They're in the Game
By Donald Challenger
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."
Hitting for Average in a Home Run-Crazy World
Bill Smith '80
General manager, Minnesota Twins
Baseball's Minnesota Twins have forged a reputation as one of the most sensible, prudent organizations in professional sports — a smart outfit with great scouting, steady nerves and the patience to build from within. A little slow to reach for the billfold, maybe, but hey, compared to whom? The Yankees? But Bill Smith '80 had no sooner settled into his new general manager's chair last fall than some serious winds of change came blowing through the Twins' offices on Kirby Puckett Place in Minneapolis. Center fielder Torii Hunter and starting pitcher Carlos Silva filed for free agency in October, eventually landing with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Mariners, respectively. Then, in February, two-time Cy Young winner Johan Santana was mailed to the Mets for a quartet of promising but unproven young players. Fans gulped; bloggers got all ballistic. Looking back at the damage at the start of spring training, beat writer Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star Tribune argued that it "might have been the most unpopular roster upheaval in franchise history."
Smith is a bit more circumspect. "This past winter was a little crazy," he concedes with a laugh, but he notes that the strength of the organization lies in its ability to plan ahead, sniff out talent and avoid surprises. "There were many opinions on all fronts, but our scouting staff has provided great information in the past decade to help us make some very good trades," he says. He's betting the newcomers will "keep the team competitive for years to come," and history is on Smith's side. With a small-market operation that ranks just 25th in value among baseball's 30 major-league teams — and a payroll that, at $81 million, is less than a third of the Yankees', according to an April analysis by Forbes — the Twins have finished consistently in the money, winning the American League's Central Division four times in six seasons and the World Series twice in Smith's 22-year tenure with the team.
Along the way, the Twins coaxed Hennepin County into partnering to build a new open-air, baseball-only stadium, scheduled to turn on the lights in 2010. "There's an entire generation of Minnesota baseball fans who have never seen Major League Baseball outside," Smith says of the Twins' vintage digs at the 26-year-old Metrodome. After the move, "we're going to have some cold days in April, and hopefully some cold days in October — the later the better."
As for being in the public hot seat after years of relative anonymity as assistant GM, Smith bears it with an insouciance worthy of a former French major. He doesn't mind wading into the fray, chatting with fans online and sitting for extended interviews with everyone from USA Today to journalists in minor-league towns. He's goad-proof. When Scott Miller of CBSSports.com ran down a list of epithets heaped upon Smith online in the wake of the Santana trade, he responded, "Aw, I've been called a lot of the same names in my own house." And the hours? "I've never had a day when I didn't want to get up and go to work," he says. "But I always tell people, 'If it's important for you to be able to go spend weekends at the cabin, this isn't the job for you.'"
The journey to Minnesota began with a bus ride from Hamilton to Toronto in December 1979. Smith had recently returned from his Junior Year in France and was starting to think about career possibilities. A ballplayer and fan, he decided to check out the major leagues' winter baseball meetings, knowing that the majors had just begun an internship program to bring two college grads into their New York office. "The biggest challenge," he says, "was convincing Hamilton professors that missing the last few days of classes was OK because this was a job search, not a baseball fanfest." Smith proved it by landing an internship after interviewing with Frank Cashen, the Mets' general manager; he recalls that Cashen saw Hamilton mentioned on his application materials and told Smith he was impressed by the College's reputation. "That comment has always stayed with me," Smith says.
Nine months in, he got a call from White Sox GM Roland Hemond, offering him a job in Chicago's minor league and scouting department, where he stayed for two years, "learning the basics of baseball operations," and then it was on to the Sox's Class A team in Appleton, Wis., where he learned "the business side of the game" — sales, marketing, promotions and ballpark operations. "I was able to dive into all areas," Smith says. "It was a tremendous learning experience." He also met his wife Becky in Appleton.
Then, in Chicago in 1986 for a visit with Hamilton friends and classmates Damian Slattery, Nick Campbell and Ned Kennedy, he learned of an opening with the Twins. "A move back to a major league club was difficult, because there is very little turnover each year," Smith says. "Two days later, I was driving to Minneapolis with my wife for an interview." He's been a Twin ever since. "People stay here," he says. "People enjoy working for this ballclub."
