City College sports crisis reflects school gender gap

March 08, 2000|By Gregory Kane

THE POUT FEST started at City College last fall. It was interrupted briefly by city school chief Dr. Robert Booker but then picked up again in January.

The culprit -- or hero -- is City College Principal Joe Wilson, who has instituted new requirements for participating in extracurricular activities. Students who are absent four times can't participate, nor can those who are late 14 times. Students have to keep a 70 average, as well as a grade of 60 or better in three classes.

Some City students -- and even some faculty -- have a problem with this. In a couple of Sun articles, several students complained of poor bus service as a cause of their tardiness. Others complained that the policy, when instituted in January, was sprung on students. City's basketball team lost several players and couldn't compete in the state tournament. (The wrestling team was minimally affected, proving that wrestlers are smarter than basketball players.)

The pouters should get little sympathy from alumni, particularly those of the pre-1980 era who remember rules just as stringent. Three instances of lateness resulted in a suspension. Fourteen were unheard of. Dozens of superb athletes never got to show their stuff, because they were academically ineligible. This happened frequently during the middle to late 1960s, but it didn't keep City's teams from racking up championships in football, basketball, wrestling, cross country and track.

The school was different then. When I entered City in the fall of 1966, nearly 4,000 students were enrolled. All boys. With that kind of pool to select talent from, it's no wonder City won championships in several sports.

It's a changed world at the school today. That's the untold story of the new rules imposed at City. You've heard about the requirements, the grousing from students and faculty. What you haven't heard about -- because the issue is potentially a political time bomb -- is the gender gap at what was one of the country's most prominent public schools for males.

In 1979, City went coeducational. Female enrollment increased over the years. The school is approximately 70 percent female and 30 percent male. At an alumni association meeting last year, Wilson discussed his new criteria for participating in extracurricular activities and mentioned that with each entering freshman class, City's male population decreases.

An assistant football coach put it more bluntly. In a letter addressed to several alumni, the coach said City is in the midst of a lack-of-boys crisis. The annual City-Poly football game was played only after Booker intervened to let several players sacked by Wilson's policy suit up for the contest. But the City-Poly junior varsity football game had to be canceled because City didn't have enough players.

The gritty varsity football team was outgunned and outmanned all season. It lost by wide margins to Walbrook and Edmondson. Edmondson, for heaven's sake! Any City alumnus circa 1966 will tell you that the next worse thing to losing a football game to Poly is losing one to Edmondson.

It looks like alumni will have to get used to the situation. City doesn't have the number of males it once had. Wilson said Poly -- another formerly all-male school -- hasn't quite reached City's point but is experiencing similar problems. Augie Waibel, the great Poly football coach who retired a few years ago, lamented just before his departure the difficulty of attracting good football players to his academically challenging school. (Poly beat City last year, but both teams had mediocre seasons.)

What can be done? Probably little. As the proud dad of a daughter who graduated from City in 1990, I'm not sure I'd want to do anything. When girls entered City College, they brought an enthusiasm and a spirit that the school hadn't seen in years. When I visited the school several months ago, a couple of girls greeted me on the steps.

"Visitor?" they asked.

"Alumnus," I answered.

"What year?"

"1969."

"1969!" they answered, beaming with happiness. I never received that kind of welcome during my visits to the all-male City.

The handwriting is on the wall. With schoolboys ever more inclined to foolishness while schoolgirls take studying seriously, the previously all-male City College might soon be the all-female City College.

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