Although the vast majority of high school programs operate free of such events, this fall, from New England to New Mexico, sportsmanship has been thrown for a loss.
Everyone already knew that Wayne Huizenga, owner of the Florida Marlins and Panthers, was a capitalist par excellence: He built Waste Management Inc. and Blockbuster Video into billion-dollar ventures before entering the world of sports. But last week's public stock offering in the Panthers may prove to be his sports legacy. In a single day Huizenga sold nearly six million shares in the Panthers, roughly 49% of the team, at prices that fluctuated between $10 and $12 a share. He thus reaped $67.3 million for less than half the ownership of an NHL team that last May was valued at $45 million by Financial World magazine and that claims to have lost more than $25 million during the last fiscal year. Further, Huizenga, who paid a $50 million franchise fee to join the NHL in 1993, retains firm control over his first-place team.
The other major league team whose shares are publicly traded, the Boston Celtics, is valued by the stock market at $125 million, roughly the average worth of an NBA franchise. By contrast, the latest private deal for an NHL club—the sale of the Winnipeg Jets (now the Phoenix Coyotes) in 1995—brought just $70 million. "The idea that the Panthers are worth more than the Celtics is absurd," says Peter Russ, a stock analyst at Shelby Cullom Davis & Co. "But there's a certain amount of Panther hysteria, since they went to the Stanley Cup finals last year. And there's a belief that Wayne Huizenga can walk on water."
Part of the reason Huizenga made his offering was "to give the fans an opportunity to own shares in the team they root for," according to Stan Smith, a spokesman for Huizenga Holdings. And when people want a piece of their hometown team, they often don't care much about what it costs. Such blind investing undoubtedly jacked up the value of the Panthers' stock, but there's also reason to believe it has good long-term prospects: Two days after the offering, the Panthers broke ground on an arena scheduled to open in 1998. The new venue, with 50 more luxury suites and 5,000 more seats than the Miami Arena, should help stanch the franchise's losses, which the offering prospectus blamed partly on the Panthers' unfavorable lease.
No other NHL clubs have approached the league about offering stock to the public. After Huizenga's bonanza, however, it's only a matter of time before they do.
Stan Pleskun wants you to believe in yourself. "You never want to give up, no matter what happens," says Pleskun, a 6'2", 280-pound construction worker-cum-professional strongman from South Brunswick, N.J. It is his hope that through simple feats of strength, he will inspire others to "conquer the things that have held them back, like smoking, drinking and drugging."
Pleskun, whose nom de grunt is Stanless Steel, put on a show last week at tiny Princeton Airport. Before about 60 spectators huddled on the tarmac on a blustery afternoon, the 39-year-old Pleskun ran through some of his repertoire, bending a railroad spike and lifting 625 pounds—"a monstrosity of weight," he assured an observer—two inches off the ground with one finger. For his finale Pleskun positioned himself between two Cessnas and took hold of ropes attached to the tails of the planes. The engines roared and the wings quivered, but Stanless stood like a rock, and neither plane budged.
Later, a spectator asked Pleskun to perform one of his signature stunts, the bending of a penny with his fingers. Pleskun declined. "I'm a little tired and weak, so I'm not going to do any more feats of strength," he said. "Thanks for coming."