Once upon a time there were athletes hailing from the hallowed halls of the Pittsburgh Public Schools whose names are indelibly etched on the tablets of Pennsylvania and American high school sports history. Men with names like Sir “Petey” Gibson, “Duke” Kenny Durrett, “Lord” Curtis Martin; continuing on with “Princes” Archie McGill, DeJuan Blair, Jack Jackson, Calvin Houston, Larry Anderson, Mark Halsel, Sonny Lewis and Jeep Kelly. From the corridors of Allegheny High came Ron Hightower. From Fifth Avenue came Dwight “The Leaper” Clay. I could go on and on but I am sure that you get my point.
This story is not an abbreviated history short about city athletics. This is a somber tale about the five year raping, pillaging and burning of the Pittsburgh Public School system. The final assault, Calvary at the ready, now seems to be poised to attack one of the final scholarship producers for our embattled, beleaguered and belittled educational system, athletics.
There is an alleged regional “overhaul committee” whispering, no shouting, about the possible merging of the city with the WPIAL. However, before we go forward we must take a step back in order to see how we arrived at the edge of this cliff. In August 2005, Mark Roosevelt was appointed to the position of superintendent. He accepted this post under the terms of a unique performance-based “accountability contract.” Roosevelt announced his resignation at a recent news conference, effective Dec. 31. Who was he accountable to? Roosevelt said, “I think I’m somebody who sees possibilities and helps them come to life. I think I’m a turnaround artist.” Uh huh, after all the city schools Roosevelt closed, after all our children he displaced, he had the audacity to say, “I think I’m somebody who sees possibilities and helps them come to life.” As far as Roosevelt being able to give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or CPR to the school district, judging by the way he has snatched the heart and soul out of the educational process for our children, I would not want he or any of his cronies to be a part of the team responsible for my medical care. I can clearly visualize the “do not resuscitate” order on my hospital chart.
Now one of Roosevelt’s “disciples,” athletic director Mike Gavlik, is attempting to place the remnants of the athletic program, the only remaining sacrificial lamb, on the so-called “altar of fiscal responsibility.” Gavlik is part of a 22-member athletics overhaul committee, which also includes coaches, managers, board members and administrators. I have said it once, I have said it twice and I am going to say it a fourth or fifth time, Gavlik should be fired unceremoniously, quick and simple. To even discuss such an idea is ludicrous.
I still refer to soon to be ex-Superintendent Roosevelt in the present tense because for one, he hasn’t officially departed and two, the decisions that he has made will haunt the Black community and the community-at-large for the next 50 years. A friend of mine who I love dearly but whose attic is “furniture deprived” and who also believes in the tooth fairy and leaves cookies and milk out for Santa on Christmas Eve night, said to me in a very sincere tone of voice, “Well, it is not Roosevelt or Gavlik’s fault. The school board had to vote on every issue. To which I replied, “Have you ever seen a ventriloquist’s dummy talk back?”
What was Gavlik thinking when he responded to the possibility of the City League joining up with the WPIAL? “[That] is something we’re examining. But no formal recommendation has been made.” You should not even be discussing such nonsense, Mike. The PPS program does not have the funding, resources, facilities or the mindset to compete with or within the WPIAL. In suburban areas surrounding the Steel City, there are regional loyalties to the Penguins, Steelers or Pirates but when the lights shine on Friday nights, high school football remains king. These school districts invest tons of time, effort and money because they know that providing better facilities are going to result in additional scholarships and more positive citizenships for their student-athletes.
PPS athletics are not regarded as regal because the students seem to be looked down upon, almost as if they are incorrigible paupers and the men and women who are empowered with overseeing and running the system regard themselves as the real monarchs whose only crown is a coronet of thorns with a paycheck attached to it. Merging our athletic system with any other system will not make our system better, nor will it make it run smoother. It can and will only accentuate the negatives. The flaws of our current athletic program will be exposed, further battering our children’s self-esteem which has been left for dead. Don’t kill our children’s spirit but do fire Mike Gavlik. Don’t let him get away clean like Mark Roosevelt.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: 412-583-6741.)