When moral principles won out over basketball ambitions

In a world of moral compromise and rationalization, it’s uplifting to read about a man who did the right thing at the right time.

That man was the Rev. John Lo Schiavo, who served as president of the University of San Francisco from 1977 to 1991.  Lo Schiavo died this month at age 90.

USF, a Jesuit institution, had been a basketball powerhouse for many years when Lo Schiavo took over. In 1982, Lo Schiavo closed down the USF basketball program because of NCAA rules violations, although he wasn’t required to do so. He took the action because the violations had created a perception the university was “being hypocritical or naïve or inept or duplicitous, or perhaps some combination of all those,” Lo Schiavo said, according to a New York Times story.

“We have even had to suffer the accusation that we attempted to obstruct justice in order to protect a basketball player and preserve him for the team,” Lo Schiavo said. “However unjust those perceptions are — and they are grossly unjust — everyone who cares about USF. must recognize that those perceptions have developed as a product of the basketball program. We have no responsible choice but to rid the university of the burden of them.”

With that, Lo Schiavo suspended the basketball program until the 1985-86 season and then reinstated it under tight recruiting regulations and stricter rules on over booster donations and athletes’ academic life. Since then, the San Francisco basketball team has appeared in only one NCAA tournament, in 1998, losing in the first round.

In its heyday, the USF  Dons won 60 consecutive games from 1954 to 1956 and two national championships. It was led by star players Bill Russell and K. C. Jones. In the 1970s, led by players including Bill Cartwright, who went on to play for the Knicks and the Chicago Bulls, the Dons returned to prominence, making several appearances in the NCAA tournament.

However, for a series of violations, including boosters’ payments to athletes, questionable recruiting practices and tutors’ taking tests for players, the basketball program was twice put on probation by the NCAA, in the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons. One coach resigned; another was fired.

Then, in June 1982, according to the Time, Quintin Dailey, who had averaged 25.2 points per game for the Dons the previous season, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault for an attack on a nursing student.

Dailey was sentenced to three years’ probation — he went on to play 10 years in the NBA — but when a court document revealed that he had acknowledged receiving $1,000 for a no-show job from a university booster, Lo Schiavo said enough was enough. He chose to forgo the revenue, publicity and acclaim of the university’s successful men’s basketball program and instead stand up for institutional rectitude, the Times said.

The controversial decision did not spell doom for USF. Lo Schiavo’s administration balanced budgets, eliminated debt and increased the endowment more than eightfold, to $38.7 million from $4.6 million. In 2010, a campus publication, USF magazine, declared that Father Lo Schiavo “has done more good, raised more money and had a greater impact than anyone ever associated with the University of San Francisco.”





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Equal play for equal pay, says this old basketball player

I’m no longer a dominating basketball player. I can’t say I deserve to play every minute of the game because I’m better than my teammates. I am, at 69, an average player in the Capital Athletic Club B league.

But I still want a decent amount of playing time, and I think I deserve it. Why? Because I’m an equal dues-paying member of the club, and I signed up for this activity. I want a good workout in a competitive team game. Why should I get less than other members?

I’ve been making my proposal for fair playing time to club officials for months, and the issue is coming to a head this week as preparations begin for the club’s summer league play. Basketball commissioner Bruce Coolidge and club manager Rick Leonard have assured me the matter will be taken up with the league’s advisory board. They declined my offer to address the board personally.

Frankly, I’m surprised club officials haven’t already adopted my proposal – or a compromise version calling for a minimum 20 minutes of playing time for all players. Current rules call for a measly minimum of 10 minutes. Club officials are well aware of all the griping that goes on about lack of playing time, some of it intensified by team captains who indulge in favoritism, ageism and sexism. Why let this fester in a club that makes a lot of effort to keep members happy and loyal?

The equal-playing proposal is relatively modest, given that teams are limited to seven players chosen in a draft system. Each player would get 28 minutes in our 40-minute games. If a 20-minute minimum were established, captains could play their top five players 32 minutes. And, as often happens, teams are down one player, meaning more playing for everyone.

I see a lot of winners under this proposal and few losers. In this club setting, equal play for equal pay should be the governing rule.

Meanwhile, the draft for summer B league season is scheduled this week, and I’m sure there will be a concerted effort to break up the Bombers, my team in the winter league. We won the B league championship. After finishing second in the regular season, we knocked off the No. 1 team in the playoff championship game in April.  

The Bombers were notable for being the oldest team, by far, in the seven-team league, having an average age of 53. That’s about 15 years older than the league average. We also became known as a team that played rugged, suffocating defense game after game. We held our opponents in the championship game, the Renegades, a team with two of the league’s top scorers, to a modest 41 points.

The Bombers, who played most of the season with only six players, had two steady scorers in captain Bob Machado and Andrew Dyba, a rugged rebounder in Herb Stonebraker, a defensive specialist in Marte Castanos, and reliable role players in Gary Magana Sr. and myself. Our seventh player, Rich Henning, was lost early in the season because of a broken finger.

