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12 MILES TO FORT ERIE
The wisdom of letting youngsters participate in Little League baseball, peewee football and other rigidly structured, parent-dominated sports programs has long been open to serious question. The latest to express misgivings about over-organized children's sport is Scotty Bowman, who coached Team Canada in the recent Canada Cup tournament. The Canadians were routed by the Soviet Union 8-1 in the championship game, and Bowman, general manager and coach of the NHL's Buffalo Sabres, suggested that the formidable Soviet hockey program had benefited from—and this will surely surprise some people—the U.S.S.R.'s unregimented approach to the sport, at least as far as kids are concerned. Bowman told Montreal Gazette Columnist Ted Black-man that on a visit to Moscow last March, he had been struck by the contrast between what he found there and the situation in U.S. and Canadian cities.
"You walk around neighborhoods there...and between every apartment...is a concrete lot flooded with water and kids skating, skating, skating for hours and hours," said Bowman. "And you know, they don't even start organizing the kids into teams until they're 12 or so. Not like here. My kid, Stan, is only eight years old and they got him playing a 62-game schedule in Buffalo this year with road trips to Boston and Toronto. Parents are killing hockey here with organization.
"We've got to get the kids back to having fun skating and handling the puck. I call 'em weekend hockey players. They get 'em all dressed up in $500 worth of equipment Saturday morning, they get an hour's ice in the arena and each kid gets—what?—maybe 20 minutes' ice time. Cripes, by the time he's 14 he's sick of the game or can't keep up with those who learned to skate well by accident. The parents love the whole trip, but is it good for the kids? My kid's coach wants to "bring the team here to play a Montreal team. Eight years old. I told him, 'Drive 'em across the bridge 12 miles to Fort Erie. [Stan doesn't] even know where Montreal is.' "
Bowman further argued that youngsters could best learn to skate by holding off on playing hockey for a while and concentrating instead on figure skating. But it's his intimation that this may also be the best way to avoid burning kids out that seems most compelling. In a later column, Blackman quoted retired NHL great Bobby Orr as saying, "I agree totally with Scotty Bowman. Parents are ruining our hockey by organizing kids into teams and leagues at too young an age."
Despite a history of success on the field and court, University of Maryland football and basketball teams suffer the box-office blahs. Last season's 8-3-0 football team sold out 45,000-seat Byrd Stadium only once—for Penn State—in six home games. And while the Terps had a 21-10 record in basketball and had no trouble selling out for the North Carolinas and Notre Dames on their schedule, 14,500-seat Cole Field House had empty seats for the Fairleigh Dickinsons and the Georgia Techs. So Maryland has launched an ambitious ad campaign to fill those seats. The campaign is supported by a hefty $90,000 budget, $40,000 of which is being paid to the unlikely star of the ads, Rodney Dangerfield.
The chronically put-upon Dangerfield does his tie-tugging, brow-mopping, eye-bulging, neck-squirming best to persuade potential Terp fans to get on the shtick. Dangerfield's woebegone likeness graces billboards on which he says, "I don't get no respect, but Maryland does." In newspaper ads, the comedian is quoted as saying, "Tailgating with the Terps is what I call a respectable way to spend a Saturday." Then there's a 30-second radio-TV spot in which Dangerfield appears with Maryland football coach Jerry Claiborne, who has sometimes been accused of being short on charisma.
Dangerfield: "Hey, Jerry, you and your guys, you get respect all over. How do you do it, eh? Because I don't get any respect at all. My twin brother, he forgot my birthday."