Never mind that acrogymnastics is an ugly-sounding word that brings to mind acrophobia (morbid fear of heights), acromegaly (chronic hyperpituitarism) and the like. It is also a dumb word. Used to distinguish tumbling and trampolining from standard gymnastics, it implies that the latter, the sport of ring and horse and beam and mat, is not acrobatic.
Tumbling is a jolly word that has stood the test of time and use. Trampolining is a little awkward, perhaps, but at least the word is precise. Acrogymnastics is noise pollution.
That suspicious-looking character lurking about the high school practice field isn't a drug dealer, he's a genuine North American Soccer League scout. In the Jan. 8 NASL draft, a rite once devoted to choosing graduating seniors from four-year colleges, five of the 24 first-round picks were high school seniors, and the very first choice of all—which the Dallas Tornado did some wheeling and dealing to obtain—was used to claim Njego Pesa, a forward from Ulster Community College, a two-year institution in upstate New York. Pesa, 20, was born in Yugoslavia, went to high school in New York City and is now an American citizen.
The heavy accent on youth has come about because the original purpose of the college draft has succeeded only partially. It has helped supply NASL teams with the American starters they need to fulfill league requirements (two last year and this, three in 1980, and so on), but the quality of players available has not nearly matched the increasing quality of play in the league. As Freddie Goodwin, general manager of the Minnesota Kicks, says, "The 21-year-olds are 100% better than a few years ago. The trouble is, the league is 200% better."
"This isn't the NFL," says Terry Hanson of the Atlanta Chiefs. "The NCAA's best player might not get into a game all season. Our best players come from the rest of the world, not the U.S. By taking the 18-and-unders, we're saying in effect, 'Nice try, colleges, but you blew it.' "
One solution being fostered by the league is the establishment of reserve squads to which a team's younger players would be assigned. They would train with the big teams, scrimmage with them (the value of tangling with such as Franz Beckenbauer cannot be overestimated) and eventually play schedules of their own. From these squads would come a base of talent for U.S. national teams of the future. The well-heeled Cosmos and the Seattle Sounders have such squads now; when more teams become affluent the league would like to make them mandatory. "We can do a better job training kids than the colleges," says Goodwin. "That's all there is to it."