Among all the Tom Dooleys and Peace Corpsmen and other selfless Americans who have carried the flag of democracy abroad, none are more inspiring and devoted than the earnest little band of coaches who labor to make real athletes out of the untrained Cambodian youth. There is Bill Sorsby, a onetime University of Oregon sprinter and hurdler who gave up his job as track coach at the University of Idaho. There is Joe Foggy, a former Tennessee State football player who now teaches boxing. There is Phil Reavis, the Villanova high jumper who was on the 1956 Olympic team. There was Dr. Bernard Loft, a swimming coach from Indiana, who has since been spelled by another American.
All these men have beaten the tropical bushes of the Cambodian countryside, exposing their digestive systems to indescribable punishment while looking for the most talented young athletes of the nation. Once they have assembled their pupils in the training quarters at Pnompenh, they must act as parents, teachers, coaches and priests to teen-agers who speak not a word of English—and not much more French. Awaiting the completion of a Sihanouk-inspired municipal stadium at Pnompenh, Sorsby and Reavis must run their track team up and down the steps and around the perimeter of the Pnompenh temple in the heart of the city. Foggy's boxers work out in a gym that looks like Mammy Yokum's chicken coop. Dr. Loft's swimmers are forced to thread their way through the small fry bathing in the plunge of the local French sports club.
Perhaps the greatest frustration of all belongs to Chris Appel, who two years ago was an all-conference basketball player for the University of Southern California. Because of his basketball talent and because he learned to speak facile French from his Russian and French parents, Chris was asked to go to Cambodia and coach basketball under the aegis of The Asia Foundation.
When he arrived, Chris found a Chinese Communist in charge. He also discovered that nothing was about to make the neutralist Cambodian government risk an international incident by awarding the job to an American. Anyway, Cambodians had always thought the Chinese to be better basketball players than the Americans. So Chris Appel promptly organized a makeshift team of student teachers-in-training and almost beat the Chinese-trained team in the finals of the national tournament. This near miss improved Appel's position—and the respect of Cambodians for American basketball—but Chris has not yet fully succeeded in deposing his Chinese rival. Nevertheless, he continues to labor in Sihanouk's behalf and to share the Prince's concern for the continued growth of sport in Cambodia.
"We are handicapped in some sports," Prince Sihanouk said recently, "by our small stature. This applies to athletics in general, with the result that we have never put up much of a show as athletes at international games. Lack of height also prevents us from giving a good account of ourselves at basketball despite the natural aptitude shown by many of the younger generation for this game."
Coaches Sorsby and Appel got to thinking about this statement of the Prince's one afternoon, and Sorsby said, "I wish we could get that idea out of their heads. I wish we could get some of our best short athletes over here to show them it doesn't matter how tall you are. I wish we could get Jim Beatty and Paul Stuber, the Oregon high jumper who has done seven feet."
Appel, who himself stands 6 feet 2, cut in, "I wish we could get Bob Cousy over. They've got plenty of guys as tall as Cousy. They don't even know we've got basketball players like that. Imagine what they would think if they could see some of our really good basketball teams like the Celtics. I can't even get good movies of the pro games to show them. Or imagine if they could see the Harlem Globetrotters. God, that would be worth all the foreign aid money we've put into this country for the last 10 years. Instead of that they send us the San Francisco Ballet or the Budapest String Quartet. A lot of good that does."
"Gee, there are so many things we could do," Sorsby said. "If we could just get them a decent diet with enough protein. These kids just don't have a chance to build up their endurance eating things like rice and noodles and barbecued tarantulas or whatever those things are that they get. They have so much natural ability that it hurts you to know that they aren't making the most of it."
Elsewhere and on another occasion, Prince Sihanouk said last summer, "I don't consider the winning of athletic honors necessary or very important. But we do attach very great importance to the physique and character-building aspect of our sports program.
"Nevertheless, our status as an independent nation does impose on us the obligation to acquit ourselves worthily, not only in the field of sport but also in all those other activities in which we are called upon to play our part.