10/25/2019 Alan Cohen

The Boys of Autumn

This magazine article is part of Fall 2019 / Issue 94

It was so long ago. September 1965 to be exact. I was beginning my sophomore year at Franklin & Marshall. The sports editor of The College Reporter had given out the assignments for the fall sports season, and I got cross country. Off I went to meet with the coach, W. Roy Phillips. Coach Phillips was better known for wrestling, having been the wrestling coach since 1949, but over the season we formed a bond. At our first meeting, he asked me if I would be interested in managing the team, and not knowing what that entailed, promptly said “Yes!” In four years of college, it was by far the best decision I ever made. Over the next three seasons, I would meet some of the finest young men ever to grace the campus and share some wonderful times with them.

Runners John Buddington and Dave Thome finish a race at Williamson Field.

The co-captains that season were Dave Thome and John Buddington. I had been with the team for less than one hour when they told me that the team prided itself on grades, had the highest team GPA on campus, and expected me to keep my grades up. I also had quite a temper in those days, and Dave and John took to calling me “Astro.” The nickname stuck.

Our team in 1965 was small. Juniors Marty Kendig and Bill Waller, along with sophomores Jerry Kuiper and Bill Heintzelman, completed the varsity team. In those days, freshmen did not compete at the varsity level, but Allen Presby, Bill Briggs and Tom Quickel practiced with the squad and ran in meets.

Thome and Buddington were elite runners in the Middle Atlantic Conference–College Division, as it was known then. Quickel, then a freshman, remembers looking up to those even-tempered guys as heroes. Despite the regular season record, each team had a chance for redemption in the conference championships, contested at Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. Coach Phillips, looking to vary the team’s practice routes, arranged for the team to practice at Meadia Heights Country Club during the days leading up to the Friday competition. On Monday, the team’s chances for victory all but disappeared when Thome severely twisted his ankle at Meadia Heights. He did compete but finished back in the pack as he was unable to put weight on his foot, especially when running downhill.

Thome was the only senior on the squad, and everyone was looking forward to a great season in 1966. Presby, who had never competed in high school, was the cream of the freshmen crop; he and Buddington would form a super combination. But it was not to be. John got married during the summer of 1966 and did not run in his senior year. Presby, in 2016 and fast approaching age 70, was still mad about it, and showed a rare loss of temper in discussing it.

But the 1966 season gave us more memories. Freshmen Wayne Kennedy, Bob Harper, and Roger Wible joined us. Waller and Kendig were co-captains, and Waller would provide a lasting memory of the season when he lost one of his shoes during a race—and ran the rest of the race shoeless.

1966 was Roy Phillips’ last season as coach. It would be the last year of one of our favorite rituals. On Parents Day, Roy and his wife would host the runners and their families at his home on Race Avenue across from the campus. By then, the coach, who had first been involved with athletics at F&M as a wrestler in the 1930s, and had returned as wrestling coach in 1949, had given up trying to get me to drive slower on road trips. We travelled in two large Ford station wagons. One had power steering. The coach didn’t display anger but made sure I got the vehicle without power steering. More than 50 years later, John Buddington remembers that “Uncle Roy” personified the ideal attitude towards college athletics—try hard but winning was not the most important thing.

Shortly after the season, Woody Sponaugle, the longtime athletic director, passed away and Phillips replaced him. He served in that capacity through 1977. Selected as the new cross-country coach was R. James Nealy, who had played soccer in his school days. He was a teacher at one of the area high schools. Elected co-captains were Presby and Kuiper, and I was looking forward to the team doing well in my senior year. But the wheels came off early. A couple of runners, junior Tom Quickel and sophomore Dave Senita did not come out for the team. Kennedy, Harper, and Wible complemented Presby, Kuiper, Heintzelman and Briggs, but the team fared little better than .500.

 

  • Cross country, fall 1966 Cross country, fall 1966 Image Credit: Alan Cohen

My highlight came after the season. The fellows chipped in and purchased me a book, “Paths of Thought,” which still enjoys a place of prominence on my bookshelf. I also received a varsity letter affixed to a cardigan sweater which I have long since outgrown.

I also did a bit of running myself. Football coach George Stork, who served as an assistant on the track team mentioned that he had broken eight minutes for the mile. I cracked a smile and he challenged me to beat his time. I did some practicing and finally took to the cinders with my cross-country buddies cheering me on. Harper had the stop-watch. Fearing that I might run out of gas, I took it easy for the first three laps, lumbering along (okay the guys urged me to stop sandbagging) to a time of 6:00 after three laps. I sped things up in the final lap and sprinted to the finish line in 7:30 – Wow!

Graduation came in June, and we each went our separate ways. I would go on to spend 40 years as an insurance underwriter before retiring in 2011. Since then, I’ve been involved in baseball research. One of my favorite books is Roger Kahn’s “The Boys of Summer,” where the author caught up with Dodger players about whom he had written during the early 1950s.

I decided to catch up with a few of the runners who made my time at F&M so memorable. I thank them for sharing some memories.

Unfortunately, two of the team members have passed away. Dave Thome, who spent his career in the military, was the victim of an automobile accident, and Roger Wible, who became a corporate lawyer, was the died of cancer while still a young man.

A few years ago, I met up with Wayne “Grandma” Kennedy, Bob Harper and Phil Presby (Al’s younger brother) at a basketball game on Long Island. If F&M plays, Wayne Kennedy is on hand. The super-fan was there at Kings Point for the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. F&M won two games that weekend to advance to the Sweet 16. We swapped some stories and agreed to keep in touch. Phil informed me as to Al’s whereabouts.

