AS IF CLEVELAND didn't already have enough troubles, its school system has undergone -- and fortunately, survived -- the issuance of a singularly silly and fundamentally bad ruling under the banner of racial desegregation. On Nov. 8, a court-appointed desegregation administrator distributed an eye-popper of a memo to high school principals and coaches: it directed them to recruit white athletes to play on the system's mostly black basketball teams and black athletes to play on mostly white baseball teams. Basketball teams should be at least 20 percent white, the memo directed, and baseball teams at least 50 percent black.

Why the memo mentioned only baseball and basketball wasn't clear (maybe a flip of the coin?), but, the administrator said these quotas would apply to all other sports, for girls as well as boys. Sports, he reasoned, are extracurricular activities of the school system, and as such were subject to a desegregation order issued by U.S. District Judge Frank Battisti nearly three years ago.

Time out -- because here comes the judge himself, and to the cheers of players and fans alike in Cleveland, he calls it out of bounds and directs the administrator to reconsider. Opportunities to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities should be open to all students, Judge Battisti has just noted, but because these activities -- unlike school attendance -- are voluntary, they should not be played by by the racial numbers.

The administrator now explains that one of his aides wrote "This must be implemented" on the memo before it was distributed. Perhaps -- but better still the sentence might have read "This should be destroyed." Consider, for one example, the case of John F. Kennedy High School in Cleveland, which has a white enrollment of 200 in a student body of 1,500. Five whites and 95 blacks tried out for basketball this year. None of the whites was good enough to make the team, says the athletic director.Had the ruling stuck, "I would have suited up mmy statistician . . . and my manager and just had them sit on the bench."

Ah, but how long could he have gone with an all-white statistician? It never did add up in the first place.