That continuity is as important to Smith's personal life as it is to his work. He still talks to Slattery several times a week and recently saw Kennedy and Campbell in Chicago. Those are "lifelong friendships," he says. "We had a great core group of 10 or 15 guys" at Hamilton and Alpha Delta Phi. "I work hard to stay in touch." The ties extend to his whole college experience. In addition to participating in baseball, hockey, and swimming and diving, Smith played on the soccer team that won the ECAC state championship in his senior year. "It was a great accomplishment for a group of players who played as a team, and many of us are still very close today," he says. "I have always had tremendous respect for Hamilton and for the education that I was privileged to receive." Even that French degree and the Junior Year in France turned out to be useful, in a roundabout way. The travel, the discipline of learning a language and the immersion in a different culture all prepared Smith to learn Spanish and work in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic as the Twins expanded their Latin American presence in recent years. "Beyond the lessons learned in the classroom," he says, "Hamilton helped me grow up, learn to study and deal with new challenges."
Making some noise in motor sports
Gillian Zucker '90
President, Auto Club Speedway
Here's one of Gillian Zucker's favorite stories from her days on the Hill, and it's hard to decide whether it says more about her or her alma mater. She never swam competitively before arriving at Hamilton, but "we had a swimming pool in the back yard at home, and I had decided that that was close enough," she says. She went to Coach Dave Thompson and told him she wanted to be on the swim team. "He looked at me like I was crazy," but he put her in the pool and had her swim some laps. "I thought I would die," she says. "I can only imagine what he must have been thinking."
When Zucker finally crawled out of the pool, Thompson was kind but less than enthusiastic, she recalls. "He said, 'Look, I don't know if you are really prepared for the rigors of being on a collegiate swim team. But you're welcome to come to a practice, and if you can hang in there, fine.'" Zucker indeed hung in there, and Thompson met her more than halfway. "I'm sure he thought I'd never make it, but he was fantastic," she says. "I got in extra practices, and he worked with me on my stroke to the point where I was actually able to swim on the team for two years."
The lesson, she believes, is the value of a sports program and a college where attention and encouragement are personal: Hamilton "is a place where, if you have the heart and the dedication and are willing to work hard, you can accomplish what you set out to do."
As president of the vast Auto Club Speedway — a two-mile oval and 92,000-plus seats on 568 acres in Fontana, Calif. — Zucker says her career is not so far removed from that college experience. It's about hard work, attention to detail and personal commitment. And while the speedway is in the headlines for major events such as the two annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekends and the drag races it hosts, it's busy more than 300 days of the year as a setting for commercials and films (Iron Man and The Bucket List), a training facility and more.
However quick it might have been, the road from Hamilton to Fulton was hardly a straightaway. An analysis of Zucker's skills at the Career Center suggested that she might enjoy sports journalism, so she caught up with a reporter at the Utica Observer-Dispatch who took her along to cover a Utica Devils hockey game. "But when we got there," she recalls, "I started watching the person who was director of PR or communications, and I thought, 'That's the job I want.'" She ended up serving an unpaid internship with the Devils, then, after graduation, wrote Neal Pilson '60 (see page 33), at the time president of CBS Sports, to ask for guidance. "He sent me a fax back — I'll never forget this, I think it was the first fax I ever got — and it said something to the effect of, 'I'm happy to help anyone from Hamilton. I'm in the midst of some very complex NFL negotiations, but here are a few names. Feel free to use my name when you call.' I called the first name on the list, immediately got an interview and had a job within a week."
Zucker still values the memory of that gesture from Pilson. "Without question, I owe my career to Hamilton," she says, and she maintains that professional network as well; she now works with Tim Renyi '00, corporate sales manager, who joined the track in 2006. "He's fabulous," Zucker says, "and most definitely having Hamilton College on his resume was the key to our interviewing him." Her personal ties to the College run even deeper. "My very best friends in the whole world and for the rest of my life are the friends I made at Hamilton," she says. "We still stay in touch, and they mean more to me than anything I can imagine, and that's part of what made my experience at Hamilton so special."
