Remember This: For 20 years, CAPE magnet school attracted sports-minded elementary, HS students

‘It could have been an Olympic training ground'

CINCINNATI — Whether it is remembered as Jock Tech or CAPE, the Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education played an important, although short-lived, role in the history of Cincinnati Public Schools’ magnet school initiative.

CAPE was formed in 1977 as a school focused on physical education. The hope was to create a desegregated school that students of any race would choose because of an interest in health and physical education.

The first students started in CAPE’s elementary grades, and the first high school graduation took place in 1984. Housed in two buildings in Winton Terrace, the school became balanced by gender and race.

According to a 1987 article in Sports Illustrated, students spent three times as many hours in physical education classes per week as peers at other Cincinnati Public Schools. At the elementary levels they focused on motor skills, like gymnastics, while higher levels concentrated on specific sports, physiology and nutrition.

Students were admitted on a first-come, first-served basis, with no entrance exam or agility test. But the student body was made up of very athletic kids, resulting in sports teams that dominated other schools. In fact, the football team, the CAPE Crusaders, won state championships in 1985, 1986 and 1992.

Jim Engel taught science from 1982-1994 and over the years coached football, basketball and track and was even the cheerleading sponsor for a year. He said the school had demanding standards, with tougher eligibility and graduation requirements than others.

“This was not a group of dummies,” he said. “The kids took eight classes a day, and the classes were rigorous.”

Engel said the students, many from single-parent and lower-income homes, grew into a big family where everyone looked out for everyone.

“The kids didn’t want to go home,” he said. “If they find a place comfortable to them, they don’t want to leave.”

While the school was focused on sports, the building lacked many relevant facilities – there was no pool, track or football field. The football team’s home field was about five miles away at Cincinnati State.

“We made do,” Engel said. “We had asphalt and hills for the track team and grass where we could practice football.”

Engel said CAPE was a good place for students with physical disabilities, which was surprising to many. Students in wheelchairs or using crutches used the gymnastics equipment for therapy; and with so many sports opportunities, they found an activity to match their abilities, like archery or wrestling.

Press reports from the early 1990s revealed that there was some dissension with other high schools. There were reports of coaches and teams that did not want to play CAPE, feeling it had drained all the athletic kids from their home schools.

But it was the test scores that closed the doors of the Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education permanently in the mid-1990s.

According to Christine Wolff, a spokesperson for Cincinnati Public Schools, the bar is set high for magnet schools.

“But after a district-wide assessment of magnets schools, it was determined that CAPE was not up to par in student achievement at a district level,” she said. “So it was decided to close the school.”

Robert Lamb, who taught seventh- and eighth-grade math at the school from 1988-1994, credits the small size – there were fewer than 1,600 students from kindergarten to 12th grade – for creating a close-knit family.

“Academically, we were strong,” he said. “But the average kid wanted to come because we had physical education twice a day.”

Students who might never have had the opportunity to play organized sports at their home school got the opportunity there, he said.

“But if you had athletic talent, CAPE was where you wanted to be,” said Lamb. “It could have been an Olympic training ground, the kids were so talented.” 

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