Tragedy on Bay Street
Nine people are killed by an avalanche while helicopter-skiing in British Columbia's Bugaboos
It was one of the last runs of the day—March 12—for 13 helicopter-skiers in the Bugaboos of British Columbia. As they headed down a steep and open slope called Bay Street, a shelf of snow above them broke loose without warning, sending a torrent of powder down the mountain. Three skiers avoided the avalanche, but 10 were buried under the snow, and only one of them, guide Jos Lang, could dig herself out. It was the worst tragedy in the history of heli-skiing in Canada, bringing to more than 40 the number of heli-skiers who have died there in the last 12 years.
The victims came from Britain, France, Germany, Spain and the U.S.—testimony to the lure of wilderness skiing. But with the pleasures of deep powder come the perils. In SI's Jan. 14 issue, E.M. Swift wrote a chilling account of his week of heli-skiing, during which a small avalanche stopped just short of him and a fellow skier died of suffocation. By coincidence, Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), which took Swift and his friends heli-skiing, is the same outfit that operated last week's tragic outing.
Five certified professional mountain guides employed by CMH had deemed Bay Street safe. But others feel that the skiers should not have been out there. Frank Baumann, a Canadian avalanche expert, as well as a heli-skier and former heli-ski operator, told SI, "I don't know the specifics of the conditions, but I feel that run is an obvious major avalanche slide path. You can certainly reduce the risk by skiing lower slope angles, by being cautious as to how soon after a major storm you ski, by making conservative judgments on the condition of snowpacks. This accident shows that they may not have been conservative enough."
There have been cries to ban the sport, but heli-skiing is a $27 million industry in Canada, and provincial governments have gone out of their way to cooperate with heli-skiing operators. In 1985 the British Columbia government allowed operators, suffering from high insurance costs, to have clients sign waivers of liability, so that those clients would have difficulty suing heli-ski firms in the event of injury or death. "In developed countries, our governments should monitor safety standards," says Baumann. "But here the people who make the money also make the decisions on safety."
It is time that Canadian authorities take a closer look at heli-skiing. At the very least, the ski companies should not be allowed to force clients to sign liability waivers, even if that means high insurance rates. The companies would then have a strong incentive to emphasize safety. In the meantime, potential customers should also take a closer look at heli-skiing and ask themselves whether the thrill of the sport is really worth the risk.
Lenny Dykstra's gambling debts are a serious matter
Last week Lenny Dykstra, the Philadelphia Phillies' center-fielder, was called to testify in federal court in Oxford, Miss., as a witness against Herbert Kelso, who was charged with running high-stakes poker games. Although Kelso was acquitted by a jury, Dykstra testified that he had written checks totaling $78,000 to Kelso to cover gambling losses sustained in both poker and golf between 1988 and early '90.
To some in the Phils' camp in Clearwater, Fla., Dykstra's gambling debts seemed more a matter of amusement than concern. When Dykstra was asked last Friday what he told a group of minor leaguers he had been invited to address, he sang, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em." Teammate Wally Back-man said, "If they decided they wanted to go after everyone who plays cards and makes a little wager on it, then nobody would be able to field a team. Murph [Dale Murphy] would be the manager, general manager and only player."
But even in this era of skyrocketing baseball salaries, there was clearly nothing little about Dykstra's wagers. The Phillies and commissioner Fay Vincent's office talked to Dykstra about the losses last year. The club—from owner Bill Giles on down—seems to think that the case is closed, although Vincent says that it is not.
Vincent, who met with Dykstra last Saturday, has taken a curious stance regarding the situation. On the one hand, he said last week, "I want to be sure that baseball people are aware that there is great danger. Many times the illegal bookmakers...are also drug dealers." On the other hand, Vincent told reporters, "You know as well as I do how many people standing here can't tell me they haven't bet with a bookie on football or basketball. It's become part of America's culture."
The point that should be made is not that a lot of players—and sportswriters—bet, but that any player who runs up gambling debts of $78,000 might be pressed to provide inside information, or worse, and thus jeopardize the integrity of the game. Nobody, not Dykstra, not the Phillies, not the commissioner, should shrug that off.