That first job, with a public relations firm that handled NFL properties, was followed by a job helping to start the World League of American Football (now NFL Europe), a year in sales with Sports Illustrated and a stint in minor league baseball with the Durham, N.C., Bulls before joining International Speedway Corp. and eventually moving to the top post at Auto Club Speedway three years ago.
Zucker concedes that it was an unusual career turn. When she attended her first race a decade ago, "I'd never been to a NASCAR event and didn't think it was something I'd be interested in," she says. She was wrong. She found herself transfixed by the fans' intensity — "It redefines what tailgating is," she laughs — as well as the creativity of the drivers' sponsors and, well, the sheer racket. She still rarely wears earplugs. "It is loud, but that's a huge part of what makes the event so exciting," she says. "The sound is so powerful that it's visceral. You can feel the motion. It's like nothing else."
She was hooked, and in retrospect it makes perfect sense, she says. "I think that what has always attracted me to sports, since the first time I went to a Yankees game with my dad, is the experience of a sporting event. Not necessarily just what goes on on the field — though the competition can be very exciting — but I remember sports as something that we did as a family, whether it be watching the New York Giants on television on Sundays or actually going to events. It was that magic that drew me to the idea of running a sports franchise. I wanted to be the one who was creating that experience for people."
As for the unlikely scenario of a dual creative writing and religion major ending up running a racetrack, she laughs. "I use them every day," she says. She talks about the power of major sports spectacles to "forge a community" among people, and about the power of the written word in the modern world. "The things that I learned at Hamilton," she says — "how to communicate, how to create a position and be able to write about it in a way that's convincing — they set you apart in today's business climate because of how important e-mail is." But "the unique benefit of a liberal arts education" also lies beyond particular skills, Zucker says. "What Hamilton teaches you is to be well-rounded, to think for yourself, to be creative and to look at problem-solving in a different way. I like to think that was my major at Hamilton."
A new chapter in an ongoing book
Mason Ashe '85
Founder and president, Ashe Sports and Entertainment Consulting
Late last year, Mason Ashe found himself at a crossroads. The sports agent and attorney had spent nearly two decades establishing himself as a major independent player — most recently as founder and president of Ashe Sports and Entertainment Consulting — in a field dominated by large organizations. He had represented high-profile clients, negotiated more than 250 contracts and twice earned a spot on Sports Illustrated's roster of the most influential minority figures in sports. But there was something he wasn't doing, and it had begun to frustrate him.
"My marketing and managing had helped my clients generate a heck of a lot of income," Ashe says, "but not wealth. I had nothing to do with the next phase of their lives, which is: What do you do with all that income?" He had seen firsthand the story that plays out all too often in the sports and entertainment worlds: A rising star burns through a contract, acquires an expensive entourage and a taste for the good life, and then finds his or her career ending after five years, perhaps 10, with nothing on the other side.
"Think about it," Ashe says. "It's the natural thing to do. You're young and talented, you are constantly told that you are indestructible and that you are the greatest thing ever to hit the Earth. You're off for six months of the year, and you've got multiple millions in the bank. What 23-year-old is going to say, 'Let's see, I've got a couple of million dollars, I'm gonna stay home, cut the grass and worry about my retirement'?"
That, Ashe decided, would be his next mission — "to continue to negotiate lucrative contracts for people in the sports and entertainment industries, but also to play a bigger role in helping people create wealth and protect it and pass it on." One way to do that may be to add estate planning to the services he offers to clients. "I look at my focus now and what I did for the last 18 years as a progression," he says. "It's another stage of my journey." The origins of that journey aren't hard for Ashe to pinpoint. He has always enjoyed "helping talented people share their gifts," he says, "and the topic of wealth has always fascinated me — not only generating the income, but translating that income into net worth." But he was first exposed to "real wealth" at Hamilton.
Growing up a middle-class kid on racially divided Staten Island, Ashe arrived on the Hill prepared for the racial and class anxieties he detected within hours of his arrival at Dunham in 1981, an African-American in a sea of white faces. "I realized that I was going to have to deal in a positive way with the unfamiliarity that some individuals might feel with who I was," he says. "I told myself, 'I can't take this personally or I'm going to have a miserable time.'"