I should note that in the championship game, Mr. Castanos,  usually content to be a blue-collar defensive pest, ball stealer and all-around hustle player, overcame his reluctance to shoot and made a series of outside shots that seemed to demoralize the Renegades.





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Traveling solo takes a special mindset


A crocodile takes it easy.

A crocodile takes it easy.

A three-toed sloth dangles from a tree branch.

A three-toed sloth dangles from a tree branch.

Costa Rica is known for its scarlet macaws.

Costa Rica is known for its scarlet macaws.

A white-faced monkey gives its kid a ride.

I was a late arrival to international traveling. I spent most of my adult years imagining myself as an adventurous fellow, but I always found excuses to avoid trips to far-off places. Part of the reason was a fear of getting out my comfort zone; another was the fact that I was single. Traveling solo takes self-confidence and resourcefulness at any age. When you pass 65, you throw in added concerns about medical problems arising far from home.

When my wife and I went to Costa Rica this month, we were part of a 16-member tour group run by Overseas Adventure Travel. The Boston-based company specializes in educational and adventure tours for seniors and baby boomers. The brochure specified that participants must be able to walk three miles unassisted and participate in six to eight hours of physical activities each day. We would be trekking through rain forests, riding horses, rafting on rapid rivers and traveling long distances by minibus over unpaved roads. Oh, yes, and we would have the option of ziplining through jungle canopy.

One interesting member of our group, which had 10 women and six men, was a woman from upstate New York named Joyce. She was at least 80 years old and was traveling solo. She participated in all our activities, including horse riding up and down steep, rocky trails, and kept up fine with the group pace. She also gave ziplining a try.

 Let me say that ziplining is not for the faint of heart. When I signed up for it, I thought it would be a mellow glide through the treetops, offering a different view of exotic creatures. Instead, I was outfitted with about 15 pounds of metal clamps and ropes, walked 20 minutes up a steep hillside, listened to lengthy instructions on how to avoid going into a spin or whacking my head, and then watched as the first member of our group shot down a 150-foot cable at perhaps 30 miles an hour. There were 10 such runs on this outing.

Joyce came through the experience with a smile on her face and enthusiastic exclamations. After an initial wave of fear, I found the runs exhilarating, but I do wonder whether I’ll be up for such an adventure 10 years down the road. I also wonder whether I will want to handle the stress, uncertainty and fatigue of long-distance travel at that age. Doing it alone, as Joyce did, takes inner strengths I haven’t cultivated.

Interestingly, women seem more inclined toward solo travel than men. A representative for Overseas Adventure Travel told the New York Times that 80 percent of the solo travelers on its tours are women. In addition, the percentage of solo travelers is on the rise. More than 40 percent of OAT travelers are solo, up from 35 percent in 2013 and 27 percent in 2007, said spokeswoman Priscilla O’Reilly.

A good number of these female solo travelers, Reilly said, are married to men who are either still working or are disinclined to travel. Rather than curb their enthusiasm, these women do it on their own. “Some of them admit that after having taken care of spouses and kids for so many years, it’s nice to have an experience on one’s own without worrying, ‘Is Fred having a good time?’ ”

In our tour group, there were three married women whose husbands chose to stay home.

The travel industry is responding to this upsurge in solo travel. Said the Times: “The climate for solo travel is (slowly) improving. Some fees are being dropped, and more packages and deals are being marketed to people who plan to vacation on their own.”

Traveling is a good way to push the envelope and discover you can still be young at heart and open to new experiences.


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Trip to Costa Rica begins with exploding volcano

The two-week adventure trip to Costa Rica began with a bang: Just as our plane had begun its initial descent into the airport at San Jose, the pilot announced that a volcano near the capital had exploded. The airport was closed until further notice.

My wife and I and our friend Barbara had started out from our Sacramento homes about 16 hours earlier and were looking forward to a night’s sleep. Instead, we were flying in a nighttime of uncertainty. Soon, our American Airlines pilot announced that we would have to return all the way to Dallas, more than a three-hour flight. As I tensed up, Carol invoked the mantra we have adopted from the beleaguered Londoners of World War II – “Stay calm and carry on.”

Ten minutes later, the pilot announced that the plan had changed, and we would be flying another hour to land in Panama City. We might be able to get a flight back to San Jose in the morning — or not. Who knew how long the volcano would be spewing ash into the sky? My mind raced to images of passengers stranded in European airports for days when a volcano in Iceland exploded in 2010.

I’m not a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. I handle my travel anxiety by making careful plans for all kinds of contingencies and packing a hefty supply of familiar food like peanut butter and cereal. I don’t saunter out of airports in foreign countries and start looking for a taxi and local hotel. I much prefer to travel with tour groups that have a greeter at the airport to whisk me away to a good hotel.

What would happen at the airport in Panama City? Would we have to sleep in chairs or on the floor? Would any restaurants or shops be open at night? Can you safety drink the water at the airport? Was English commonly spoken there?

