A. J. Liebling once described high school football coaches as "a cross between plantation overseer and YMCA secretary," and it is unhappily true that many of this dedicated breed believe that their mission in life is to instill in their charges a curious combination of pseudo-religious zeal and abject obedience to coachly authority. A happy exception is George Davis, football coach at Willits High School in Willits, Calif. Every Wednesday during the football season Davis distributes ballots to his players, and they vote on the question of who will be in the starting lineup for that week's game. Last year, his first at Willits, was an edgy one for Davis. His small democracy in action lost its first four games and there were authoritative growls from the stands. But the team settled down, turned things around and eventually finished in a tie for the league championship, something no Willits team had done before.
The Davis system stems from his memory of college football when a teammate who later played with the San Francisco 49ers for five years was only third string. "I couldn't figure out why me and a couple of other guys were playing and he wasn't," Davis says. "I decided that if I was going to coach, I wouldn't make the same mistake. I decided to let the squad vote because there's less chance of 40 guys being wrong. I didn't realize at the time what a motivational factor it would be. In practice there is better concentration and more alertness. The players are learning about the entire team, not just one position.
"What it teaches is responsibility. I think many people—and I'm not necessarily limiting this to football coaches—feel that the human animal is motivated better by fear than by your belief in him. I think that's wrong. I have faith in their ability. They really become informed and involved, and they learn to choose correctly.
"I believe school is a preparation for life, and I think football is part of school. They learn more about democracy and the vote out on the football field than they do in history class."
GOOD SMALL MEN
Just about everything in Little League baseball, except for an occasional outsize pitcher, is scaled down to suit the general dimensions of the boys playing the game. Now Aaron Johnson, a junior high school teacher in Baltimore, has scaled down basketball. After comparing his young son with a 10-foot basket, Johnson devised a portable goal that can be adjusted to heights from 7½' down to 3½' from the floor. The backboard is 30" by 26", instead of the standard 72" by 48", and the hoop itself is only 12" in diameter, instead of 18", which is better suited to the six-or eight-inch ball a kid might want to use in place of a regulation basketball with a 9.6-inch diameter. Johnson has patented his invention, which can be used indoors or out, and has copyrighted two names for it: Mini-Hoopster and Mini-Dunker.
It sounds like a fine idea, but what would you be willing to bet that some towering 4-foot-high first-graders don't come along to stuff shots and dominate the game?
The Rev. Bill Frazier, a Baptist minister from Gadsden, Ala., who says he has always been a stock-car-racing fan, showed up at the Talladega 500 NASCAR race last week towing a portable church, complete with six pews, a pulpit and a sign on the side that said "The Chapel."