`Magnet' School Attracts Athletes
Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education is a model for other cities - but not for its facilities
CINCINNATI — 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.
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.
``None of the head coaches wanted to start over [with a new school], and you couldn't blame them,'' says Sheehan. ``Nobody knew whether or not this thing was going to work.''
CAPE was little more than an experiment in the beginning. And while the school's interscholastic prowess would suggest that the experiment has been a success, the more important standards are measured in other ways.
``We evaluate our alternative schools by the number of students and applications they receive, the racial balance, achievement levels, and the attitudes of parents, staff, and students,'' says Dr. Jack Lewis, director of alternative schools for the Cincinnati district. ``CAPE has been very successful.''
Although CAPE's teams have served handsomely in a public relations capacity, the majority of the school's students don't play on any of them. A bigger draw seems to be CAPE's practical and unique educational programs.
Whereas other Cincinnati schools offer six classes a day, CAPE's schedule is an hour longer and includes two extra sessions. every student? or just upper-school? kindergarteners?Students participate in two physical education classes every day, one compulsory and the other elective. The elective P.E. courses, known as SPP's (Skills Practice Programs), include archery, fencing, weight training, folk dance, aerobics, juggling, and unicycling. There are also outdoor recreation programs, and athletic director Bruce Breiner takes a group on an annual ski trip to western New York State.
Famous CAPE Crusaders
``If a student here is not in shape,'' says assistant principal John Heck, ``it's either because he is ill or he doesn't want to be in shape.''
``The school was built on the premise of a strong mind in a strong body,'' says Breiner. ``The extra P.E. class is a part of that, but really only a small part. There's so much more that schools are doing to educate students about health. A lot of it has to do with the foods they eat and how late they stay up watching cable TV.''
Even in the physical education classes, CAPE emphasizes the educational aspect as much as the physical and administers exams on rules and methods. It also offers vocational courses in health training, sports photography, and sports commentating.
For all of its diversity, however, the surrounding community still identifies CAPE by its gridiron Crusaders.
``When I go to the mall wearing my CAPE letter jacket, the first thing that kids from other schools ask me is, `How's the football team doing?''' says Casey Cooper, a junior who plays tackle for the CAPE team and hopes to do the same at a major college.
It was hearing about CAPE's football team that attracted Cooper to the school in the first place. Using weight-room facilities and training techniques taught to him by CAPE's three strength and fitness coaches, Cooper has developed the size and skill that might earn him a scholarship - something he scarcely dared to dream before he enrolled here. ``I'm getting more than I wanted out of CAPE,'' he says. Cooper has studied sports medicine here, which he considers a potential career.
Meanwhile, the CAPE football team continues to win conference championships while practicing on the outfield grass of the softball field, and the archery team shoots at targets set up backstage in the auditorium. Breiner would love to field a hockey team, too. But the parking lot seldom freezes over.