Instead of withdrawing, the young Mason Ashe engaged. He built a network of support, eventually turned his interests from pre-med and basketball to psychology and jazz, and by his junior year was immersed in "the diversity of the liberal arts" with professors such as Bob Simon. "He gave of his time and really helped me understand a liberal arts education," Ashe says. Following that year, he was recruited by Hamilton alumni for a Procter & Gamble internship that introduced Ashe to key concepts in sales and brand management and would soon provide a first career step. He later arrived at University at Buffalo Law School to find that another Hamilton alumnus was serving there as associate dean — Alan Carrel '64, now vice dean at Buffalo. "He recommended me for a job as a grad assistant my second and third year, right on the spot," Ashe recalls. "I'm thinking, 'This is Hamilton — what a network!'"
Ashe decided early to contribute to that network as well as draw on it. He joined the Alumni Council and eventually was elected to the Board of Trustees as an alumni trustee, "something that had looked like a dream opportunity when I was a student," he says. "I had no idea what it meant back then, but I noticed that when the trustees came to campus they were spiffing the place up, so I knew they had to be important."
In addition to his work with athletes and entertainers, Ashe has expanded his activities to include teaching and writing. For three years an adjunct professor of sports law at the University of Central Florida's DeVos Sport Business Management graduate program, Ashe finds his classroom time rewarding, "especially with foreign students, who are really absorbing every word because they're going to go and apply it immediately. These are people who are going to be athletic directors, sports agents, government advisors, presidents of franchises." His strengths as a teacher, he believes, are in his accessibility — "especially important with foreign students, who may not be fully at ease in the larger classroom environment" — and the sense of reality he brings. "I've got all those stories to draw on, and we can tie those in to the textbooks and make the principles come alive," he says. As a writer, Ashe has devoted four years to High Expectations, a book about his experiences as a student, attorney, agent and advisor from New York to Florida and in between — he is now based in the Washington, D.C., area — and he hopes to have a publisher by summer's end. The book is a nonfiction account of his career representing, at various times, such sports figures as Aaron Brooks, Rasheed Wallace, Stromile Swift and Jamila Wideman, along with musical artists and entertainers like Marcus Johnson, Christopher "Kid" Reid and Tommy Davidson. But it builds on personal experience to pay tribute to his mentors and to provide an insider's analysis of his profession. "I wanted to help people who have talent — whether it's academic, sports, music, whatever — benefit from their market value and protect their interests," he says. "That's always been my goal." Along the way, Ashe continues to count on Hamilton to keep him centered. "That walk through the glen has always served me because it gives me a point of reference," he says. "Hamilton has always been in my life, and I can always use it to measure how far I've come as a person."
A super season for a man among Giants
Sean Ryan '94
Offensive quality control coach, New York Giants
As excuses go, Sean Ryan's reason for having to reschedule his Alumni Review interview was a pretty good one. He had to go to the White House that day. Ryan '94, offensive quality control coach for the New York Giants, was joining the Giants to be feted by President Bush for their storybook run to and victory in Super Bowl LXII in February. Along the way, they spent a couple of hours at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, "visiting with the wounded warriors," Ryan said the next day. "It was probably the best part of the trip. Not that anything overshadows the White House, but it was great to be able to go in and visit with those guys. To hear their stories and see what they're going through — it puts everything in perspective."
Perspective may seem hard to come by when you've been on the winning side at the Big Show in your first NFL season, or when you've climbed the coaching ladder at a nosebleed pace — eight jobs in 11 years, starting with Division I-AA Siena College and ending with a key role in directing Eli Manning and company into history. Ryan, however, developed the long view early. As a sophomore playing for the Continentals, he had moved from cornerback — "not a strong position for my skills" — to strong safety, where he believed he had found his position and role with the team. Then came a devastating knee injury, a torn ACL that ended his season and threatened his playing career. When the repaired knee did not respond fully by the next summer, the frustrated Ryan got a call from Jim O'Rourke '94, a Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity brother and football player who had suffered a similar injury, about a possible chance to coach at Clinton High School. Was Ryan interested? "It was Jim who found the opportunity, and knowing I was struggling with not playing, he got me involved as well," Ryan says. "I'll always be grateful to him, and he remains a close friend." The two served as junior varsity coaches and assisted with the varsity during their junior and senior years. "When I remember the disappointment of my playing career at Hamilton," Ryan says, "I think, hey, had that not happened to me, the whole coaching job at Clinton High School doesn't happen, and I'm not standing here today."
