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Reverse Field The majority was out in force at the National Minority championship

May 11, 1998
May 11, 1998

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May 11, 1998

Pro Basketball

Reverse Field The majority was out in force at the National Minority championship

Even among a diverse crew of participants representing 19
historically black schools, Hampton senior William Schaffer
stood out at last week's National Minority College Tournament in
Port Saint Lucie, Fla. In a field with 108 Generation Xers who
were stressing out about three-putting and finding a summer job,
there was Schaffer, a 42-year-old retired Army sergeant, far
more concerned about calling his wife, Mallory, and
three-year-old daughter, Savanna, back at their new four-bedroom
house in Hampton, Va. As his teammates argued over whether rap
or R&B would blare from the stereo in the team van, Schaffer
made a valiant, if predictably futile, pitch for Jefferson
Airplane and The Who. "I try to stay young, but these guys have
no taste," he says, absentmindedly stroking his graying temples.
"Listening to their music sure doesn't help keep the wrinkles
down."

This is an article from the May 11, 1998 issue

Fortunately age can be a virtue on the golf course, where
Schaffer has been Hampton's best player since his freshman year.
His biggest asset is Gandhi-like equanimity. Through birdies and
bogeys, Schaffer's demeanor was unchanged, a solemn Faldoesque
expression welded to his face as he shot a 19-over-par 235 for
the three rounds and finished 17th. "I don't get too high or too
low; that's the discipline I got from the military," says
Schaffer, who was named a Minority College All-America at last
year's championship. "Golf can be a humbling experience, but you
have to learn to keep your focus. At an event like this,
patience and maturity can be two more things that make me
different from everyone else."

One characteristic, however, that didn't distinguish Schaffer
last week was the fact that he is "as white as they come," a
former hippie from rural Minnesota who was already sunburned by
the time he reached the 2nd tee. Despite the tournament's name
and affiliation, roughly half the golfers in the event were
Caucasian, including six of the top 10 finishers.
Bethune-Cookman, which led the team standings after the first
day, had only one minority among its five players--Dallas
Anderson, a Tuscarora Indian from Ontario. Jackson State's team,
which won the title by 10 strokes, was a mini United Nations,
fielding players from Australia, Great Britain, the U.S. and
Zimbabwe, with an Irish recruit on the way.

"It's definitely weird," says Hampton junior Ollie (Chucky)
Walker, of Memphis, who took up the game at age 12. "You think
you're playing in a minority championship, but you come down
here and it feels like you're playing against Villanova or
Princeton. You don't want to say it should only be open to us
black kids, but maybe this tournament needs to change its name."

Now 12 years old, the National Minority has become an insecure
adolescent, struggling with its identity during a period of
awkward growth. Launched in 1987 to try to counter golf's
exclusionary image and elevate the game among minorities, the
inaugural championship featured all-black teams from a handful
of predominantly black colleges and universities. For the first
11 years the event was held at the Highland Park Golf Course in
Cleveland, a municipal track best remembered for its muddy
fairways and bumpy greens. This year, after the PGA of America
agreed to cosponsor the championship, it relocated to the PGA
Golf Club at the Reserve, a luxurious 36-hole layout designed by
Tom Fazio with greens as smooth as billiard tables. The players
were feted like Tour pros and lodged on-site in posh condominiums.

As the event has grown dramatically in participation and
stature, so has the pressure to win. Consequently, coaches are
recruiting the best golfers they can, regardless of race.
Recalling the rhetoric Texas Western basketball coach Don
Haskins employed in 1966 when he made history by winning an NCAA
title with a team that started five African-Americans, many
coaches here spoke unapologetically of fielding the best five
golfers, no matter what the team picture might look like. "My
goal is to get to the NCAA tournament, and to do that I need to
recruit the best players out there; that's all there is to it,"
says Jackson State coach Eddie Payton, whose team has won the
National Minority eight of the last nine years. "Besides, this
championship is for schools whose student body has been
predominantly minority. That doesn't mean the golf teams have to
be."

It's a bit of Jesuitical reasoning, to be sure, yet technically
Payton is correct. "I would consider looking at opportunities to
provide additional financial incentives for schools that enhance
their minority participation," says Hector Allen, the president
of the National Minority College Golf Scholarship Fund, another
sponsor of the event. "But as things stand now, we can't tell
the coaches at historically black colleges whom they can and
can't recruit."

Still, Payton's sentiments are hardly unanimous among his
colleagues. "I'm not going to rule out recruiting anyone, but my
goal is to give young minority kids a chance," says Talladega
coach Alfred Baker, whose all-black team includes Jim Dent Jr.,
the son of the Senior tour player. "We may get beat, but I
refuse to sell out. I feel an obligation to try to offer my
scholarships to kids who can really use the opportunity."

The curious composition of the teams notwithstanding, the week
was still geared toward the minority players. Before last
Thursday's practice round every team attended a job fair, at
which representatives from 15 corporations discussed career
opportunities for minority golfers. Not that they didn't make
some noise on the course. Jackson State senior Hugh Smith, for
example, shot a one-under 72-72-71-215 to win the individual
title.

Minority participation in golf has nearly doubled since 1990,
according to the National Golf Foundation, and the growth has
been particularly strong among kids. "It's all about
accessibility, and I guarantee that in the next few years you'll
see a lot of minority golfers getting college scholarships,"
says Payton. "It's just that right now there are not all that
many good players."

So for the time being, he relies largely on imports like Chris
Register, a blond-haired, blue-eyed sophomore who finished sixth
last week at nine over par. A native of Bude, England, a town of
10,000 on the Celtic Sea, 200 miles southwest of London,
Register didn't know much about Jackson State until he set foot
on campus. Like most of the foreign players in this tournament,
he was recruited through College Prospects to America, a service
that pairs overseas athletes with scholarship opportunities. "I
wanted to play golf for a university in the States, and Coach
Payton gave me the best offer," says Register in what is surely
the thickest accent on the Jackson, Miss., campus. "The team
gets along great, and I feel like I'm accepted at school. But
I'll admit, growing up in England I never thought I'd be playing
in America's National Minority championship, that's for sure."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT HALLERAN OLD NEWS Hampton's Schaffer (left), a retired Army sergeant and onetime hippie, was different because of his age, not his color. [William Schaffer and two golfers carrying golf bags]THREE COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT HALLERAN HAZARDOUS DUTY Register made a big splash trying a great escape but had mud on his face when the ball stayed in the water. [Sequence of photographs shows Chris Register hitting ball out of water]
"Maybe this tournament needs to change its name," says Hampton's
Walker.