CALL TO ORDER
As an indoor sport, with arenas that can become emotional pressure cookers, basketball has to be especially vigilant about the threat of violence, which escalates in direct proportion to the importance of a game and the intensity of a rivalry. What happened at the North Carolina A&T- North Carolina Central game in Greensboro last Thursday was every thinking fan's worst nightmare come true, and it should lead the NCAA and conference officials to move quickly to establish stricter standards for crowd control and harsher penalties for teams that become involved in fights. If the players had known beforehand that they would face expulsion for even raising a fist, the spark that set off the riot might never have been struck.
By now most fans have seen the shocking TV footage of the brawl, which began with 8:04 to go in the game. It started when Central's Derrick Leak pushed A&T's Jimmy Humphries, and Humphries retaliated. Both benches emptied, and spectators spilled out onto the court. Some fans grabbed hard plastic chairs and began swinging them. Witnesses said members of the A&T band used their instruments, even tubas, as weapons. Security guards were hopelessly outnumbered. Only after five scary minutes did the teams finally go to their locker rooms. As police rushed to the scene, A&T athletic director Orby Moss announced that the game had been suspended; A&T was leading 39-38. After the crowd of about 7,000 departed, more fighting took place outside the arena. All told, seven people had to be taken to the hospital.
The schools later decided to cancel the game entirely. Otherwise, however, officials were unclear about what, if any, further action would be taken. A&T chancellor Edward B. Fort formed a 13-member task force to investigate the incident and said a student tribunal would be held for any students that could be identified in videotapes.
Unfortunately, the tapes then became a major point of contention. Because both schools are predominantly black, Fort, among others, implied that the widespread media coverage was racially motivated. And A&T coach Don Corbett argued, not unreasonably, that his program's achievements—seven NCAA tournament appearances in the last eight years—have received scant attention, while the coverage of the riot was so damaging that opponents will use it as an excuse not to play A&T in Greensboro. Said Corbett, "It really deflates our program."
During warmups before a recent game involving the Rancho Santiago ( Calif.) College women's team, forward Susan Helm was constantly interrupted by five girls who kept leaving their seats to come onto the court. They weren't fans seeking autographs; they were Helm's daughters, and they needed help with their homework. "Usually they just sit in the stands and play with their Barbies," says Helm, a 36-year-old sophomore.
Helm married in 1973, a year after graduating from high school. The marriage lasted until 1988, when, says Helm, her husband "decided he was unhappy" and moved out. She was left with the couple's five daughters: Sarah, now 13, Karen, 12, Lisa, 10, and twins Katie and Rebecca, 8. After deciding that she needed a college degree to find a job that paid her enough to support her children (right now she gets by on child support), Helm enrolled at Rancho Santiago, a junior college with five campuses in the Orange County area. She also decided to try out for the basketball team to improve her self-esteem. "I needed something to pull me through a difficult time in my life," says Helm.
The 6-foot Helm had never played organized basketball although she comes from an athletic family. "I grew up playing H-O-R-S-E with my brothers," she says, "but that was about it."
At first Helm was befuddled by the intricacies of the game. "I could see a lot of the movement on the court, but doing it was so difficult," she says. Although only a reserve, at week's end she was averaging five points and four rebounds per game and making 50% of her shots for the 5-13 Dons. She also has a 3.85 grade point average as an environmental planning and ecology major.