Bill McCaffrey recently taped the 900th episode of his sports-talk show, Inside Sports. To hear him talk about it, the feat was more like Cal Ripken’s 2,131st game than Barry Bonds’ 715th homer.
“I don’t even remember what our first show was,” says McCaffrey.
He knows he’d be hard-pressed to find a viewer who remembers Show No. 1, either. McCaffrey’s broadcast, in its 17th year of weekly tapings, is still visible only to subscribers of Community Television (CTV), the cable system in Prince George’s County.
Inside Sports airs on Channel 76, the system’s public-access channel. Nielsen doesn’t track viewership on access channels, which are stereotypically the refuge of Wayne’s World–type productions.
The Channel 76 programming slate does nothing to refute the stereotype. Among the shows sharing the schedule with Inside Sports this week: The LaRouche Connection, Out and About With Claude, Bab’s Workout, and an eating-disorder forum called The Awakening.
Getting a time slot on CTV’s schedule doesn’t appear to be a real gut-busting endeavor, either. The rules posted on the station’s Web site make it seem like anybody who provides a properly labeled and formatted VHS tape can eventually see his or her work on the little screen.
Despite the small built-in audience, McCaffrey has been able to attract some national newsmakers to his show.
Former heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe, a Fort Washington resident, and his ex-manager, Rock Newman, are among those who have come to CTV’s Largo studios to sit in Inside Sports’ hot seat. So is John Feinstein, the occasional Washington Post sportswriter and serial author of bestsellers. Travis Pastrana, a teen-idol motorcycler and X Games superstar whose poster adorns youngsters’ bedrooms across the country, has appeared sans helmet. And Brenda Frese, the coach of the NCAA champion women’s basketball team at the University of Maryland, was a regular guest.
“We’ve had her on every year since she got to Maryland,” says McCaffrey. “But now that she’s a celebrity, it might be tough getting her back.”
But much like the host, the typical Inside Sports guest is a household name only in his or her own household. McCaffrey generally goes for folks who don’t get mainstream airtime but have stories to tell.
A recent show, for example, featured officials with the D.C. Divas, the local women’s-football powerhouse. Earl Hawkins, who heads up high-school athletics in P.G. County, is an Inside Sports regular. McCaffrey also invited Barvenia Wooten-Collier, the women’s basketball coach at Prince George’s Community College, to talk up her team after its underpublicized sixth-place finish in the national junior-college rankings for the 2005–2006 season.
McCaffrey makes no claims of telegenicism or special athletic gifts. Still, no matter how you slice it, 17 years is 17 years.
“I think by now everybody’s been on Bill’s show,” says Rich Daniel, general manager of the Divas. “He knows everybody in sports around here.”
McCaffrey started the program after a long run in the Maryland House of Delegates, he says, because he liked hearing other people’s sports stories and telling his own. Many of his personal tales came from his days growing up in Petworth and attending several local high schools in the early ’50s. That’s an era regarded by many, including McCaffrey, as the glory days of schoolboy athletics in the city.
“I loved sports, and I played sports at Roosevelt and Bell, but I was never much of an athlete,” he says. “Really, I think the only reason I ever got to play [was] because I was dirty. I played football, basketball, and baseball, and I played ’em all dirty. But I realized it was all over when I was pitching for Roosevelt, and I hit somebody with my fastball in the back of the neck, and he laughed at me all the way down to first base. I knew then I wasn’t much of a pitcher.”
McCaffrey lost a year of athletic eligibility because he missed a school year due to whooping cough. He transferred to Anacostia for the 1953–1954 school year—his senior year—but by Interhigh rules he was too old to compete with his classmates.
Yet McCaffrey spent as much of the 12th grade studying the local schoolboy sports scene as he did his classwork. And an athletic event from that year at Anacostia left a bigger mark on McCaffrey than any homework assignment.
For more than a half-century, it’s given him a great story to tell and retell.
McCaffrey’s senior year would be the last year D.C. public schools were segregated. Teams from black and white schools were barred by law from playing one another, and there was a tremendous disparity in the media coverage allotted to athletes from black schools. The evil of that imbalance was particularly obvious in the spring of 1954, when Elgin Baylor was finishing up his career at Spingarn Senior High and breaking every scoring record in the city.
“Nobody had ever played the game like Baylor was playing it,” says McCaffrey.
But because the mainstream newspapers were essentially ignoring Baylor’s accomplishments, he was a known quantity only in the black community and among white hoops junkies. John Jones, who managed Stonewall AC, an athletic club that Baylor played football and basketball for, devised a way to break the budding superstar’s legend citywide. With the backing of the Afro-American, the primary newspaper serving the black community, Jones decided to put together a series of games in which a squad from Stonewall, an all-black club, would face a team made up of the best white basketball talent the D.C. schools had to offer.
McCaffrey, who was friendly with Jones, was asked to help round up the white players.
“I knew all these guys, and I knew they wanted to play against Baylor,” he says. “I thought I was going to put together a great team.”
But the powers that be at the white schools weren’t going to let the race vs. race game take place without a fight.
“The principal at Roosevelt, who knew me from when I played there, he called my house and threatened my father,” says McCaffrey. “My father was told, ‘We don’t play against blacks!’ I said, ‘Man, you haven’t been to the playground!’ There was nothing they could do to me. I was done with high school at that time, basically. But I know the principals told some guys that they wouldn’t graduate, that they’d pull their letters, all sorts of things, if they played.”
As it turned out, a white squad was put together only because former high-school players were called up for duty alongside a handful of brave current students. (McCaffrey, despite his professed lack of athletic talent, was forced into playing duty.) And the event, held March 12, 1954, before a sold-out crowd at Terrell Junior High School, turned into a showcase pitting Baylor against Jimmy Wexler, a 1953 graduate of Western High School whose scoring records the Spingarn great had just broken.
The Afro-American referred to the game as a “mixed basketball battle,” between the Stonewalls and the “Scholastic All Stars.” Baylor had 44 points, and his team won by 25.
Memories of segregated times still fire McCaffrey up. He says a few months back he was invited to a reunion of folks who played ball for D.C. high schools in the ’40s and ’50s. McCaffrey was appalled that he couldn’t find any nonwhites on the list of invitees. He declined the invitation.
But that might not be his last word on the snub.
“I should do a show about it,” he says.—Dave McKenna