People in baseball have short memories. Only two years ago, Pete Rose was making light of his gambling.
Big Bird and gang send the Lady Tigers packing
Last year the Penn State women's basketball team was forced to hit the road for its first-round NCAA tournament game because school officials had reserved the team's gym for a men's NIT game. This year the Louisiana State women's team suffered an even greater indignity. Last week the Lady Tigers, whose No. 2 seeding in the Midwest entitled them to host a second-round game, were sent packing by Big Bird and Sesame Street Live, which had previously reserved the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
The scheduling conflict had coach Sue Gunter and LSU's fans feeling like Oscar the Grouch. "This is a shame," said Gunter. "Here we get an a opportunity to play at home and really bring in a crowd, and this happens." The LSU athletic department, she said, should have made sure the arena was available for a possible early-round NCAA tournament game. According to Gunter, LSU should have learned its lesson two years ago, when the Lady Tigers were also granted a first-round bye and second-round home court advantage only to be preempted by a table tennis tournament.
So the Lady Tigers had to travel to Beaumont, Texas, last weekend to face the 10th-seeded Lamar Lady Cardinals. Gunter's worst fears were realized as Lamar trounced LSU 93-73. Unlike LSU, Lamar was able to work around its gym's previously scheduled act for the date—the Harlem Globetrotters.
A World View
The helmet-cam gives viewers a whole new perspective
It sounds like something that David Letterman might have come up with, but Craig Janoff swears it was his idea. And if it works, quarterbacks on two continents may soon be strapping on (and plugging in) their helmet-cams.
The hyperactive World League of American Football, the new NFL-sponsored international minor league that begins play this week, announced plans last fall to wire players with two-way radios. But Janoff, who will direct the league's Monday night games on the USA Network, wanted to take the idea one step further. He asked a California video-technology firm to adapt a miniature camera for insertion into a football helmet.
On March 11, Janoff's concept became a reality. Sacramento Surge quarterback Ben Bennett wore a helmet-cam while taking snaps and throwing passes in a no-contact intrasquad scrimmage. When Bennett passed, a viewer could follow the ball downfield from the moment it left Bennett's fingertips until it landed in the receiver's hands. (The experimental footage would have been even better if Bennett had had shorter hair.)
"Now that we've seen the video, we want this to go big time," says Janoff, who is also the director of the NFL's Monday Night Football on ABC. There is a slight catch, however. Before the helmet-cam is cleared for use in games, it must undergo tests to see how it will stand up to a smashing blow from a linebacker. At $20,000 a unit, it's not exactly disposable. But it's likely that the device will be used within a few weeks.
The helmet-cam, shaped like a tube of lipstick, is encased in foam rubber and attached to the inside of a standard football helmet, just above the right cheek-pad, so that only the dime-sized lens is visible. A tiny wire plugs into a transmitter, which Bennett wore on top of his shoulder pads. Technicians are still trying to figure out how to place the transmitter inside the pads. "We may get seven or eight good replays out of it a game," says Janoff. "When the defensive end charges the quarterback, it's a great sense, a great feel."
Of course, the quarterback may not always agree.
Up from the Gutter
Del Ballard Jr. wins just two weeks after his infamous roll
At one point during the Long Island Open, last week's Professional Bowling Association tournament in Sayville, N.Y., Del Ballard Jr. was introduced to the crowd as "the guy who did something we'll never forget, and neither will he."
What Ballard did, on March 2, was lose to Pete Weber in the nationally televised finals of the Fair Lanes Open in Randallstown, Md., in the most devastating way possible. Ballard needed two strikes and a seven in the 10th frame to beat Weber. He got the two strikes, but, instead of safely rolling the ball down the middle for the seven, he tried to make his customary gutter-hugging hook. He slipped and put the ball in the channel. "Since then I think I've gotten more publicity for the PBA than for anything I ever did in the past," said Ballard, a 10-year tour veteran from Richardson, Texas.
