Tuesday, August 20, 1996
Jack Kemp a lesson in sports edge

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Just think. Only 11 more weeks of football metaphors until the November presidential election. Jack Kemp, as we all know, has put Bob Dole ''back in the game.'' Before that, I'm afraid, there were those in the Republican Party who were ready to punt.

Now, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary and former football star has joined the team, and together he and Mr. Dole plan to win one for the Gipper.

The vice presidential candidate often is referred to as the quarterback, but Mr. Kemp carefully insists he is merely Mr. Dole's blocker. I think that means that he will not try to call the plays at this particular time.

But I could be mistaken. I have never played football. Not much basketball or baseball either, unless you count neighborhood stuff where the boys had to let me play because my brothers made them.

Title IX missed me by a few years.

Teamwork and leadership

So I may not understand the many nuances of sports jargon, but there's one thing I do understand. Mr. Kemp's experience on the field is an essential part of his resume. And I mean that sincerely. Arguably his competitive spirit, his confidence, even his attitudes on race relations come from his experience as an athlete.

Games can prepare you for real life. Unfortunately, that's a learning experience most girls in this country had to get on their own time before Title IX became part of the education landscape in 1972.

That was when it became law that school boards and universities seeking federal funds had to make sports equally available to boys and girls. That year, one in 27 girls was a high-school athlete. Today, the figure is one in three. Maybe this is a sign that girls are getting in practice for the Big Game. You know, business and politics.

Madeleine Blais in her book about a championship girls high school basketball team, In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle, reports this conversation between some sports dads:

''Some people belittle sports,'' says one. ''Dismiss games as a series of silly maneuvers.''

''Life is maneuvers,'' says another. ''And life is not silly.''

And equal opportunity is never silly.

Ms. Blais called basketball a game of subtle felonies, something that we girls may still want to avoid learning. But it wouldn't hurt us to learn how to use our elbows under the net.

More than a game

''Inasmuch as a competitive team sport for women helps instill confidence, it is a good training ground for future women business executives,'' Cincinnati Bell's CEO John LaMacchia said.

He's trying to raise money to see that some outstanding female athletes get the chance to show off here. He got involved the new-fashioned way. He had a talented daughter. She has departed the court - but with the zeal of a convert, Mr. LaMacchia carries on.

The Bell exec is helping raise $700,000 for Cincinnati's debut as host city for the women's National Collegiate Athletic Association Final Four championship, scheduled for March of next year. The promoters here are a little better than halfway to the goal.

Don Schumacher of the Greater Cincinnati Sports and Events Commission says, ''All of our prospects understand that this is a contributor arrangement and not a sponsor arrangement.

That means that the big donors so far - Kroger, Cincinnati Bell, American Financial Group, Mercantile Stores, Cinergy, Western-Southern Life Insurance, Procter & Gamble and Skyline Chili - probably are doing it because they think it's good for the city.

Or maybe the people at those companies know some young women they think could make some touchdowns, if they get some decent blocking. Or maybe they just remember what being part of a team meant to them.

''People don't realize the formative value of sports,'' Mr. LaMacchia said. ''I've become a strong believer since I have seen it work so well with my children and their friends.'' As we all have.

So, little by little, girls are getting into the game. Maybe someday one of them can be some presidential candidate's blocker. Or even the quarterback.

Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax to 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM).