The House Divides

This is the third in a five-part series about the 1970 Outdoor Heps Championship. To start at the first installment, please click here.

By the time the squads from Army and Navy arrived in Connecticut, it was unlikely that they would be taking part in the Championships. The athletes were eager to compete and hopeful for a compromise, but the political waves at Heps in 1970 were going to prove too tricky to navigate. Already told that they could not stay at Dewitt-Cuyler Field if an anti-war statement was to be read, the only chance the Cadets and Midshipmen had was to convince the Ivy captains to leave politics out of it.

That would be a losing battle. Harvard’s Ed Nosal was accustomed to protest. Just months earlier, when he won the NCAA weight throw national championship in Detroit, he defiantly wore a Yale sweatshirt on the awards’ stand after the Bulldogs had been banned from all NCAA events for allowing basketball player Jack Langer to participate in the Macabbiah Games, something that was inexplicably deemed worthy of punishment by the national governing body.

Nosal had begun to work the captains about the Langer issue at Indoor Heps, thus establishing a rapport with others, particularly Yale’s Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, who might have qualified and competed at the NCAAs without the ban. On the morning of Heps the captains met for the last time. Nosal, Ohene-Frempong, Joe O’Hern of Princeton and George Lokken from Penn were among those in attendance, as were Jim Osman of Army and Monty Felix of Navy.

“We were particularly concerned with Army and Navy being barred from competing so there was an attempt to make that happen, but we knew of the likely inevitability that they couldn’t be able to compete,” said Nosal.

Ohene-Frempong told the New York Times that the captains had indeed considered the concerns of the athletes from the academies and made some adjustments to the statement. Yet he told the Times, “We didn’t want to compromise our position solely for their inclusion in the meet.”

Osman and Felix explained the stance of the academies to the captains, telling that not only couldn’t they participate in any protest, but that the Cadets and the Midshipmen would have to leave if any protest was held in conjunction with the meet. In a final last-ditch effort to get around that thorny dilemma, the statement was redrawn to begin, “We, the athletes assembled before you, …” The captains felt that any competitor disagreeing with the protest could simply be somewhere else when the statement was read.

That wasn’t going to be enough. “Once the discussion ended, a vote was taken with the majority agreeing to take part in the protest,” said Osman. “I would like to note that Army and Navy were not the only teams that voted against the proposal.”

Just minutes before the hammer throw and pole vault were to get underway, Nosal read the statement:

We, the athletes assembled before you, members of the Ivy League teams competing here today, seek to call attention to our belief that business as usual is not sufficient. As athletes and trackmen we understand that our sport is not, and must never become, a hideout from our basic responsibilities as human beings.

Since the last outdoor Heptagonal meet, thousands have been killed in the unending war in Southeast Asia. Within that year, student opposition to the war has increased while the Administration continues to listen to a postulated “silent majority.” Still there has been no Congressional decision to enter the war, no less to pursue it across international frontiers.

Since our last encounter, the spirit of division and intolerance separating us from out national leaders has grown. The Administration has resorted to name-calling and worse, in an effort to ignore and silence the legitimate opposition to war, conscription and senseless violence.

We decry the killing of fellow students at Kent State University as a national tragedy and a focus of shame. We decry the growing intolerance which permits some to accept those sacrifices as necessary or justified. We further deplore the growing tolerance for repression directed against political and racial minorities, such as the Black Panther party and people of radical disposition in general.

Those of us who compete here today do so in the hope that our concern with these vital issues will be expressed to all spectators, and to all who have found pleasure in track and field. We respect and acknowledge those members of our teams who have felt that they cannot in conscience participate in this meet.

Harvard jumper Bob Galliers remembers warm applause from the crowd, but the atmosphere was immediately deflating.

Princeton’s Bob Hohf recalls warming up for the first event of the day. “Pole vaulting goes on all day, so there is a lot of time for talking and that group becomes very friendly,” he said. “Suddenly the order came and the Army and Navy guys got up and left. Some of those guys were very gung-ho. They were each disciplined, but not all of them ate and slept the rules and some got up reluctantly. Everyone was sitting there with the jaws dropping. It was not a normal Heps. It was not joyous.”

Yale intermediate hurdler Rich McDonald, who would win the first running championship of the day, agreed, saying, “I always have felt bad about it and wondered what happened to those guys, if they survived Vietnam. That certainly diminished the meet. Those guys were always tough. It was always a pleasure to run against them. It seemed like it was a relief for them to come to a track meet and get away from what they were doing.”

Instead of running, jumping and throwing, the Midshipmen, 29 athletes strong, headed for the bus back to Annapolis, while the 35 Cadets of Army, a strong threat to claim the team title, did the same thing for the short trip back to West Point.

Though they had been told not to talk to the media, one of the Navy athletes couldn’t resist. Neil Amdur of the New York Times quoted a Midshipmen anonymously as saying, “Some guy from Princeton wanted to talk politics. I said, ‘I’m here to compete, man.'”

Long-time Army Coach Carlton Crowell left in disgust. “I used to believe in the Heps,” he said. “I used to believe in competing against Ivy League schools. Now I’m not so sure.”

He wasn’t the only coach who was struggling with the athletes’ actions. Controversy was still to follow. Much like America at the time, Heps was a house divided.

Continue to page 4

3 Responses to “The House Divides”

  1. Keith Colburn says:

    Thanks. Great article, well researched and written. There is a typo in the seventh line of the statement read by Ed Nosal. “no” should be “not”.

    All in all, it was a depressing day.

    Keith Colburn, Harvard ’70

    • Brett says:

      Thanks Keith,

      It has been fascinating to research and report this piece and, as someone who was a bit too young to understand what it was like to go through those times, I appreciate the decisions that you guys made. Just because there were differing views and actions doesn’t mean that anyone was wrong!



  2. Erik Roth says:

    Thanks, Brett. I echo the accolades of my teammates for your fine article, and share their sentiments about that heart-wrenching time. Revisiting this offers all of us who were there the opportunity to see again through our young eyes what we faced, and to show to those who were not there then, and everyone today, the perspective from older eyes now that may help guide decisions we all still face. Accordingly, I hope your effort at examining this can continue, and inspire us further.

    Incidentally, following Keith’s studious lead, I’ll point out another typo in “the statement” which precipitated the tempest that made this newsworthy. In the second sentence of the second paragraph, “list” should be “listen” (although it might be said that the Administration was indeed listing far to starboard).

    –Erik Roth, Harvard ’70