Ballard had to take an awful lot of kidding after the gutter ball, but rather than resent the ribbing, he chose to go along with it. At a pro-am event the week after his slip, Ballard rolled his first ball into the gutter—on purpose. He got a standing ovation.
If Ballard's gutter ball is considered one of sports' great "chokes," then his performance in the Long Island Open has to stand as one of sports' great recoveries. He got the monkey off his back with clutch victories over Danny Wiseman and Jim Johnson Jr. In fact, the match against Wiseman in the semifinal was similar to the match against Weber. Ballard needed a strike and an eight on his last two rolls. After he got the strike, he hooked the ball for another strike and a 250-247 win. Then he blitzed Johnson 223-183.
"I prayed I would get in a spot like that on TV again," said Ballard. "I'm thankful it came so soon. The title's the thing, but just rolling a big ball like that should erase all bad memories for me and hush the folks who had been kidding me.
[Thumps up]To the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association, for completing their regular season with a record of 50-6, giving them a winning percentage of .893, the highest in the history of pro basketball.
[Thumps up]To Joanna duPont, who is providing a "retirement home" for thoroughbreds, called Greener Pastures. She has set aside a barn and 60 acres on her Maryland farm for racers who might otherwise be destroyed or forced to run past their prime.
[Thumps down]To the organizers of the opening ceremony at last week's World Figure Skating Championships in Munich (page 34), for ignoring the exploits of such East German stars as Katarina Witt and Gaby Seyfert in a celebration entitled 100 Years of Figure Skating in Germany.
Making a List
The Final Four will be determined this week. Some high seeds have already been upset, but the NCAA tournament has always had surprises. SI's Alexander Wolff picks the 10 biggest upsets in its 53-year history.
1. 1985 Final: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64. The Wildcats needed to shoot 79% from the floor to win.
2. 1966 Final: Texas Western 72, Kentucky 65. The Miners left even Pat Riley undressed.
3. 1983 Final: North Carolina State 54, Houston 52. Lorenzo Charles turned an air ball into victory over Phi Slamma Jamma.
4. 1991 First Round East: Richmond 73, Syracuse 69. The Spiders are the first No. 15 to win a tournament game.
5. 1965 East Final: Princeton 109, Providence 69. The Friars had prematurely cut down the nets after an OT semifinal win over St. Joseph's.
6. 1981 Second Round Mideast: St. Joseph's 49, DePaul 48. A missed free throw KO'd the tournament favorite.
7. 1957 Final: North Carolina 54, Kansas 53, in triple OT. Against Wilt and Co., UNC hoops became religion.
8. 1947 Final: Holy Cross 58, Oklahoma 47. Freshman Bob Cousy came off the bench to give an Eastern team its first title.
9. 1987 First Round Southeast: Austin Peay 68, Illinois 67. ESPN's Dick Vitale made good on his promise to stand on his head.
10. 1979 Second Round East: Penn 72, North Carolina 71. Carolina newspapers thought Penn State won.
THEY SAID IT
George Foreman, on the difference in eating habits between him and his upcoming opponent, heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield: "He's got a nutritionist, and I've got room service."
Jose Rijo, Cincinnati Reds pitcher who is in the midst of divorce proceedings with his wife, Rosie, after allowing six runs in an exhibition game: "I only gave up three runs—Rosie gets half of everything."
Sulky of Swat
On March 2, a pacer named Babe Ruth won the fourth race at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., from post position 7. The second-and third-place finishers in the race came from posts 1 and 4, respectively, which means the Big Triple combination for the race was 7-1-4. The Bambino, of course, hit 714 homers in his career.
15 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated
The March 22, 1976, issue was unusually prescient. Curry Kirkpatrick profiled the tennis-playing Austin family, including Tracy, 13. Said her father, George, "The cutest thing was when she was nine, and she would beat the best women in the club. Then she would go play in the sandbox." One of the FACES IN THE CROWD was future hoops star Mike Gminski, then a high school junior.
Above the Rim
Some Chicago-area priests have formed a basketball team that plays in charity exhibitions. In a nod toward UNLV, they call themselves the Runnin' Revs.