A Track Meet?

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



As Army and Navy began their return to the academies, at Dewitt Cuyler Stadium nerves were frayed, feelings hurt, questions remained unanswered and motives were assigned. Not exactly a great atmosphere for an athletic competition.

A number of athletes were upset with politics encroaching on the championship, for many the only escape from the stress and strife back on campus. A counter protest was discussed.

Another oddity was the disparate states of readiness among the teams. Princeton’s Bob Hohf had said that the Tigers weren’t really prepared. Half of the squad was sitting out the meet and those who made the trip? “We thought everybody was on strike,” said Hohf. “But we got to Heps and some of the teams were fully intact. We were wearing gray Princeton athletic apparel with a raised fist and the words ‘on strike’ on the back and red headbands.”

For Princeton Coach Peter Morgan, the season was chaotic. According to Hohf, at the postseason banquet, after more than 20 years of coaching the Orange and Black, Morgan tearfully resigned, claiming that he couldn’t endorse the behavior he’d experienced. He’d instead take a post with the Mercer County Parks Department in New Jersey.

At least three Ivy coaches served in World War II, but how they handled their teams varied widely. Harvard’s Bill McCurdy, an Army man, gave his team leeway to make its own choices. Penn’s Jim Tuppeny, a Navy man stationed in the Pacific, held a much tighter rein, often concerning himself with the hair lengths of the athletes, his and his opponents alike. Yale’s Bob Geigengack, who joined Navy efforts late in the War, was somewhere in between.

McCurdy’s Harvard squad had built quite a track resume — 12 combined Heps titles in seven years — and the Class of 1970 might have been his most talented… and his most radical. “We were a different kind of class,” said John Powers of the Boston Globe. “Just recently we had our first reunion without a Vietnam symposium as part of it.”

Powers had written about the cocky nature of Harvard’s cross country squad in The Crimson that previous fall. “Quaker coach Jim Tupenny [sic] calls the bearded Harvard team ‘a disgrace to the Ivy League,'” Powers wrote. “It appears to be a natural rivalry. The old do-or-die-for-State school versus athletic nonchalance.”

Giegengack’s Bulldogs straddled both sides of that fence. His star captain, Kwaku Ohene-Frempong (pictured), was widely considered the protest ringleader by the academies and his own athletic director, Delaney Kiphuth, was battling both the NCAA and the ECAC. Yet one of his runners, Thomas Dunn, qualified for the 880-yard final early in the day, but pulled out of the meet without competing for the title. He then wrote an editorial in the Yale Daily News, citing the “unyielding arrogance” of the captains’ statement.

Even without star miler Royce Shaw, who had gone to Washington, D.C., for an anti-war protest, McCurdy’s Crimson had to be considered the favorite. But the Cantabs didn’t care much about the team title after Army and Navy walked off.

But Penn did. The upstart Quakers gathering together for an enthusiastic mid-meet rally to prompt a run at the school’s first team title in nearly 30 years rubbed some the wrong way. An unidentified Harvard athlete told the New York Times, “It psyched us up again. We’d rather see Yale win something than Penn.”

The Red and Blue had simply come to the Championship to compete at its highest level. Coach Tupp’s athletes are quick to defend him and refute any anti-Harvard comments that had been reported.

“He was old school, but he also loosened up,” said middle distance star Karl Thornton, who would later coach with him. “It was a time of a lot of changes, in fact, we were in the middle of the change and I think Tupp might have been a year or two behind where the kids were.”

It would turn out that Penn was a bit behind Harvard in the final standings. The Crimson were 11 points ahead of the Quakers, who were 11 points ahead of host Yale. When it came time to collect the team trophy, Keith Colburn looked for advice from Coach McCurdy, who told his captain to do what he felt was best for the team. “Well, everybody knows that circumstances,” responded Colburn. “Let’s just forget it.”

A strange end to a strange day.

Yale’s Rich MacDonald reflected on the experience as he walked back to his dorm following Heps. “It was really weird. It was hard to go to the meet with all the chaos around us. We hadn’t been to class for three or four weeks and the events going on were very disorienting for all of us. I remember running into a very stoned friend of mine who asked me where I had been, and when I told her, she kind of drifted off.

“Track meet? Track meet? How could you go to a track meet?”


Continue to page 5

4 Responses to “A Track Meet?”

  1. Thomas Downer H 70 says:

    Brett,
    As a member of the Harvard team that year, I think you have captured the feel of the events of that era exceptionally well. I certainly recall the antipathy for Penn that focused our efforts to beat them.

    • Brett says:

      Thank you Thomas. John Powers of the Globe helped spell that out for me and it certainly jibes with the feelings expressed in the stories written by Neil Amdur of the New York Times. I still find it amazing that this little meet (as important as it is to us, it was only about 300 athletes) captured the complete array of opinion and feeling in America at the sad and angry time. Look forward to talking to you in the future!

  2. Keith Colburn says:

    Brett,

    It gets better every page. Keep up the good work.

    A special thanks to Ed Nosal for inspiring Harvard’s protest at the NCAA Indoor Championships. My mother even said I looked good in blue! I recall our long jumper, Noel “Skip” Hare, who placed third in the long jump, also wore a Yale jersey during the medal presentation. It was unfortunate and unfair that our Yale friends were unable to compete.

    Keith

  3. Dorothy says:

    This was a great read, Brett. There was still alot of fallout from Nixon/Kent State/Panthers era when I joined the track team at Penn in ’75. I’ll have to ask George Lokken about the ’70 meet when I see him nest. Take chances, dude.