While Ryan can reconstruct the Giants' Super Bowl season virtually possession by possession, "I don't know that anything changed that much over the course of the season," he says. The stunning playoff run that ended with a 17-14 upset win over the undefeated New England Patriots involved no heroics or magic; it was a matter of doing the small things consistently and well. "The biggest factor in the playoffs was the fact that we turned the ball over one time — that was in the Super Bowl, and that was on a deflected pass. We were also a very good team when it came to penalties."
And when it was over? "Surreal," he laughs. "I'm standing on the field in the confetti with my mom. And I'm thinking, I've watched this scene my entire life on television, and now I'm part of it. It's a lot to process, but at the same time you want to remind yourself to enjoy it, to be there with your family and your team. "This business is about moving forward — the next game, the next season — but I'll never forget that, and it will never get old."
A living E-Z Pass to great sportswriting
Steve Wulf '72
Executive editor, ESPN The Magazine
Had Steve Wulf '72 never climbed in his car after graduation and begun the career road trip that would take him eventually to Florida, Sports Illustrated and Time; had he not then helped establish ESPN The Magazine as the hip, smartmouthed challenger to the more staid SI's sports-mag dominance; had he not crafted one of sportswriting's most distinctive writing voices along the way; no, had Wulf, say, never even escaped the local sports beat at the Norwich, N.Y., Evening Sun, where he landed his first job, he'd still warrant a neon footnote in the annals of fandom.
That's because he was a fantasy-sports pioneer, arriving right after the Big Bang of the ur-fantasy league, Rotisserie League Baseball, founded in New York City in 1980 by editor and writer Daniel Okrent. "I did help to promulgate it, through Sports Illustrated and by writing the original Rotisserie League book," Wulf says. "I think we knew we had something special."
By then, barely 30, Wulf was already what scribes once called a "grizzled veteran" of what-if baseball, having done hard time in his youth as a Philadelphia Phillies fan — a parable of woe equal to anything that Cubs or Bosox partisans can summon up. He'd honed his imaginary baseball skills right on the Hill, he says, attempting to re-script his beloved Phils' legendary 1964 collapse with "late-night games of Strat-O-Matic up in ELS," where he washed dishes. A 10-game tailspin at season's end had cost the Phils a sure pennant, and, years after the fact, "we would waste away the hours we should be studying replaying the '64 season to see if we could bring the Phillies home."
That drama has stayed with Wulf for the long run; a feature he wrote for Sports Illustrated about a Phillies reunion on the 25th anniversary of the collapse remains a personal favorite. That rich sense of sports history — and a willingness to play with it — in fact drives much of Wulf's prose. And since he serves as executive editor of ESPN The Magazine as well as feature writer and columnist, it shapes the magazine as well. "From the beginning, we didn't want to be the corporate voice of ESPN, even though we have that in our name and we owe our success to those four letters," he says of the magazine's 1998 origins. "We wanted to bring a different perspective than you might see on Sportscenter…. We wanted to be able to laugh at the world of sports and glory in it at the same time. We knew that sports was fun."
That attitude has made ESPNTM a little dicier and a lot more ironic than your father's sports magazine. It's the mag that titles an online column "The world + sports = hours of lost productivity" and invites six-word stories from readers. (A submission on last year's NBA Playoffs: "Spurs! Pistons! America stabs eyeballs out.") Why, Wulf himself once referred to retired Mets catcher Mike Piazza as "a living E-Z Pass to second base." But Wulf's own prose is often the ballast in that lighter-than-air mix. His distinctive style melds the magazine's penchant for postmodern patter with a traditionalist's emotional generosity toward athletes and sports traditions. When those two voices sing together — and they usually do under Wulf's direction — the harmony can turn your head.
