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Blacks Find Support in Sports but Not as Scholars

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Fairness or Favortism? One in an occasional series

July 25, 1995|SAM FULWOOD III | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Butler says all that began to change after he took his basketball team to watch the 1968 Final Four tournament, played at nearby Cole Field House at the University of Maryland. The youths were impressed by the grandeur of big-time college basketball. More important, Butler got a chance to persuade Jack Gardner, then head coach at Utah, to visit a practice for the D.C. All-Stars game, a postseason event for the city's black teams.

Gardner was so impressed by the quality of play, he signed four of Butler's players to scholarships.

"Those kids had D averages," Butler says. "They couldn't have gone to Utah right away, so Jack Gardner arranged for them to attend junior colleges before they went on to play at Utah."

Other coaches saw Butler's proteges play and asked around to find out where they could get similar players. "Coaches would call me from places I had never heard of before and I would always have somebody to send to them," Butler says with a broad, proud smile. "I didn't know it at the time, but I had just developed my own affirmative action program."

However, he adds, "almost nobody has ever called me to talk about a kid without talking about sports."

One exception is Tony Gould, who volunteers with the Greater Washington Boys and Girls Club. He called Butler several years ago to solicit help in identifying youths from Butler's club who might be interested in attending Woodberry Forest School, an all-boys boarding school near Charlottesville, Va.

Gould, 54, a commercial real estate broker in Washington, is on the Woodberry board of trustees. "I went to the school in the 1950s and it was all white," says Gould, who is white. "Then I went to Brown University and there were only two blacks in my class. Since then I've wanted to do everything I could to help give black students an opportunity to get away from the hard, mean streets to improve themselves."

Since meeting Butler four years ago, he has helped eight Washington-area boys go to Woodberry, which has an enrollment of about 360 in grades 9-12. "I haven't just targeted athletes," he says. "I go around looking for the most talented young people who wouldn't have the opportunity for a good education without some outside help."

And he is troubled by the recruiters for sports-addled prep schools and big-time colleges.

"I call them the bird dogs, sitting on the sidelines of seventh- and eighth-grade Police Athletic League or Little League games" waiting to pounce on the young players, he says.

"In the majority of the cases, I believe they are looking for athletic talent for the teams. The affirmative action they're doing is the kind that's going to win games and help the coach renegotiate contracts."

Times staff writer Jennifer Corbett contributed to this story.

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About This Series

The Times examines affirmative action, a policy that has left its imprint on the workplace and college campuses over the last 30 years. With some now questioning whether giving preferences to minorities has been fair to all, this series, which will appear periodically throughout 1995, will measure its impact on American institutions, ideas and attitudes.

* Previously: Why affirmative action became an issue in 1995, its legal underpinnings, its impact on presidential politics, the difficulties of defining a minority, the views of its beneficiaries, a Times poll showing ambivalent attitudes on the issue, how informal preferences have molded American life, the mind at work in racial stereotyping and the evolution of diversity programs in the workplace.

* Sunday: Ever since Al Campanis' ill-spoken comments about blacks and their ability to succeed in sports management, coaching and management positions in major league basketball, baseball and football have diversified at a rate that outpaces the rest of American businesses.

* Monday: A look at minor league baseball, a place where there are still pockets of sexism and stereotypes, and its efforts to diversify.

* Today: How ultra-efficient recruiting of minority athletes at all grade levels has put a premium in inner city neighborhoods on developing athletic, as opposed to academic, skills.

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