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`Magnet' School Attracts Athletes

Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education is a model for other cities - but not for its facilities

By Lonnie WheelerSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 4, 1991


NOTORIETY befell the Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education (CAPE) when it won consecutive Ohio high school football championships in 1985 and 1986. This was a remarkable achievement for an urban alternative school that did not have a graduating class until 1984, but there was little hand-clapping to be heard within the circles of Ohio's scholastic athletics. Not unexpectedly, swift success bred rapid resentment. Many referred to CAPE as ``Jock Tech'' and accused it of being little more than a sports factory.

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No more state football championships for CAPE have followed, and the fear of CAPE has subsided. But the school is still widely known for its running backs, more than anything else, and the first thing one expects to see on the CAPE campus is the triumphant turf of the football stadium.

There isn't one.

Well, all right - technically, this is an academy of physical education, not interscholastic gamesmanship. So where is the swimming pool? No pool.

Tennis courts? Uh-uh.

Track? Well, there's a strip of pavement with lanes painted on it for the 100-meter dash. And there's a parking lot. And 32 times around the auditorium is a mile.

This is a school with athletic advantages?

Response to desegregation call

Actually, CAPE was never intended as a school where success came easily and often in interscholastic sports. Rather, it was designed as a school where educational emphasis was placed on the need for and knowledge of health.

And more to the point, it was conceived as a school that white students would attend.

The idea for CAPE came in response to a court order to accelerate the desegregation of Cincinnati public schools. In the 1970s, the Board of Education began to establish a series of alternative schools that could attract students from anywhere within the city limits. CAPE was different from the other schools, which emphasized liberal arts and vocational curriculums. The concept of a physical education academy had never been implemented in the United States. It was also a concept that appealed to students of all races.

Currently, CAPE's student body is 63 percent black, which is average for Cincinnati public schools. Its enrollment is nearly 1,500 students in kindergarten through high school.

CAPE began operating as an elementary school in 1977, and grew so quickly that it soon moved into a larger facility - a former junior high in the northern end of the city. But the location was fairly remote and the school was a well-kept secret until it burst into football prominence.

The flag-bearer for the football program was a squatty halfback named Carlos Snow, who ran for more touchdowns than any player in United States high school history. Behind Snow in 1985, the CAPE Crusaders won the state championship in Ohio's smallest school classification. By the following year, they had outgrown that classification and proceeded to win again at a higher level. That same year, the girls' track team won the state title.

The football team has continued to win its conference every year without interruption, and regularly makes the state playoffs. But, to the relief of competing schools, it has not been invincible since Snow left for Ohio State.

``We're not as threatening to the other high schools anymore,'' says football coach Steve Sheehan. A former assistant at a Cincinnati high school, Mr. Sheehan accepted the CAPE job after it was turned down by every head coach in the district.