Shedd's rhetoric may seem melodramatic, but the issue he raises is no less important. The school board's decision—if it holds—will radically alter the educational experience for many Philadelphia children. And not just would-be athletes, but all the city's youngsters, since sport and the excitement and loyalties it generates help any school maintain a community of interests with its students. The loss will be incalculable.
On the rutted courts of the Columbus Square playground in South Philadelphia, Joe Anderson was shooting a few early-afternoon baskets before an admiring audience of small boys. Anderson was an All-Public League player for three years at Gratz High. He will enter Temple University this fall on a basketball scholarship. He is a tall, well-muscled black youth whose horn-rimmed glasses and small goatee lend him a scholarly mien. It is not an entirely inaccurate impression, for Anderson hopes to continue school, eventually earn a master's degree and teach in the city.
"When I was 13," he said, thinking back six years, "I didn't know what I'd be. I was hanging around the streets a lot. But my mom and my pop, even though they didn't go to school long, always wanted me to have an education. We didn't have that kind of money, but I was always good in sports, so we figured that would be my way.
"I went to Gratz. School wasn't the most interesting thing to me. It was no fun. The classes were crowded and, you know, you get kind of disgruntled. But my coach, John Chaney, he kept talking to me about my grades and about going on to college. He spent time with me. He was like a second father.
"What he did was help me to become a man. That's what I got out of sports. I don't know what I'd be without them."