A huge and hectic event called the National Sports Festival officially closed tonight, ending the 12-day reign of schoolchildren and Olympic heroes over this town.
After two weeks and 34 sports, Baton Rouge showed itself to be a congenial if financially ill-prepared host, and the Festival showed itself to be an ever-growing but perhaps ill-defined happening.
Huge crowds one day dwindled to sparse the next, Olympic stars were upset in one event only to excel in others. Teen-agers, meanwhile, provided much of the entertainment by showing themselves talented beyond their years and capable of heroics at the 1988 Olympics, which was the point of the Festival in the first place.
The last gold medals of the Festival were given out in boxing, gymnastics and ice hockey, the three featured events tonight.
Washington, D.C., fighter Daryl Lattimore, national champion in the 147-pound class, won a gold medal with a decision over Frank Liles of Syracuse, N.Y., that was greeted with boos from the crowd at Southern University's Activity Center.
Another Washington fighter, Bernard Roach, took the silver in the 125-pound class, beaten by Kelcie Banks of Chicago. Roach was the second Washington fighter to be defeated by Banks; the first was defending national champion Lyndon Walker, who got a bronze.
Joyce Wilborn, 14, of Paterson, N.J., won golds in the vault and balance beam and all-around champion Kelly Garrison won three medals in the women's individual gymnastics competition.
A total of 3,500 athletes flooded local restaurants in search of perfect crawfish and creole food.
But while Baton Rouge was an intriguing delight for visitors, financial worry overshadowed much of the Festival for residents. City and local officials called the Festival an "unqualified success," but poor ticket sales -- final attendance was estimated at 210,000, far below expectations -- threatened the capital of Louisiana with a loss at between $180,000 and $500,000.
Regardless, the financially strapped town can ill afford a loss, and it would mark the first time in three Festivals that the event did not turn a profit.
Baton Rouge did gain some good and much needed publicity from ESPN's 40 hours of coverage. A town of smokestacks and petrochemical plants was transformed into a magical little metropolis with nighttime camera shots. Mayor Pat Screen announced his hopes of turning the city into another U.S. Olympic Committee training center.
There was not as much to fault on the playing fields, however. While this did not approach the '83 Festival when Calvin Smith and Evelyn Ashford set world records, there were 26 Festival marks set. Among them were Valerie Brisco-Hooks' time of 22.57 seconds in the 200 meters and Olympic silver medalist Michele Mitchell's 527 points in springboard diving.
Other Olympians were upset. Among them were world record holder Willie Banks in the triple jump, Benita Fitzgerald Brown in the hurdles, and Smith, world record holder at 100 meters, who lost at 200 meters.
The younger athletes provided most of the intrique. Figure skater Debi Thomas established herself as the undisputed rival to national champion Tiffany Chin by winning the gold medal, her first in a major U.S. competition.
Men's national champion Brian Boitano won the gold as expected, but he was not unchallenged. Christopher Bowman of Van Nuys, Calif., an electrifying stylist, showed himself capable of overtaking Boitano as the U.S. hope for the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988 with a perfect mark of 6.0 in his long program.
Jeff Olsen, a quirky 6-foot-4, 16-year-old swimmer from Austin, Tex., won five gold medals in between sessions of watching "The A-Team."
Molly Magill, a junior high schooler from Largo, Fla., won five medals -- three gold -- and declared herself a future Olympian. Cathy Ritch, 14,, of Mt. Kisco, N.Y., the home town of Olympic backstroke gold medalist Rick Carey, also won five medals (two gold).
Bonnie Blair of Champaign, Ill., perhaps was the Festival's most dominant athlete with five golds in speed skating, including one as a substitute on the men's 5,000 relay team.
Brian Babcock and Billy Paul, two 25-year-old gymnasts who just missed making the 1984 Olympics, declared their intentions of making the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, when they seemingly will be past their primes. They produced a near sweep: Babcock tied the Festival record with seven medals, four gold, and Paul won six, two gold.