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HAVE BALL, WILL TRAVEL
The brief Arena Football League season will come to an end on Friday night when the Detroit Drive and the Pittsburgh Gladiators meet for the championship at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena. This year five teams barnstormed the country in a five-week regular season, and four made the playoffs. "This was a bridge season to keep us operating [so that we can] re-stage next year," says Arenaball founder and president Jim Foster, whose league nearly collapsed when franchise operators rebelled in March.
The bridge was a shaky one. Attendance averaged about 5,600 per game, down from 9,000 in '88 and 11,000 in '87, and the league would have folded but for an influx of cash from one sponsor, Little Caesars pizza. Players were paid $250 per week if their team won and $200 if their team lost.
Games were spirited. At one last month, Gladiator coach Joe Haering punched Foster in the head in a dispute over an officiating call. In the Drive's 43-10 playoff win over the Chicago Bruisers last Friday in Detroit, Reggie Smith of the Bruisers began to charge the stands when the crowd of 6,457 booed him and showered him with toy footballs for protesting a call. Fortunately, teammates restrained the 5'7", 170-pound receiver.
The spectators seemed to enjoy this craziness, which suggests there still may be hope for Arenaball. Said one woman, a Detroit Lion fan, after the Drive-Bruisers game, "I found more excitement here tonight than I've seen in several Lion seasons."
FAST BEYOND HIS YEARS?
As noted in last week's story on the World Veterans Championships (SI, Aug. 14), the race is on among masters runners—those 40 and older—to break the four-minute barrier in the mile. The recognized masters record of 4:05.39 was set in June by 40-year-old Wilson Waigwa of Kenya.
But has the four-minute barrier already fallen to a masters runner? Waigwa's countryman Mike Boit, an Olympic bronze medalist at 800 meters in 1972, may have been 40 back in 1985, when he ran a 3:53.28 mile. No one knows Boit's real age, including Boit, whose Nandi tribe—unlike the Kikuyu tribe that Waigwa belongs to—kept few birth or baptismal records until the 1960s. The Jan. 1, 1949, birth date on Boit's passport is a rough guess.
An assortment of evidence hints that Boit is considerably older than 40, including the dates on which he entered school and ran his first outstanding track times. But the most telling fact is that he underwent circumcision, the Nandi rite of passage into manhood, in 1959. "That's the clincher," says Kimeli Chepsiror, Boit's cousin. "Nandi boys are circumcised between 15 and 18—14 at the earliest. There is no way Mike can be less than 44." Boit also admits being "quite a bit older" than Chepsiror, who knows that his own age is 40.
Boit, who ran a 3:55.69 mile as recently as 1987, downplays the debate about his age. "It's probably a little off," he says of his passport birth date, "but it's close enough." While others argue the matter, he hopes to step up his training and perhaps break four minutes again.