The Colgate Scene
January 2004

The Colgate Scene welcomes letters from readers. We reserve the right to edit letters for brevity and clarity.
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Remembering Hal Lahar

. . . The dreaded phone call came . . . and my heart has been heavy [ever] since. Our beloved football coach, Hal Lahar, had passed away in a Texas hospital. His health had been failing lately. Several of his former players were able to attend an informal football reunion/reception for the Lahars built into the regular Colgate Reunion weekend in June 2001. (This had been organized the moment we realized that he and [his wife] Dotty would be on campus.) This would be their last visit to campus. As I saw Coach depart from the Binghamton Airport after that weekend, I think we both realized that we might not see each other again.

I feel lucky and honored not only to have played for Coach Lahar, but also to have been on his staff briefly while pursuing my M.A. Having recently retired from a career as a high school football coach, my admiration for this great man has continued to grow. Who was Hal Lahar? As a coach, he was revered by his players -- we would have done anything for him. This was a coach who truly cared for his boys. He got more out of his material than any coach I have ever known or observed at any level. He was extremely organized [and] dedicated and left no stone unturned. But he taught us far more than the Xs and Os -- he taught us life.

Who was Hal Lahar? As a mutual friend recently said to me: "Hal Lahar might have been the finest human being I've ever known." Among other gifts Coach received a couple of years ago on campus was a large mahogany plaque. Perhaps the words engraved on it bear repeating:

"Presented to Hal Lahar -- the man who exemplifies the spirit that is Colgate. We are fortunate to have had you in our lives, and much richer for it."

We loved you, Hans.

More reaction to affirmative action critic

. . . I am writing in response to a letter in the September 2003 issue of the Scene from Harry F. Lee '57. Like Mr. Lee, I was somewhat taken aback, although not by the article in the May 2003 Scene, but by his letter. What I think many opponents of affirmative action sometimes fail to grasp is that affirmative action directed towards minorities is, at least to my understanding, just one aspect of the university's attempt to develop a diversified and well-rounded student body, which benefits all students. When Mr. Lee graduated in 1957, I suspect that Colgate, like most universities at that time, did the equivalent of attributing "points" to athletes and [children of] alumni, and maybe even musicians. As has been pointed out a number of times by different commentators, without intending any disrespect, wasn't President [George W.] Bush the recipient of a form of affirmative action when he was admitted to Yale and Harvard Business School, while being, by his own admission, a C-level student? Without his name and family connections, one would have to assume that he would not have been accepted for admission to either institution. The president is just one high-profile example of an enormous factual situation. While affirmative action certainly serves a significant societal purpose, its value to the university community is at least as important. Having a diverse and well-rounded student body is critical in producing a well-rounded, liberal arts graduate.

I did not take the use of the word "selective" in the article to mean, as Mr. Lee did, that non-selective institutions did not have an obligation to utilize affirmative action programs. I read it, rather, that Colgate, as a selective institution, felt a special obligation (as I fully agree) to do so. Like Mr. Lee, I am an attorney, and am proud that my alma mater had the courage and belief in what is right for this country and Colgate to file an amicus brief in the recent Supreme Court decision. While I may not have contributed the tens of thousands of dollars that Mr. Lee has, I will certainly continue to make contributions to a university that I am proud of for many reasons, not least of which is its difficult decision on this issue in the face of some certain alumni dissatisfaction.

I would, however, ask Mr. Lee to reconsider his position because, whether he agrees with this specific decision or not, his heartfelt letter indicates that his undergraduate years at Colgate were a seminal time in his life, and helped lead him to many significant accomplishments. Whether or not he agrees with the affirmative action policy of the university, Colgate did a good turn for him. I believe that alumni do not have to agree with every decision of an institution (or for that matter, in other circumstances, a family member or loved one) that we support, but instead [we should] base our support on an overriding belief in the value of that institution, the significance of our time there for us, and the ongoing quality of its students, teachers, and experiences there.

Afghan is not the same as Afghani

. . . It is obvious to me that Michael Smith '70, who is profiled in the article titled "Lessons in Nation Building" (September 2003), did not write the caption under his photograph. In part it read "Michael Smith '70 with Afghani (sic) expatriate . . ."

The word afghani is not an adjective but a noun. Secondly, the definition of afghani is "a coin or monetary unit of Afghanistan" The person who wrote the caption obviously intended it to be an adjective describing citizens of Afghanistan. The correct word is Afghan, which is a noun and an adjective. Used as an adjective, as intended in that case, it is defined as "of Afghanistan or its people." When used as a noun it means a native of Afghanistan. Another meaning, of course, is a blanket.

. . . This [letter] is to revisit the subject of an alternative to the I-AA football playoffs. It is being mailed the day before they begin, so what follows won't be tainted by how well or poorly we do.

In terms of the playoffs themselves, they are a polyglot mixture. In almost every other collegiate endeavor -- cooperative research work, symposia, shared courses -- universities tend to seek out schools similar to their own. Indeed, in the regular seasons, athletics usually do the same. Football, for example, was strictly Patriot [League] and Ivy [League] this year, except for Buffalo, which was our one "stretch" game in Division I-A.

