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"The ACLU has a suit going right now against kids getting whipped in Ohio," Woltering said. "ACLU, you know, the American Communist Lawyers Union."
Mayor Frank Witt, who owned a supermarket, preferred to stay out of the fight over the bond issue. He didn't want to confuse the two institutions of city council, of which he was head, and the school board of which he wasn't a member, and he had doubts about the wisdom of asking the citizens of Hamilton for $17.5 million. But the vociferousness of the Taxpayers Association propelled Witt into action. First, he personally placed an ad in the paper, urging passage of the school-bond issue. Then he agreed to appear with Relic at a town meeting to support a single high school. The meeting was held in the auditorium of the Hamilton branch of Miami University.
Thirty citizens showed up in a hall that could hold over 450. Peter Relic, an articulate but not always effective spokesman for his cause, went first. To a group of parents concerned about educational opportunity, he emphasized that Hamilton athletic teams would improve dramatically with only one high school. The parents felt patronized, the very thing Relic wanted most to avoid.
For Witt, the politician, the meeting provided a rare opportunity. Without notes, he mounted the podium for a speech he had no idea he was going to give until he gave it. "The new community high school is not an extravagance for the taxpayer, it is an investment in Hamilton's future," he said. "It can end the isolation of our neighborhoods, heal the lesions in our community. It can unite East Side and West Side, black and white, rich and poor and middle. They're telling us to watch out for boogie men; I say watch out for them! Watch out for those who would isolate us from each other. Watch out for those who sneak around inciting fear and race hostility. They tear the fabric of a society that needs mending. They serve ignorance, not knowledge, and knowledge is the purpose of all schools. A progressive educational system is the foundation and backbone of our youth, and our youth are the backbone of the future. I urge you to support a single, consolidated high school for the city of Hamilton." When he left the rostrum, there was only scattered applause.
The voters rejected the bond issue by more than three to one. Not long after the balloting, Relic announced he was leaving Hamilton for Washington and a long title—Deputy Assistant Secretary for Education. "I couldn't turn down the opportunity, but I feel very frustrated," he said candidly. "I started a lot here and finished nothing."
As play resumes Garfield gets only a single free throw by Chapman, while Kolesar shakes off McCoy and combines with Sam Marcum to make four unanswered baskets for Taft. The 40-26 score indicates that the embarrassing mismatch Flatiron had predicted could come to pass. Although Hodge strikes back with two quick baskets and a free throw, he's unable to set up his teammates, who are smothered by the taller Tigers. Nine points looks like a hopeless chasm that can only grow wider.
A tall, rangy black man on the Garfield side jumps down from the stands and leads a cheer. He wears a low, wide-brimmed panama hat, a black shirt, white tie and a black suit with white pinstripes too wide for a banker and too narrow for the center stripe on a highway. The cheer: "Aw shucks, hey now, Griffin's gettin' down. Yet and still we'll be aroun' 'cause with our pride, jump back, show you where it's at, when it comes to winnin' we're second to none, like we know that you know that we know we're Number One!"
The gap has increased to a seemingly unclosable 12 points when Hodge intercepts a Marcum pass. He laterals to Tony McCoy, who converts the turnover. The stolen ball fires up Hodge and the rest of the Griffins, and they step up the pace to Hodge's rhythm. Taft goes cold, and Hodge lifts the pace still further. He swarms all over the Tigers—on offense, defense, forecourt and back, out of position, stealing the ball, setting a pick, making the play. Once he even passes the ball to himself. When McCollum sends both Marcum and Grevey to cover Hodge, Chapman, McCoy and a 6'3" sophomore named Jeff Jones score in turn for Garfield. At the end of the third period, Chapman takes a long jumper that hits the rim and springs away. In the scramble for the rebound Hodge bats the ball through the hoop at the buzzer. Taft is on top only 46-42.
The last quarter begins with Hodge stealing the ball and making an easy layup to bring his team within two points. Grevey strikes back with a long set shot, and the game stabilizes, which is to say that the pace returns to Taft's likeing. Garfield can get no closer than four points. Hodge cools off, looking tired. Time is on the Tigers' side. With two minutes left, they make a free throw to go ahead by five. Hodge is fouled, but misses both shots. From the Garfield fans comes a cheer, "Hey, no sweat, the game ain't over yet." But it really looks as if it is.
With 30 seconds remaining in the game, Grubbs shoots for Taft and the ball caroms off the hoop and then against the backboard and finally bounces crazily to the side. The two players nearest it are the 5'9" Hodge and 6'5" Mike Grammel, Taft's center. Hodge makes a soaring jump, but eight inches are too many to give away and Grammel comes down with the ball. Hodge comes down onto Grammel's elbow, which accidentally catches Hodge underneath an arm. A harmless, momentarily painful jab, it has the effect of an injection of adrenaline. Hodge doesn't so much take the ball out of Grammel's hands as leap it out. In one motion, as if the play had been planned all season, he hurls the ball downcourt to Chapman, who dribbles twice and scores. Chapman is fouled as he scores, and he makes the foul shot, closing the gap to 59-57 with 19 seconds to play.