Says Track Coach Wayne Vandenburg: "Sure, it's a problem, the woman situation. I don't deny that. But isn't this the same everywhere in the country? This is their problem."
One might not want to stuff the statements of these five men into a time capsule and present them to the people of the 25th century as enlightened American opinion on interracial dating in 1968, but one cannot fail to notice that they do attempt to speak with a certain reasonableness and balance. According to the black athletes of UTEP, however, the talk is hot air. They say the university's sports establishment throws out all reason and balance where interracial dating is concerned and begins lashing about with a meat cleaver. Pressure is applied all along the line. If the Negro refuses to shape up and confine his dating to the handful of black women in El Paso, the blacks contend, or simply stop dating entirely, he might find himself on the next train out of town. The Negroes like to cite the case of Ollie Ledbetter, a basketball player who refused to stop dating a white girl he had known before coming to UTEP. It was not too long before he was having trouble with Coach Haskins. Shortly after that he was gone.
Coach Haskins, a husky Oklahoman who seems to overpower his small office, is in constant motion, like most of the UTEP coaches. When he discusses the social lives of his black athletes, he drums the edge of the desk with his fingers and acts as though a coach who would start five Negroes in a nationally televised basketball game should not have to answer such questions. "I run Ledbetter off because he wouldn't break a sweat," he says. "He was a real good boy, but lazier than hell. Here at home where all the people are hollering, he'd give you a real good effort, but on the road he wouldn't break a sweat."
Haskins insists that Ledbetter's social activities had nothing to do with his departure, but there is hardly a Negro on the campus who agrees. At one time or another, almost every black scholarship athlete at UTEP has dated a white girl, and in almost every case the coaches have applied pressure. Says Dave Lattin: "One day Coach Haskins called me in and told me that somebody had said I was holding hands with a Mexican girl downstairs in the SUB [Student Union Building]. I told him, 'Well, listen, if I was gonna hold hands with somebody I would do it right out in the open.' And he said, 'Well, you know that you and I would fall out if you did something like that.' Right then we were something like 18 and 0 for the season, and he's all hot and bothered about me holding hands with a Mexican girl!"
"The coaches always tell you the same thing: that the town's not ready for it," says Fred Carr. "But I think it's the other way around: I think the town is ready for it, but the coaches aren't. I think the tail is wagging the dog. What the hell, I come from Phoenix, Ariz., and nobody thought nothing of dating white girls over there. Phoenix isn't that far from El Paso. The people aren't that different. But our coaches are mostly Southern types, and interracial dating is a big scandal to them. When you date a white girl, you get in trouble and she gets bad-mouthed all over the campus."
"I used to talk to a white girl," Willie Cager says, "but one day she said to me that she couldn't talk to me anymore, because some of the professors had been cornering her and telling her that she would get a bad name."
"If we show up at a party the white girls have to leave," says Bob Wallace. "If they stay they'll get bad-mouthed. One time we showed up at a party and there was a white girl there and she stayed. One of the white football players went back on the campus and called her all kinds of dirty names."
Says Dr. John West: "I have a grader who cares a lot about these Negro athletes. She grades in this huge class of 130, and she takes the roll for me. She says that people look oddly at her, and I have heard a comment or two to the effect that 'I think old Sonya has fallen in love with the Negro race' or something like that. But I don't think we have any professors who would give a girl a bad mark because she was dating Negroes. I don't think it goes that far."
According to at least one coed, Professor West is wrong. She is blonde and she is beautiful and she dated Phil Harris, who was a legend on the UTEP campus, a sort of black Paul Bunyan, towering 6'10" into the dry, desert air on feet so big that. "It requires the hide of two steers and a yearling to shoe him," as last year's basketball yearbook pointed out. The yearbook also advised that, " Harris holds a lot of 'ifs' for the Miners. If he can improve his shooting; if he can take up a lot of slack inside and if his defense and knee improves, the Miners could come on stronger than frozen cement this fall.... He is the only experienced big man Coach Don Haskins can summon."
The Miners did not come on stronger than frozen cement. They compiled a so-so 14-9 record and Phil Harris, the 21-year-old son of a middle-class Negro couple from Rensselaer, N.Y., was kicked out of school.