On the sidelines, in the office, in competition and in the classroom, Hamilton fields a formidable lineup of sports professionals.
In 1976, Pulitzer Prize winner James Michener turned from his customary blockbuster novels to write a long nonfiction treatise, Sports in America, that was as ambitious as its title suggests. With his eye for both minutiae and the tidal pull of great historical forces, Michener dissected everything from the economics of big-time competition to good health habits to the links between violence on the playing field and violence in society. But the book's central and anchoring chapter was about college-level athletics, and to write it Michener, in between visits to the NCAA "superpowers" of the Big Ten, the Southeastern Conference and elsewhere, spent two days on the campuses of Hamilton and Kirkland colleges.
He praised Hamilton's fitness program — "exactly what I would sponsor if I were president of a small college," he concluded — as well as its "well-rounded" balance of intercollegiate, club and intramural activities and its commitment to lifetime sports. He chatted at length with the "dynamo" Gene Long, professor of physical education and legendary track and cross country coach. With its sensible integration of academics and athletics, Michener said, it was no surprise that the roster of Hamilton and its peer schools in NESCAC "sounded like the Who's Who of eastern colleges."
About 75 percent of Hamilton students took part in intramurals then, according to Michener; today the proportion is nearly as high, with an estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of students participating "at one time or another in the course of a year," according to Dave Thompson, professor of physical education and director of the Blood Fitness Center and the Campus Wellness program. About 200 students participate in the more demanding club sports. Additionally, in the 2006-07 year, the most recent for which comprehensive figures were available, 558 individual students participated in varsity sports, according to Sue Viscomi, professor of physical education and associate director of athletics.
The College has a long and storied athletic tradition, one that includes All-Americans, Olympians, and individual and team championships and honors at many levels. Hamilton's focus on academic achievement has, in turn, prepared scores of graduates for careers in the business of sport. This issue of the Alumni Review draws on the stories of a few of those who have made a dramatic mark in professional sports and related fields. But as so many of those same Hamiltonians make clear, the real, if often unheralded, star of our shared sports legacy is a Division III program and philosophy that balances athletics and academic achievement, that encourages excellence but not elitism, and that makes the pleasure of participation its own reward. "Some faculty are divided about the role of athletics at Hamilton, but I go back to Michener's book, where he described Hamilton's as the ideal athletic program in the country because of the wide participation and the integration of academics and athletics, as well as athletic excellence," says Bob Simon, the Marjorie and Robert W. McEwen Professor of Philosophy and a highly regarded scholar in the field of sports and society. "We still see that today, not only in varsity sports, but in the clubs, the intramurals, the Wellness Program — a very large part of our community takes part, and it's a major part of our life here."
Simon adds that there are remarkable parallels between athletic competition and academic achievement. "Take the whole idea of testing," he says. "In sports, unless you're just trying to pad your record, you've got to go up against worthy opponents. The same thing is true intellectually. You've got to test your opinions against the best that other views have to offer.
"You've got to play someone."