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Long-time Hamilton professor of physical education Eugene “Gene” Milton Long, whose ingenuity led to the creation of the hockey goalie mask, died on Nov. 18, 2022, at the age of 93.

Born on April 15, 1929, in Oneonta, N.Y., Long was a standout athlete in high school. He attended the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, N.Y., for a term before enrolling at Cortland (N.Y.) State Teachers College. Following graduation in 1951, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps where he achieved the rank of captain.

Read Alumni Tributes

Long began his career at Hamilton in 1953 as an instructor in physical education, coach, and athletics trainer. During the ensuing 38 years until his retirement in 1991, he coached cross country, winter and outdoor track, and served as the athletics trainer, professor of physical education, and athletics director. He was also an accomplished racquet player, excelling in squash, tennis, and badminton. When the hockey team traveled, he and Coach Greg Batt often played squash against opposing coaches. According to one alumnus, it was said that while the hockey team did not win many games during that time, Batt and Long were undefeated against the opposing coaches and trainers.

But it is devotion to his students for which Long will be best remembered. Whether as a coach or a trainer, Long was committed to ensuring that his student athletes performed to their potential. To treat and prevent injuries, Long began experimenting with fiberglass to build custom athletics equipment and appliances, including a heel cup for pole vaulters and long jumpers. He also made fiberglass thigh pads for his football players and padding of every sort for other sports.

Track and field athlete Edwin Taft ’62 once recalled: “Gene Long crafted [a] cup from a plaster cast mold of the heel, from which he made a plaster ‘heel,’ over which he molded fiberglass strips for the actual cup. It protected the heel from injury throughout my college career, in Federation meets post-college, and into Masters and Seniors competition (one triple jump national championship) in recent years. Prior to Hamilton, all an orthopedist could advise me was to use a sponge rubber heel pad, which proved grossly insufficient. Plastic cups are available now, but they are generic and not fitted, and don’t serve as well as the custom Gene Long model.”

After fashioning a fiberglass skate insert for Hamilton hockey goalie Don Spencer ’59 to protect his inside ankle when making a kick save, Long became determined to find a way to protect the netminder’s face. He crafted a form-fitting fiberglass mask that would reduce injuries while still allowing the goalie a full range of vision. Spencer’s college season ended before he could give the prototype a try in a game, but it was clear from testing it in practices that the mask had some promise.

Long was not proprietary about the new mask, which is perhaps why he is not credited in a more definitive way for its development. After reading a newspaper article about how Jacques Plante, the star goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, was interested in a mask, Spencer sent him a letter in the spring of 1959. “I was thinking I might even get a couple of tickets to the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Spencer told USA Today. “I never heard back from him.” Plante changed the course of professional hockey when he donned a Long-like mask on Nov. 1, 1959. And while there’s no way to prove that Long alone is responsible for the mask, it’s fair to say that he had a hand in inventing the technology.

Dave Thompson, former swimming coach and professor of physical education emeritus, remembers philosophical conversations with Long: “Gene spoke of the importance of a total program including physical education, intramurals, club sports, and varsity teams. He explained the hierarchy in terms of a pyramid or triangle, with the physical education requirement being the broad, foundational piece, then intramurals, club sports, and then varsity sports. In his model, the crucial piece was the physical education program, required for all students. This had to be a critical part of their liberal arts education providing an introduction to lifetime activities, a healthy lifestyle with an emphasis on the age-old healthy mind and body philosophy of the ancient Greeks. In Gene’s program it all started with physical education and coaches were teachers first. Coaches had to be fully integrated, tenured members of the faculty with an educational role he felt was critical to the liberal arts experience.

“The important thing I learned about Gene was that he had a great sense of balance, not only on the court, but in his approach to the athletic program. The program he developed served all students at all levels,” Thompson added.

Long became athletics director at Hamilton the year after the College joined the New England Small College Athletic Conference as a charter member in 1971, and he served in that role when James Michener published Sports in America in 1976. In it, Michener wrote, “Supported by the general faculty, [Long] initiated a program for all incoming men. It was in parts and seemed to me exactly what I would sponsor if I were the president of a small college. … I would like to see a program such as this in operation everywhere.”

In 2006, the Collegiate Cross Country and Track and Field Association awarded Long a lifetime achievement honor. He remained active in retirement, playing badminton into his late 80s and making frames for his grandson, an outstanding artist of cityscapes in oil.

Gene M. Long is survived by his wife of 69 years, Arlene, two daughters, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Another daughter predeceased him.

 

Alumni Tributes to Coach Long

Following are just a few of the comments posted online following the announcement of Gene Long’s death in November.

I knew Gene for 75 years. I delivered newspapers to his boyhood home in Oneonta, his dad “Shorty” was the AD at my high school, as the Ham Col trainer he wrapped my ankles for my 4 years playing sports, and we visited over my 41 years of my returns to the Hill for trustee meetings. I don’t use “THE BEST” to describe many people, but it certainly applies to Gene…RIP my friend. — Jerry Dirvin ’59


Gene was a terrific teacher, coach, and trainer, and was a great athlete. I never knew a badminton bird could be lethal until I played against Gene. He worked out with the football team every preseason, and boy did he have us in shape. He was indeed a great gentleman, and was an enormous positive influence on several generations of Hamiltonians. I’d say all of the coaches we had in my day in the ’60s were great people. Godspeed, Gene. — John Pitarresi ’70


Gene Long took a shot on me as a first-time cross country runner and taught me so much about the sport, endurance and loosening up on the downhills! I’ll always hold Gene’s supportive push and wisdom in my heart. — Betsy Nathan ’91


I remember Gene. He was our trainer, track coach and general medical advisor on the football team. It was big news when Cornell’s all-star goalie went to the Habs wearing Gene’s invention. He was our protector and our prod. RIP Gene. You were a mensch. — Sean Fitzpatrick ’63


[Gene] was my track coach at Hamilton, and I was his shot putter and discus thrower. But he was so much more than that: a leader, an innovator, a mentor. Once he was unhappy with my throwing technique at a practice, so the next time he spotted me far across the quad, he called out my name and started doing spinning drills to show me what I should look like. I was mortified but never forgot the moment! So many memories. Always teaching, always listening, helping us become better athletes, better students, and better men. Rest well, dear Gene. — Thomas Jasinski ’81


A wonderful athlete and innovative athletic director. Trying to figure out how much worse my aging face would look had I not had the benefit of a Gene Long goalie mask. Sad that we lose another of the great Hamilton leaders of the 1970s.  Robert Sinche ’74


I ran under Coach Long all four years, and he retired at the end of my senior year. I feel so grateful to have known him. He was like my dad away from home. — Lara Handsfield ’91


Gene Long was a legend — on and off Sage Rink! — Brett Mandel ’91


He never coached me, but I, along with so many others, benefited from his unsurpassed expertise as a trainer. He was definitely ahead of his time when it came to working out and training athletes for a variety of sports. While more than 50 years have passed since Gene put us football players through “Gene Long Day” preseason workouts, I remember them vividly. He helped us prepare for the season ahead and then took care of our inevitable bumps and bruises. — Jerry Pitarresi ’71


Gene touched the lives of many and was a wonderful coach. He used to drag Andy Wertz and myself behind his old Chevrolet Station Wagon with a rectangular bar that he attached to the back. Around the track we would go. Andy could run, and I was the flat tire. Rest in Peace Coach Long; you were one of the “good” ones at Hamilton College. — Michael Sullivan ’83


Great track coach and person. Got more out of me than I thought I had. I will always remember our team trips to Florida and The Garden. — Pete Hotine ’67

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