Frankly, my confidence was not bolstered by being a passenger on a major U.S. carrier, where one’s comfort and convenience are low priorities. I imagined we were in for a long, uncertain ordeal at the Panama City airport.

Such was not the case. The American Airlines personnel performed admirably.  Hotel arrangements had been made before we even landed. Vouchers were distributed quickly. We picked up our luggage, went through Customs fairly quickly and were taken to waiting buses. Carol, Barbara and I were driven to a nearby stylish hotel, where we were given tickets for a free late dinner and drink, as well as a breakfast brunch.

True, it was almost 1 a.m. and we had to be ready to leave the hotel by 7 a.m. on the chance that a midmorning flight to San Jose would be available. Still, my anxiety took a hike and I managed to get a few hours of sleep in a comfortable bed.

Everything was on track in the morning. The Turrialba Volcano 30 miles outside San Jose had quieted down and a 10 a.m. flight was scheduled. We took the long check-in line in stride and only mildly grumbled at having to pass through a main security station and a second one at the departure gate, where my new bottle of water was confiscated. In San Jose, our tour group representative was waiting to greet us and drive us to a restaurant where we would catch up with the rest of our 16-member group.

Looking back at this beginning, I wish I hadn’t made things so hard for myself by indulging in useful fears and worries when uncertainty struck. But I give myself credit for continuing to travel to far-off places that stir my imagination and help me see the world with new eyes.

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Indictment and a steelhead arrive on the same day

Writer’s note: In 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War, I found myself wandering between two worlds: one as a beginning sports editor in the small town of Red Bluff, California, and the other as a draft resister awaiting federal indictment. The steelhead trout run was just getting under way in the Sacramento River. The following piece is the conclusion of a six-part tale of what happened.

The loud knock on the front door awakened me. A Western Union courier handed me a telegram. The message said to call my sister in Berkeley. I walked to a nearby phone booth. I looked into the darkness where the river was flowing, feeling caught between two worlds.

“The indictment came,” my sister said. “You have to report to federal court in Brooklyn in two weeks.”

I didn’t tell her that I was supposed to be out at Perry Riffle in the dawn’s early light. She wouldn’t understand steelhead fishing any more than my co-workers could comprehend a draft resister in their midst, or I could comprehend their indifference to the war, hippies, Black Panthers, LSD and tie-died T-shirts.

A few restless hours later, I was riding my motorcycle through the rolling ranchland east of Red Bluff. Cattle were grazing on the hillsides. I found the gravel road Spencer had marked on his map. A large “No-Trespassing” sign was affixed to the metal cattle guard. The lock on the chain was open. I made sure to close the gate. I headed up a rutted red-dirt path cutting through high, pale grass. Volcanic rocks large and small, thrown down by Mount Lassen eons ago, lay on the hilly land.

A hefty, round-shouldered white cow blocked my path. I beeped my horn. It didn’t move. I tried the horn again with the same result. I had never been so close to a cow before. I didn’t feel afraid because, as a city kid, I knew cows were gentle creatures, like Elsie the cow on the ice cream wrappers back in New York. Finally, I got off my motorcycle and pushed it through the high grass to get around the cow, which eyed me over its shoulder all the while.

I saw a half-dozen fishermen in waders standing ankle-deep at Perry Riffle. The river flowed wide and fast over a rocky, shallow area upstream from them and then flowed into a gradually slowing channel.

“Good god, it’s about time you got here,” Lyle Robertson shouted from the end of the line.

“I got delayed by an ornery white cow that wouldn’t let me through,” I said. “I thought cows were supposed to run from people.”

“You nut – that was a Charolais bull.”

“It didn’t have horns,” I said.

Laughs and snickers rolled down the line of fishermen.

“That’s not where you look to know what’s what,” Robertson said.

I set up my line as Earl had instructed and tied my one and only Duffy at the end. Robertson motioned for me to stand upstream from him.

“Cast a little upstream and let the current carry your line downstream,” Robertson said. “Reel in the slack right away. If it stops, set the hook hard.”

A few casts later, I did just that and snapped off the Duffy. I tied on a pink Glo-bug and went back to work. An hour passed. No one had caught anything. Suddenly, there was a yank on my line and a silver fish flew out of the water about 80 feet downstream. It barreled through the water and came up twice more.

“That’s a goddam half-pounder,” Robertson said.

The fish looked huge to me. I played it in, backed out of the water, and slid the fish up on the rocks. It was about 18 inches long and carried the pale red stripe of a rainbow trout.

“No self-respecting fisherman would call that a steelhead,” Robertson yelled. “That’s a starter fish.”

Whatever it was, I felt it was symbolic. All these hot shot fishermen had gotten skunked. The gods had singled me out, a city kid with a federal indictment and court appearance awaiting me 3,000 miles away. I’d have to leave my job and Red Bluff in a few days. I felt I was heading down a river of no return. Summer camp had ended. The war machine had caught up with me.

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