Allen Presby lives in upstate New York not far from Cooperstown. I take frequent trips there to do research, and Al and I grabbed some lunch and told each other about our lives back in April 2014. When I decided to write this essay, Al agreed to meet again, and we spoke over lunch at the Doubleday Café. Al had married between his junior and senior years and went into the ministry as a Presbyterian pastor. His travels took him to Princeton Theology Seminary, and his first posts were in the Rochester, New York area. He and wife, Susie, had two children and traveled from New York to the backwoods of Maine and back to upstate New York again, this time in the Delhi area. Then there was bad news. Susie passed away after a struggle with brain cancer. Al met Carol, who had been widowed around the same time, and they married. Al is retired now, but still preaches part-time near his home in Unadella, New York. And he still runs. He is an accomplished marathoner and ran in London. His children run, and his grandchildren run. Between them, he and Carol have four children and five grandchildren.

The following Sunday, I chatted with Wayne Kennedy. Wayne still lives in the Lancaster area with his wife, Deborah. We had gotten together late in the summer of 2014 when I was doing research in Lancaster on former F&M baseball coach Woody Wheaton, who had played major league baseball with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1943 and 1944. Wayne and I took in a Lancaster Barnstormers baseball game. He was an accounting major at F&M and later worked at Arthur Andersen in New York. The war was still raging in Vietnam, and Wayne was drafted into the Army. He wound up out of harm’s way serving his time in Germany as an accountant. When he returned to the United States, he abandoned his accounting career and elected to go into teaching.  He went back to college to get his certification and taught in the Hempfield School District for more than 30 years. These days, when not at F&M basketball games, he tends to his yardwork and travels extensively.

I caught up with Bill Briggs back in Connecticut. He lives in Storrs, Connecticut, near the University of Connecticut. He left academia for the construction business many years ago. These days, he is very involved with Habitat for Humanity and their home building efforts.

Pete Patton was a freshman during my senior year and majored in geology. By the time I caught up with him in December 2016, he was finishing up his semester at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. He was not only a geology professor but served, for a time, as dean of the university. He retired in spring 2017. His main involvement with F&M these days is with fellow geologists. He brought me up to date on what happened with the cross country team after I left F&M. Bill Iannicelli, who graduated F&M in 1948 and served as track coach since 1950, took over as coach for the 1968 season. Briggs and Presby were captains and new runners came along. In 1969 and 1970, the team excelled, losing only to Swarthmore. The team purchased state-of-the-art running shoes, and Harper and Kennedy led the team in a new training regimen.

I’ve been back to campus over the years for reunions, and the old cinder track is long gone. My class graduated in 1968 and one highlight of each reunion with was catching up with Coach Iannicelli, who had graduated 20 years before me.

John Buddington called me from his home in Vermont and was quick to talk about his days as a hockey player both during school and as an adult. He also remembered the excellent education he got at F&M. “When I was in psychology at Penn State, I realized that I already knew the statistics they required, and my knowledge of experimental method was as good as anyone’s,” he said. “Later at Brandeis, I learned my general knowledge of the liberal arts was equal to that of my peers.”

Around the holidays in 2016, I received a card from Jerry Kuiper. Jerry joined the Peace Corps after graduation and still travels from his home in Quakertown, New Jersey to Madison, Connecticut to reunite with his Peace Corps brethren. His New Jersey-based company manufactures and installs laboratory equipment in the Northeast.

Marty Kendig called while taking his daily walk near his home in Thousand Oaks, California. We called him the “whip” during his days at F&M, as it always appeared as if the Phi Beta Kappa chemistry major had been whipped into a frenzy of study. After F&M, he went to graduate school and got his Ph.D. from Brown University. For a while, Marty was not far from me on Long Island, working at the Brookhaven Laboratories. In 1980, he accepted a position at Rockwell Labs in California and spent the bulk of his working career with them, gaining several patents while there. He is somewhat modest about his achievements, preferring to talk more about his daughters (he has two). One daughter ran cross country at F&M, receiving a Marshall Scholarship, and was a Division III All-American. Marty and his wife, Michele, have been married since 1969.

Tom Quickel, like Presby, went into the ministry and studied at the Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, not far from his York home. In recent years, he has been in West Virginia, the culmination of a clerical journey that began outside of Altoona, Pennsylvania and included stops in Plains, Georgia, Knoxville, Tennessee, and for 21 years, Bristol, Tennessee, where one of his four sons still has a home. Tom recently traveled to Germany to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and visited many of the sites frequented by Martin Luther. His four sons have blessed him with nine grandchildren.

Some of my favorite times with the team were spent around the food table. Before meets, we had a training meal, including steak, at the cafeteria. In those days, steaks were very much a rarity at the cafeteria. On road trips, we had a meager meal allowance of about $1.50, which didn’t go far, even back then. We often saved up by skipping meals on shorter trips, giving us extra money to spend at such favorite restaurants as Walp’s in Allentown, and the Viking Inn in Ardmore.

Quickel, after sitting out his junior year, returned to cross country in his senior year as part of Coach Iannicelli’s first squad. The following spring, he set personal and school-best times in the mile and two-mile events.

Bill Heintzelman was not usually around much on weekends after our meets. He would head off to West Chester State University to visit with his childhood sweetheart, who played field hockey. Bill and Marcia are still together and living in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bill and I were both members of the Class of  1968 and we have spent some time together at recent reunions. Bill became an accountant.

Bob Harper retired young and is living a dream. He opened a bookstore in Maryland and remains active. In his younger days he was a marathon runner, and these days he is involved with long-distance cycling.

Coach Phillips, who graduated F&M in 1934, died in 2003 at the age of 91. Coach Iannicelli, who I first met in 1964 when I showed up for the mandatory freshman swimming class, died in 2011 at 87. They were even-tempered mentors and role models for generations of students and athletes.

A couple of years back, when I found Harper on Facebook, he remarked, “those were fun times.” He was so right.

 

 
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