SI Vault
Ron Fimrite
September 06, 1971
Faced with a staggering deficit, Philadelphia is eliminating sports in all its schools, and Mark Shedd, among other city officials, is braced for trouble
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September 06, 1971

We Expect Them To Storm The Gates

Faced with a staggering deficit, Philadelphia is eliminating sports in all its schools, and Mark Shedd, among other city officials, is braced for trouble

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Schneider insists the entire high school athletic program, including intramural and girls' sports, can be financed for $770,000, a piddling sum when compared with the district's overall financial obligations. He also maintains that sports involve in some way nearly half of Philadelphia's 59,000 high school youngsters. A recent survey showed that 94% of the varsity athletes graduated and 57% went on to college—this in a community where 60% of the students are black. College athletic scholarships worth an estimated $2.6 million were awarded this past year to 262 boys, 190 of them black.

"We know we help keep boys out of the gangs," Schneider says. "We have proved we are effective in fighting vandalism, violence and drug abuse. The best lesson to be learned from sports is self-discipline."

Sports also have been useful in just keeping youngsters from dropping out of school. "A whole lot of fellows only go to school because of sports," said Jimmy Baker, a basketball star at Olney High last season and winner of a scholarship to the University of Nevada. "If they cut sports out, kids will drop out. If there hadn't been sports, I'd have had nothing to look forward to when I woke up each morning."

The coaches, athletes and probably most Philadelphians simply do not believe the school board will stand by its decision. The city as it is probably has the worst youth gang problem in the U.S., and with sports no longer available there would be additional thousands of idle teen-agers in the streets. Yet the school board has held steadfastly to the position that it will not accept funds solely for the restoration of varsity sports. It says there are more urgent financial deficiencies. "As I see it," Schneider says, "we are in the ninth inning."

Philadelphia is in the midst of a mayoral election campaign in which both candidates, Thacher Longstreth and Frank Rizzo, have pledged to bring sports back to the schools. Neither, however, has said where he will get the money. "We'd give the schools more if we had it," says Victor Kendrick, a spokesman for the incumbent mayor, James Tate. But Tate recently vetoed a proposed over-the-bar liquor tax that would have provided the schools with an estimated $14 million in additional revenue. Tate, says Dilworth, is no friend of the schools.

Shedd and Dilworth, in the opinion of the coaches, are no friends of sport. In fact, both tend to dismiss the assertion that sports have provided an avenue to higher education for the city's blacks. To say that sports are the blacks' only outlet is, in Shedd's opinion, "racist talk." Dilworth is even more emphatic: "Art and music have done much more to stimulate the blacks' interest in school. Three out of four black athletes who go to college on athletic scholarships get virtually no education. They take physical education courses, then turn professional. They emerge from college semiliterate. Besides, most of the scholarships are to tramp colleges anyway."

The full impact of Philadelphia's sports lockout will not be felt until after Labor Day when school opens. "Then," says Shedd, "we expect them to storm the gates."

A high school without sports may seem to many a strange, lonely, even uninhabitable place. Philadelphia has enjoyed a long and rich athletic history. Among the more distinguished alumni are basketball's Wilt Chamberlain, Earl Monroe, Walt Hazzard, Wally Jones and Guy Rodgers; football's Leroy Kelly and baseball's Roy Campanella. Overbrook High alone has produced four High School All-America basketball players in the last 16 years; the first, Chamberlain; the last, Andre McCarter, who is headed for UCLA this fall. Overbrook Coach Paul Ward, who won six Public League and five city championships in 15 years, resigned two weeks ago to teach in suburban Pennsauken, N.J. Only a few coaches have followed Ward's course. Most have adopted a "wait-and-see" attitude. It is a costly waiting game, for if there are to be no sports, the coaches will lose, in some cases, as much as several thousand dollars in extra pay for their after-hours work.

"The eyes of the nation are on Philadelphia," says William (Sonny) Hill, who heads a summer basketball league for high school youngsters. "All the cities are looking for ways of saving money."

"The larger issue," says Shedd, "is will the urban schools be able to survive? Traditionally, the city has been a haven for subnations—the Irish, the Germans, the Jews. Now we have another subnation—the blacks. Will we let them make it? This thing has just got to turn around. We have to have more for education. The democratic system won't work without an educated populace. The alternative is suppression, and that doesn't work anywhere very long. Yet, we almost seem headed that way."

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