Take a recent feature, "330 Strong," about the regrouping and rededication of Virginia Tech's marching band in the wake of the April 2007 campus massacre that took 32 lives, including that of a band member. Wulf's take manages to be at once deeply moving and LOL funny. "Let's stop for just a moment to consider the college marching band," he writes:
"There are those who would dismiss it as an anachronism, a bunch of dorks who play dress-up and sousaphones and music not normally found on an iPod. Forget and forgive such cynics, because chances are they have never been to a big college football game and seen how much a band means to school spirit. They've never marveled at the formations or heard the fanfare or felt the rumble beneath their feet." Like a great marching band, Wulf's prose marries a measure of fanfare to a bucket of swing, along with a relentless narrative rhythm. It lets you know you're being taken somewhere worth going.
'You always come back to your true passions'
Emily Helm '92
President and CEO, MetroLacrosse
MetroLacrosse, the Boston nonprofit program For Which Emily Helm '92 serves as president and CEO, is, as the name suggests, something of a new idea. Lacrosse "certainly doesn't have an urban tradition," she says, and "it's no secret that it has been known as more of an elitist sport in the past."
But, she says, "that has actually been changing significantly over the last few years," and Helm herself is very much a part of that change. Working with more than 500 young people from grades three through 12 and doing organizational fundraising as well, Helm and her program run dozens of urban leagues and camps. "Kids come from literally all around the city," she says.
The discipline and teamwork developed by lacrosse are crucial skills for those young people, and the sport offers them "a network of opportunities and connections." But they face formidable obstacles simply to participate, Helm says, and she spoke about those obstacles on the Hill while taking part in a Reunions 2007 Alumni College session on sports and ethics. "It's obvious when we're talking about professional or big-time college sports what some of the ethical dilemmas are," she says, but class and economic inequalities produce a distinct set of issues. "What are some of the difficulties in participating faced by urban kids compared to their suburban counterparts? How do we address that? A lot of it has to do with access — cost and transportation are two of the biggest issues. Parents work very hard to make ends meet, and the kids are dedicated and interested in coming but may not able to get there; there are public transportation issues in getting to the field. Then there are safety issues once on the field."
Helm followed "a winding path" to MetroLacrosse that included a master's degree in education and work as a career counselor in schools before hooking up with the young Boston program as a volunteer coach in 2001. "I definitely did not set off on a specific intentional path, but I think what I discovered over time is that you really always come back to your true passions, whatever they are," she says. A 1992 lacrosse All-American who remains among the College's all-time leaders in points and goals, Helm credits Hamilton coaching and the Division III experience for shaping many of her own professional and personal attitudes toward sport. "I feel like I really learned a lot that still informs my work now about the kind of leader that I wanted to be," she says. Phil Grady, who recently retired as ice hockey coach but also served as assistant on the women's lacrosse team, "was a leader and a personality that I really responded to and really respected."
Coming out of high school, Helm wanted to combine a strong educational experience with the opportunity to play both lacrosse and soccer. "I wanted to play both sports for four years, and I knew that I would have a better chance of doing that, and also being at a competitive institution, at the Division III level," she says. "The quality of my entire experience at Hamilton was better for it because I wasn't only an athlete. I was an athlete and a student. I was an athlete and active with friends and a social community. And that's a big part of life — you need to be able to balance all of those things."
That, Helm says, provides another lesson she brings to her work at MetroLacrosse. "This is something we teach our kids all the time," she says. "It has much less to do with the level of play than it does with the quality of the experience and the lessons you learn as a result of your participation."
The goalie who could make 'the game save'
Guy Hebert '89
Former goalie, Anaheim Mighty Ducks
Guy Hebert '89, one of the NHL's premier goaltenders of the 1990s and a member of the U.S. team that won the 1996 World Cup — the most successful post-collegiate athlete in Hamilton's history, in fact — was only the second-best goalie at Coach Phil Grady's practices in the late '80s. "We had two excellent goalies at that time," says Grady, who recently stepped down from his coaching post. Pat Hoey '88 was the other, "and he was probably the better practice goalie. When we had contests and shootouts, they'd all want to shoot on Guy." "He's giving my secrets away," Hebert laughs later. "I was never really the best practice goalie, all the way back to playing as a kid. At Hamilton there would be a big line facing me, and two or three guys facing Pat. There was a lot of joking in the locker room about it. Luckily for me, my coaches — especially Phil — saw that I was usually a better game goalie than practice goalie."
