SI Vault
Edited by Jerry Kirshenbaum
October 30, 1978
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October 30, 1978


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Gall has been the leading jockey at Cahokia Downs in five of the last six years and was fourth in the country in wins during '76 and '77. He had been sidelined much of this year by a broken collarbone and a suspension, which made his big night especially welcome. Gall said that the pressure on him actually decreased as the evening wore on. "The more you win like that, the more relaxed you get," he said. "If one of your horses loses, they surely can't blame you, can they?"


Rhode Island Coach Bob Griffin said that his team would practice the play and, yes, might use it in a game. Massachusetts' Bob Pickett denounced it as a piece of japery that violated "the ethics of coaching." Around the Yankee Conference—indeed, around college football—people were still debating the great "batball play" that enabled lowly Maine to escape with a 7-7 tie against favored New Hampshire (SI, October 23).

The play began when Maine Place-kicker Mike Hodgson got set for what appeared to be a field-goal attempt from New Hampshire's 28-yard line. Instead of placing the football, however, holder Tony Trafton tossed it into the air and Hodgson punched it as though he were serving a volleyball. The ball sailed past New Hampshire's unsuspecting players, landed on the five and skidded into the end zone, where Maine's Dave Higgins fell on it for a touchdown.

It turned out that Coach Jack Bicknell had introduced the sleight-of-fist play several weeks earlier and that his men had practiced it while humming the theme from the TV show Batman. "I knew it was possible I looked like the biggest jerk in America," Bicknell allowed after ordering the play against New Hampshire. "But my kids have taken some terrible beatings. I was trying to give them a lift."

New Hampshire Coach Bill Bowes angrily claimed that the batball play was either 1) illegal or 2) ought to be, but his protests were in vain. The NCAA rule book prohibits batting a fumble and also batting any ball out of bounds to gain yardage. But batting a non-fumbled ball inbounds is legal. Far from being new, such a play was fairly common in high schools—until it was outlawed in 1975. But the colleges have never prohibited it, and University of Delaware Athletic Director Dave Nelson, longtime editor-secretary of the NCAA football rules committee, included a sketch of just such a play in his 1976 book, Illustrated Football Rules. Bicknell had gotten the idea of attempting the play from reading Nelson's book.

"I think it's an interesting and innovative play," says Nelson. "One of the problems with football today is that it's so conservative. This play is a lot like an onside kick except that one is with the hand, the other the foot. It's not easy to execute, and because it's a free ball the defense has as much opportunity to recover as the offense. In this case, one coach simply knew the rules, the other didn't."


Tracy Austin, the 15-year-old tennis prodigy, turned professional last week, one of the youngest world-class athletes ever to do so. In the past, all money Tracy "won" in tournaments was turned over to the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association's youth development program. The teen-ager's decision to join the pro circuit means that future earnings will be hers to keep. The implications are clear to Bill Ryan, Tracy's counselor at Rolling Hills (Cal.) High, where the sophomore maintains a straight-A average. "Next year she should take a course in accounting," he says.

And you can forget the allowance, Mom.

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