Exactly 100 years ago Clara Baer, a phys-ed instructor at Newcomb College in New Orleans, wrote to James Naismith asking him to send her the rules to the game he had just invented. With his reply the Good Doctor included a rough diagram indicating the spots on the floor that players might occupy in "basket ball." Baer misunderstood, thinking these designations meant players were confined to specific stations at one end of the court or the other. Thus did Baer give birth to the six-to-a-side, three-on-offense, three-on-defense game that persisted among high school girls in Oklahoma until last Saturday night, when Stigler High beat Meeker High 63-37 in the Class 3A state championship game—the last sanctioned six-on-six game in the U.S.
Six-on-six endured in rural Oklahoma for so long because, with fewer physical demands and less need for substitutions, tiny schools had an easier time fielding teams that could compete with schools from larger districts. But there was another reason that "basquette," the Frenchified name Baer assigned to her modified game, carried on through most I of the century. Believing the all-court game to be too strenuous for women, Baer continued to promote the scaled-back version even after she was alerted to her misunderstanding. With only half the floor to cover, Baer once wrote, "a delicate girl, unaccustomed to exercise, and for the most part averse to it, would become interested in spite of herself."
Generations of physical educators bought into that thinking, but today girls don't embrace basketball in spite of themselves. And if a girl is college-bound, she's expected to play offense and defense and run the floor. Thus Saturday's six-on-six swan song was inevitable. But that made it no less emotional. The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association offered $1 student tickets to the final, and T-shirts heralding the END OF AN ERA sold briskly. "You can say they only played half a game," said Ray Soldan, who covered six-on-six for The Daily Oklahoman for 43 years. "But they played that half at full speed, all the time."
On the Schneid
The Montreal Canadiens' 8-10-5 start this season has sent the local media into a typically apoplectic tizzy. At the center of the latest controversy are allegations that the Habs' English-speaking players have organized a locker-room mutiny against coach Jacques Demers, a native montr�alais. Last week, asked if he was one of the "cancers" pushing for Demers's ouster, U.S.-born defenseman Mathieu Schneider replied, "No, I'm a Gemini."
The World Indoor Track and Field Championships, held last weekend in Barcelona, featured fewer stars than had any of the event's four previous stagings. Among the absent were virtually all of the sport's royalty: Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Michael Johnson, Gwen Torrence, Mike Powell, Noureddine Morceli and Carl Lewis. This didn't please Primo Nebiolo, president of the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), the event's organizer, who reacted like a little boy furious that people wouldn't come to his birthday party.
In his 14 years as head of the IAAF, Nebiolo has never quite accepted that the world doesn't regard his wishes as commands. When Olympic 100-meter champ Linford Christie announced on March 6 that because of fatigue at the end of a long season, he, too, would not be competing in Barcelona, the 71-year-old Nebiolo swung into action. "I appeal to him as a great champion to reconsider," Nebiolo said, hinting that he might grant Christie an unprecedented at-large invitation when Christie insisted that he wouldn't be willing to bump Michael Rosswess, who had been awarded his place on the British team. Christie demurred just the same.
One reason so few stars were in Barcelona is the current glut of championships being billed as "major," a situation Nebiolo himself created. In 1987, when the first world indoor meet was held, its outdoor counterpart was contested only quadrennially. Now that each is held every two years, it's harder to persuade the handful of athletes who normally command appearance fees of $25,000 or more that it's worth their while to participate for glory alone. Currently there's only one meet they'll attend without the lure of prize money: the Olympics.
Earlier this month Nebiolo did announce that prize money will be awarded at all IAAF championships after the 1996 Olympics. Providing cash payouts is only fair, given the many lucrative sponsorships the IAAF has, plus the five-year, $92 million TV contract the body signed last year with the European Broadcasting Union. Track's athletes are willing to be led, but they can't be blamed for liking their carrots green.