There has been a deep, disturbing and almost unnoticed change in the pattern of big-city high school athletics, once a form of sport that provided traditional rivalries, pleasure and excitement for millions of children and parents.
Not since 1965 have Detroit public schools been allowed to enter Michigan's high school basketball tournament. On the last occasion two city teams met on a neutral court, at night, and when the game was over nine youths had been stabbed.
Last February in Baltimore 3,000 teenagers rioted after a city basketball championship, and it took 200 policemen, mounted officers and police dogs an hour to subdue the melee.
Last May in Buffalo bus drivers carrying students from a major track meet asked for police protection after two drivers were robbed and the seats ripped up. Two policemen were assigned to follow each bus in a patrol car, but further disturbances caused the cancellation of the city's All-High meet.
These incidents are not extraordinary. The alarming violence at urban high school sports events is being played down by some authorities, but consider these facts:
Baltimore, Buffalo and Rochester, to name just three cities, permit virtually no public high school athletic contests at night.
In Detroit last week two high school charity football bowls, the city's oldest, were dropped. The unannounced reason: fear of roving mobs in the stadium. Only one high school football or basketball game can be scheduled in a Detroit police precinct on the same day—there would be insufficient police available—and students who attend the games must present a school identification card as well as a ticket at the door.
In St. Louis the public high school league games are held in the afternoon, on school property, with a heavy guard of uniformed ushers, policemen and police dogs. The city's public high school stadium is not used. "It was impossible to provide adequate police protection there," a coach explains.
In Washington there have been no city championship games in six years.