But when it comes to the playoffs, we're up against schools we've never even heard of -- Bethune-Cookman, Wofford, North Carolina A&T? Most of us have no idea who and what (or even where) many of them are. Why do we want to play them if we have nothing in common with them and no shared history?

It's not being elitist to assume that the admissions, academic standards, and aid policies of many of them are quite different than ours. Take [playoff] opponent UMass. Their enrollment is 18,000, Colgate's [enrollment] is 2,775. They accepted 73 percent of applicants in 2001-2002; Colgate accepted 37 percent. Their financial aid to athletes is also a totally different package than ours. Though they won the Div. I-AA title in 1998, few not connected to UMass remember it. Undoubtedly helped recruiting, though.

My point is, the days of Hoosiers are over. They've even stopped the open basketball playoffs in Indiana. The competitive situation today is so tough, just staying even with your own league is a mountain-sized job. We can understand the desire to have a post-season test. But why does it have to last four weeks? In the old days, there were just four postseason bowl games after much shorter seasons. Nowadays, playing 13 games should certainly be enough.

A few years ago, several Colgate alumni came up with the idea of a one-game playoff between Ivy and Patriot League Champions as an alternative to the month-long tournament. We were subsequently told by Maroon Council members that the Ivies looked down on our league and would have nothing to do with such an idea. It was felt they wanted to remain pure and above it all. Now I'm not so sure.

In the November-December issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette, David Porter, the magazine's sports columnist and a writer for the Associated Press, stated in his article "Football's Postseason Envy": "With the [Ivy] league cutting the number of football recruits and the size of the coaching staffs, as well as raising the academic requirements for athletes and restricting off-season practice time, recruiting athletes for a league that doesn't offer athletic scholarships becomes an even tougher sell. Penn wide receiver Dan Castles, a junior, said the lack of a postseason component was a factor that weighed against his decision to come to Penn, although he wound up in West Philadelphia anyway, instead of a Patriot League school."

He further goes on to say about the team wanting to step up in class: "Penn has already proved they can play at that level: the Quakers have defeated schools like Colgate, Lehigh, and Fordham that have been to the I-AA playoffs in the last six years."

Porter states that a major concern of the Council of Ivy Group Presidents is the postseason infringing on final exams, and that the group hasn't even formally discussed the subject in the last three years. Interestingly, 32 of Penn's 33 men's and women's teams are eligible for postseason play -- football is the odd man out.

The article ends with a question mark about this impasse: "Whether the Ivy League can continue to attract the Al Bagnolis (Penn's second-best winning percentage coach in I-AA) in the future -- or lure the kind of players he has been able to recruit up to now -- is the real question that should give pause to Ivy League players, fans, and administrators."

If length of playoffs taking too much time from school is the Ivy concern, a one-game playoff with the Patriot League is an ideal solution. They play us during the season; why not after? We're compatible institutions with many of the same standards. A game with Penn would be a humdinger -- they're undefeated, too. We could play in a neutral site like Princeton and people would come. Then we could all get back to work and get ready for the holidays.

Does anybody agree, or am I just a voice crying out in a sea of rabid playoff fans?

. . . Several times I have stood at the top of the Valluga Bahn in St. Anton, Austria in a blinding snowstorm so bad that one wonders if he can make the ski trip down the mountain. The blizzard at Andy Kerr stadium [on November 29], featuring harsh winds and sideways snow showers, rivaled most of those moments in the Alps. Nevertheless, despite the harsh conditions, Colgate's undefeated football team prevailed once again in a stunning and decisive fashion over the UMass Minutemen.

I graduated from Colgate in 1983. In those days, Colgate featured a very impressive football program and the exciting memories of victory are plentiful: A game-ending, goal-line stand to win at home against Temple in snow flurries; a late fourth-quarter touchdown hookup between Steve Calabria and Joe Kozak against Holy Cross in a nationally televised game with Div. I-AA playoff implications; several wins against [Army] at West Point when West Point could play football, one of those games featuring a breakaway touchdown by Rich Erenberg that left the last Army defensive back sitting on the ground wondering what had just happened. These and so many other great moments, great teams to reflect on.

However, the football game [against UMass] was special. Special because Colgate kept the nation's longest unbeaten streak alive. Special because Colgate advanced in the I-AA playoffs for just the second time, earning a match up next week at home with Western Illinois. Special because the team overcame such unpredictable and brutal weather conditions that can crop up in the Chenango Valley at any time. Special because Colgate dominated for three quarters after spotting the very reputable UMass to a seven-point first-quarter lead.

Chris Brown led the team with a potent passing attack to, among others, receivers J.B. Gerald and Luke Graham when the nation's leading rusher, Jamaal Branch, was rendered largely ineffective due to the tough conditions (four inches of snow on the field) and poor footing. Unique for a team that was perhaps conditioned to a run first, pass second mentality all year long. And what a game the defense played. Colgate's defense was extraordinary with a total team effort that featured bonejarring hits and big play after big play.

There is something very special happening in the Chenango Valley this year. Any Colgate graduate with even the remotest interest in the Raider football program should sit up and take notice of what these kids are doing up there. That was some game. This is a season for the archives. Go, 'gate.

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