12 (plus 81¬¨¬®¬¨¢ tax) for a 1968 Nolan Ryan/Jerry Koosman rookie baseball card that was really worth $1,200. Bryan, who has some 40,000 cards in his collection, bought the Ryan card at the Ball-Mart in Itasca from a frazzled clerk who misread the price tag. Although a sign in the store says ALL SALES FINAL, owner Joe Irmen is suing Bryan either to recover the card or for damages. After several delays, the trial began last week in DuPage County small claims court.
Small claim or not, the case shows how big card collecting, once the pursuit of children, has become. It took a child, though, to enliven the trial. After more than four hours of testimony on March 5, Bryan casually dropped a bombshell: He had traded the Ryan card the previous evening for a 1967 Tom Seaver and a '65 Joe Namath, both rookie cards, with an estimated combined value of $2,200.
Before Bryan's revelation, those in the packed courtroom watched defense attorney Walter Maksym smilingly object to virtually every question posed by Irmen's attorney, Karen Delveaux. Judge Ann Jorgensen massaged her temples and endured lectures by Maksym before overruling nearly every objection. Bryan sat politely in his Palatine Reds kids' team baseball jacket, fiddling with the braces on his teeth. It was your worst People's Court nightmare.
But when the trade was revealed at 2:49 p.m., the judge jumped to her feet in a billow of robes. "In my chambers! Now!" she barked at the two attorneys. Her verbal lashing of Maksym for allowing the "evidence" to be traded could be heard through the plasterboard walls. When court reconvened two days later, Maksym, now accompanied by his attorney, produced the prodigal card. The new owner, who remains anonymous but is obviously an entrepreneur, agreed to part with the card temporarily upon being assured that the court's Exhibit 1 sticker would remain affixed even after the proceedings. (The card, with sticker, could be worth as much as $3,000 when the trial ends.) What ensued was the legal equivalent of a two-hour argument between an umpire and a manager, in this case Jorgensen and Maksym. The trial was then put off until April 4.
Leave it to Bryan to put the case in perspective. After the trial was rescheduled, he was overheard saying to his father, Joseph, "Guess this means I'll miss another day of school."
NFL scouts sing the praises of ugly duckling Eric Swann
Last week in Raleigh, N.C., on a slick, barren football field, 42 stopwatches were poised as a horde of NFL scouts, coaches and front-office people awaited Eric Swann's burst off the line. They were there to see what this peculiar 20-year-old prospect, all 6'4" and 311 pounds of him, could do. And there he went, churning and puffing. His 40-yard time: 4.89 seconds. That's good for a linebacker, and Swann is a defensive tackle. "That sound you just heard was cash registers ringing," quipped the Bills' director of player personnel, John Butler.
Indeed, even though Swann has never played a down of college football, he stands to make a lot of money from the April 21 NFL draft. Among those defensive linemen eligible for the draft, he is rated a near equal to Miami tackle Russell Maryland, who is a certain top 10 pick. Swann is likely to be the first noncollegian ever taken in the first round of the draft, which began in 1936. "I feel very proud to be a landmark in history," Swann says.
A year ago, Swann was working at the state fairgrounds in Raleigh, doing maintenance work while waiting to enter North Carolina State on a football scholarship. He had moved to Raleigh to study for the college boards after graduating from rural Western Harnett (N.C.) High School in 1989 with SAT scores too low for him to enroll on a football scholarship. A C+ student in high school, Swann took the test eight times between '88 and '90 without success.
After the eighth failure, last spring, a pro scout advised Swann to give the Minor League Football System a try. Swann called Bay State Titans general manager Dick Bell for a tryout. Bell was impressed and took him aboard. In 11 games with the Titans, based in Lynn, Mass., Swann had 11 sacks and 33 quarterback pressures despite constant double-teaming. Last October, Bell, acting as Swann's agent, successfully petitioned the NFL for '91 draft eligibility for his charge. Is Swann worth a No. 1 pick? "In two years, the guy who drafts Swann will either be a genius or be fired," says the Redskins' assistant head coach, Richie Petitbon.
Perhaps the nicest part of this story is that Swann plans to put aside some of his bonus money for college. "I'm determined now to go to college," he says. "I love school. You miss out on making lifelong friends when you miss out on college."
There's an organization for those driven insane by golf
One man played 18 holes just an hour and a half after his wife gave birth to their first child—with the doctor who delivered the baby. A 59-year-old woman played 100 holes in one day, carrying her own clubs. A fellow with 33 putters places five of them under his mattress the night before a tournament, then plays with the one he dreamed about.
They're members of a not-so-exclusive club called the Golf Nut Society of America (GNSA), headquartered in Coral Gables, Fla. Its logo is a walnut atop a golf tee, its official bird is the eagle, and its official handshake is the Vardon grip. The organization was founded in 1986 by Head Nut Ron Garland, a computer salesman who once made six swing changes during a single round of a tournament. Its notable members include Michael Jordan, Bob Hope, Bobby Rahal, Huey Lewis, Peter Ueberroth, John Havlicek, Kiki Vandeweghe, Jack Lemmon, Julius Erving and a few bona fide professional golfers: Peter Jacobsen, Amy Alcott, Calvin Peete and the Golfing Gorilla.
Through dues, gift items and various promotions, the GNSA raises money for charities, particularly programs for underprivileged and abused children. Over the years, the society has uncovered many Nuts, such as Ernie Vandeweghe, Kiki's grandfather and a former furrier. He was practicing in his backyard when he discovered "the secret." Vandeweghe had his wife drive him immediately to the course in their convertible so he could hold his club in the air without changing his grip. It was 7 a.m.
