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The Philadelphia school board this month honored Local 1201 of the International Brotherhood of Firemen and Oilers for diverting a share of its members' wage hike to the local school district's cash-strapped athletic programs.

The novel agreement between the district and the union, which represents building engineers, bus drivers and attendants, custodians, and school aides, will provide $400,000 per year for at least two years for the purchase of equipment.

As a result of the district's financial woes, officials had cut the sports budget for the current school year by 40 percent.

"Sports can be the last thread to keep some of the kids in school,'' said Anthony V. Ottobre, the president of the union. "We think it was the right thing to do.''

Two Tennessee high school basketball players who had been suspended for the entire season for participating in the Nike Corporation all-star basketball tournament this summer have had their punishments reduced.

The pair, who had appealed to the governing board of the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association, will have to sit out the first seven games, or one-fourth of the season.

Their penalty is still the toughest meted out for the 37 players from 19 states who participated in the event.

Several high school students from war-torn Bosnia will get the chance to play ball in the United States after all.

The Illinois High School Association ruled late last month that four freshmen can play immediately, while another 15 students can play during the second semester if they pass the requisite academic courses.

Separated from their families, the players entered the United States through the efforts of coaches and the coaches' family members and friends in the Chicago area.

But some people contended that the students were ineligible to play because they were nonresidents.

After a court awarded guardianship of the students to local families, however, the I.H.S.A. considered them residents and eligible to compete, said H. David Frey, the association's executive director.

"They were essentially refugees,'' Mr. Frey said.

Cedric W. Dempsey, the athletic director at the University of Arizona, has been named executive director of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.--KAREN DIEGMUELLER

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