After four weeks of controversy, a federal judge in Cleveland has directed a top school administrator to "reconsider" a memorandum circulated last month setting racial quotas for high school sports teams.
While agreeing that racially integrated teams are a socially desirable goal, U.S. District Judge Frank Battisti held that "this goal can be achieved without the imposition of debilitating quotas." He ordered Donald R. Waldrip, the court-appointed desegegation administrator for Cleveland's schools, to produce an alternative plan for the 65 percent black Cleveland school system.
On Nov. 8, Waldrip distributed to principals and coaches in high schools throughout the system a memorandum directing them to recruit white athletes to play on the predominantly black basketball teams and black athletes to play on the predominantly white baseball teams. The basketball teams should be at least 20 percent white, the memorandum directed, and the baseball teams at least 50 percent black.
Although the memorandum named only baseball and basketball, Waldrip said the 50 to 80 percent black and the 20 to 50 percent white quota would apply to all other sports, for girls as well as boys, reasoned Waldrip, are extracurricular activities of the school system, and as such are subject to the desegregation order issued by Battisti in February 1978.
Community reaction was vocal and immediate.
"It borders on the absurd," John Gallagher, president of the Cleveland school board, said. "It's the most ridiculous interpretation of the constitutional requirement to desegregate our schools I've ever heard of. There's been a tremendous hue and cry.
"It's basing participation on pigmentation instead of ability. We have a very good basketball program here and we always do well in the state tournaments, but there has been a lot of concern that our teams might be operating at a disadvantage."
At John F. Kennedy High School, which has a white enrollment of 200 in a student body of 15,500, five whites and 95 blacks tried our for basketball this year; none of the whites was good enough to make the team, Said Kennedy Athletic Director Jim Chambers.
"Our manager is white and he tried out for the team, but he knew he couldn't make it," said Chambers. "He brought two of his friends with him, but they both quit when he got cut. There was one boy the principal brought down, but he lost interest. The last one dropped out when he saw the competition he was up against.
"The whole thing was ridiculous. If they had enforced it, I would have suited up my statistician, who also is white, and my manager and just had them sit on the bench."
Jim Templin, athletic director at James F. Rhodes High School, said the order could have denied athletes the opportunity to compete for athletic scholarships.
"This just isn't something you can do by edict," said Templin. "Sports are the type of activity where you've got to base membership on your abilities and talents not on whether you're black or white."
James Hardiman, president of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP and one of the attorneys who litigated the lawsuit that resulted in Battisti's 1978 desegregation order, said he has misgivings about sports quotas.
"As a goal toward which we should all work, I have no problem," said Hardiman. "As a hard and fast rule, it would be too inflexible to work with."
However, one high school basketball coach, Don Hilt at Max Hayes, said the memorandum presented no great difficulty.
"It was no big problem," he said. "We just gave suits to two more white players."
In directing Waldrip to reconsider his memorandum, Battisti said opportunities to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities should be open to all students.But because such activities, unlike school attendance, are voluntary, quotas should not be set.
Waldrip said he would comply with the order and produce an alternative plan for racial integration of high school sports. He said his memorandum was intended primarily as a recruiting effort. "It was never my intention for a white athlete to replace a more qualified black athlete on a team," he said.
The problems developed, he said, when one of his aides wrote "this must be implemented" on the memorandum before it was distributed to the coaches and principals.
Warren Brown, assistant director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said he knows of no other school system where desegregation orders have been accompanied by racial quotas for sports teams.