One Nut's upper arm was impaled when his three-iron snapped, yet he was still able to finish the round after tying a T-shirt around the wound. Another member of the society went camping to get away from his game, but ended up building a makeshift nine-hole course in the woods. Perhaps the bravest of all Nuts is the family man who played on New Year's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas in the same calendar year—and lived to tell about it.
A Loss for Baseball
Hall of Famer Cool Papa Bell dies at age 87
It is not true that he could turn off the light switch and be in bed before the room got dark, as Satchel Paige claimed. It is also not true that he was called out at second base when he ran into his own line drive, as Paige also maintained. But almost everything else they said about James (Cool Papa) Bell was true. He played center-field for six Negro league teams from 1922 to '46, and his peers said he was the swiftest player they ever saw. Jackie Robinson put him in his alltime outfield, alongside Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. A lifetime .338 hitter, Cool Papa batted .429 in his last season, at the age of 43.
But Cool Papa's greatest contribution to baseball may have been his memory. He was a gracious host and a mesmerizing storyteller to those fortunate enough to chat with him at his home in St. Louis or in Cooperstown, where he held court nearly every Hall of Fame induction weekend since his own enshrinement in 1974. A visit with him and his wife, Clarabelle, at their house at 3034 Cool Papa Bell Avenue was a baseball pilgrimage. Their house was filled with balls and bats and the weighty flannel uniforms of the Negro leagues. Clarabelle, who died last January, would complain about how tiresome her husband's ramblings had become, and then, after offering a guest something to eat, sit there with rapt attention while Cool Papa spun his stories. "There's a lot of unwritten baseball," he used to say.
He talked about how in 1922, as a 19-year-old pitcher for the St. Louis Stars, he had saved a game by striking out slugger Oscar Charleston. His teammates thought he had displayed remarkable composure, so they dubbed him Cool Bell. Stars manager Bill Gatewood thought that moniker didn't speak enough to the young man's maturity, so he added the Papa.
After his baseball career, Cool Papa worked for 21 years at the St. Louis City Hall, as a custodian and night watchman. But the days were left for baseball. "You try to get that game out of your mind, but it never leaves you," he said. When Cool Papa died last week, at 87, baseball lost not only one of its greatest players, but also an irreplaceable part of its history.
[Thumps up]To the PGA Tour Policy Board for its ruling that Phil Mickelson, the Arizona State junior who won a recent tournament, can wait two years before using his two-year qualifying exemption. That means Mickelson can finish college.
[Thumps down]To the Miami Heat, for allowing its mascot, Burnie, to give a shameful performance on Feb. 28. During a timeout, Burnie chased a performer dressed up as an Arab, "pummeled" him at mid-court and then dragged the performer away with a hangman's noose.
[Thumps down]To Dodger pitcher John Candelaria, for intentionally hitting teammate Juan Samuel in an intrasquad game because Samuel had hit a game-winning home run off him back in 1983, when Samuel was with the Phillies and Candelaria pitched for the Pirates.
Making a List
Dick Button, two-time Olympic gold medalist, will be at the World Figure Skating Championships this week in Munich. Button lists 10 of his favorite moments in his sport, in no particular order of importance:
1. Tenley Albright, 1956 Olympics in Cortina—Elegant and athletic, her mazurka jump was worth a triple Axel.
2. Oleg and Ludmilla Protopopov, '85 NutraSweet World Professional Championships—Even in their 50's, they proved their classical perfection.
3. Misha Petkevich, 1972 World Championships in Calgary—In Free at Last, his heart was on the line and his jumping was phenomenal.
4. Peggy Fleming, 1968 nationals in Philadelphia—In her free skating exhibition, she extended her line to perfection.
5. Janet Lynn, 1973 nationals in Bloomfield, Minn.—She was perfect musically, with the best positions I've ever seen.
6. Brian Boitano, 1988 Olympics in Calgary—His performance completed the greatest turnaround in the history of the sport, from an awkward adolescent to a romantic leading man.
7. Barbara Underbill and Paul Martini, 1989 NutraSweet World Professional Championships—Their matchless technique was equaled by their total harmony.
8. John Curry, a 1984 performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City—The most perfect line of any skater, male or female, ever.
9. Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo—They could dance the telephone book and make it magical.
10. Dick Button, a practice session five days before the 1952 Olympics in Oslo—My own favorite moment. Everything clicked, including the weather.
20 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
For our cover of March 15, 1971, Tony Triolo photographed the left hook by Joe Frazier that floored Muhammad Ali in the 15th round of their heavyweight title bout. Frazier won the decision, but it was hardly the end of the Ali legend. Before the fight, Ali had said, "Everyone will remember what happened here." Wrote Mark Kram: "They will remember. Though not as he intended."
The Dinosaur Society, a nonprofit organization for dinosaur research and education, recently enlisted 37-year-old Boston Celtics center Robert Parish (SI, March 11) to film a public-service spot. His lines were, "We're old, we're green, we're fast, we're mean. Not the Celtics. Dinosaurs. Find out about them."
THEY SAID IT
Bob Rose, spokesman for the World League of American Football, trumpeting one of the new league's first games: "On March 24th the New York Knights play the Barcelona Dragons, and you've got to go back centuries to find that matchup."
Otis Thorpe, Rocket forward, on why he didn't notice that Houston's basket was three inches below regulation height during the first half of a game against Phoenix: "I just thought I was feeling good."