Coach Grady saw that early indeed. Recently arrived on the Hill, Grady was scouting a high school player in Buffalo when he saw Hebert make "something like 50 saves in a game." Hebert became his first recruit as the young coach began the process of building an improved college program. "I knew if we got a goalie, we could be competitive at a higher level right away," Grady says. "The kids played with more confidence in front of him, and he was the anchor. We built the program from the net out."
One of the qualities that made Hebert a superb goalie, both at the college level and then in the NHL, Grady says, was his ability to stay with the puck. "There are a lot of good goalies who make that first save and then lose the rebound, but Guy was capable of making that second and third save — the big one, the game save. He had great vision; he'd find that puck and find a way to get something in front of it."
Hebert adds that the right mind-set was crucial to his success as well. "Once you get beyond the natural ability — the good reflexes and eyesight — you need the right mental makeup, and you have to relish the spotlight and the pressure. But you have to be very controlled, too. I've got a wicked competitive streak, but I'm also a low-key person."
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues while at Hamilton, then the first player selected by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in the 2003 expansion draft, Hebert became an NHL All-Star and an anchor of the franchise in the '90s before ending his playing career in 2001.
He recently "went back to being fully retired" after serving for several years as the Ducks' Alumni Association director and working in the broadcast booth. "I had retired with the thought that I wanted to spend time at home with my wife [Sarah Szalach Hebert '89] and daughter, but I had to go to a game one night, and my daughter — she was maybe 5 at the time — said, 'Daddy, I thought you retired to stay home with me.' And I thought, 'You're right, I don't need to do this at this point in my life.'"
As one of the few players to make the climb from Division III to the NHL, Hebert is still convinced that the College offers "the best of both worlds" in balancing academics and athletics. He adds, though, that his college friends and roommates "joke that probably none of us could get into Hamilton now.
"So my plug," he says, "is to make sure that those well-rounded student athletes have the opportunity to come to Hamilton and blossom like we did."
Asking big questions between the white lines
The Robert and Marjorie W. McEwen Professor of Philosophy
Where others see balls and strikes, posterizing slam dunks and steroid scandals, Bob Simon sees case studies in ethics and values. Take his inaugural experience as a Little League coach some years ago. He was assisting his Philosophy Department colleague Rick Werner, and Simon's very first game unfolded like this.
"Professor Werner was the head coach, but he had to go to a meeting before the game was over. We had a 14-0 lead when he left. He said, 'You can handle the rest.' I was a little concerned with fairness; I thought I'd give some of the other kids a chance to pitch. So it went to 14-2, 14-6, 14-8. By the last inning it's 14-13, the bases are loaded, and I don't have any pitchers left. Thank God a kid on the other team struck out on a pitch over his head to end it.
"The next day Rick asked me how it went. I said, 'Fine.'"
Simon tells the story with a comedian's timing, polished by repetition, but he's after more than a punchline. "It led me to think about an important issue," he says. "Sometimes you're not doing kids a favor by treating them all identically, without regard for differences. Is what happened really fair to a kid who can't get the ball over the plate? In that situation, inequality is not always an injustice."
Simon, who was known among his Little League charges to spring quizzes in the dugout, takes seriously the relationship between competition and cogitation. "Of course," he laughs, "the danger is paralysis by analysis," but the former golf coach, who is now a volunteer assistant with the team, has long been concerned about the role of athletics on campus and the often-criticized performance of athletes in the classroom. "Rather than assuming that athletics is 'taking away' from a student's academics," he says, faculty members can harness athletes' mastery of competitive skills — "how to come back from defeat, how to handle criticism, how to be honest about one's abilities" — to help them succeed. "These student athletes are passionate about what they do. They're willing to learn discipline," he says. "I think we can draw on that and challenge them in the classroom to do as well as they do on the playing field. And many do."
Simon also makes the case that athletics, like the performing arts, have a distinct educational role in a campus community such as Hamilton's. Sports provide "areas where students can be the best people on the campus," rather than mere "apprentices" to faculty mentors. Additionally, athletic events are a kind of popular language; "large numbers of people can appreciate the standards of excellence in athletic activity in a way that they may not in a physics class or a philosophy class." And finally, important ethical dramas play out for the community on competition's stage. "In a team sport, you can see if a player's selfishness drags down a team, or if a player's ability to sacrifice makes the other players better," he says.