The Unscripted Stop

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

While athletes were still circling the Dewitt Cuyler oval at the strangest Heptagonals Championship ever (click here for the results), the Navy Midshipmen had their own competition not far away.

“I definitely remember stopping at a big, open, grassy field,” said Tim Joyce. “It’s possible that Coaches Cantello and Gehrdes may have had this ‘impromptu’ event as ‘Plan B.’ Both coaches were very savvy about team morale and understood in this situation there was a fair amount of frustration on the team. I recollect we all competed in each others’ events, the shot putters like me ran relays, the hurdlers may have thrown the discus. As I recall we had fun, the coaches were very much involved and we got rid of a lot of pent up frustration.”

Team manager Tom Connelly remembered the stop as unscripted, and, he said, “Academy trips are never unscripted. We had a fun relays, shot putters running sprints, stuff like that. We then stopped at a buffet place and ate them out of food.”

It takes less than two hours to get from New Haven to West Point and the Cadets were back at the Academy in the early afternoon. Instead of defending his Heps championship, Barney Forsythe went for a long run. “It was a beautiful spring day in the Hudson River Valley … As I ran around the Academy grounds, I remember thinking that for the most part, my athletic career was over (although we still had the Army-Navy dual meet), and I was about to turn pro in one of the most noble professions at one of the most dangerous times in our country’s history.”

“In some ways, I probably grew up a great deal that day; this was a concrete example of what it meant to be a professional soldier,” he added. “The principles — on both sides — were more important than the meet.”

That was a uniform feeling among the athletes from Army and Navy. “It might have been the first time that I realized how much Army and Navy were alike,” said Connelly. “Instead of seeing them as bitter rivals.”

Among the Ivy Leaguers a wide range of views can still be found. Princeton’s Gene Halton, now a professor at the University of Notre Dame, thought that Army and Navy made the wrong decision in walking out. George Lokken, the 1970 Penn captain, felt the protest was inappropriate.

Harvard’s Erik Roth is still amazed that “our modest little protest gesture got covered the next day on the front page of the New York Times right along side the report on the massive March on Washington. In effect, we got to have our cake and eat it, too, plus throw pies in the faces of Nixon and Kissinger.”

There is also a fair share of regret among the participants. “The whole idea of youth empowerment was dominant,” said Charlie Ferrell, Cornell’s runner-up in the 800-meter run. “Our generation was supposedly righting the world. We had a lot of hubris and that was kind of the context of the meet.”

The man who defeated Ferrell, Harvard captain Keith Colburn, wrote: “Joyless is the perfect word to describe the 1970 Outdoor Heps. I still feel badly, if not guilty, about that day and the fact that too many athletes and two teams did not compete. There should have been a way to avoid a breakdown.”

I’d like to thank all the athletes, coaches, managers and media members who took the time to respond to me. Even though I didn’t quote everyone with whom I talked or traded emails, they each provided me with a greater understanding of the time and, in particular, the event. I would like to extended by gratitude to the following:

Army (Tony Dedman, Barney Forsythe, Jim Osman)
Brown (Rick Marshall)
Cornell (Jon Anderson, Charlie Ferrell)
Harvard (Keith Colburn, Bob Galliers, Ed Nosal, John Powers, Erik Roth, Royce Shaw)
Navy (Al Cantello, Tom Connelly, Monty Felix, Jan Fladeboe, Tim Joyce)
Penn (Ken Dietz, Dave Johnson, George Lokken, Karl Thornton)
Princeton (Gene Halton, Bob Hohf)
Yale (Peter Diamond, Rich MacDonald, Geoff Zonder)

And personally, I wish Army and Navy still called Heps home. Just as the 1970 meet was diminished without them, as great as Heps is, it was even better with the athletes from the academies.

One Response to “The Unscripted Stop”

  1. Erik Roth says:

    For further insight to the impact of 60s politics on collegiate sport, at least at Harvard, I recommend a recent football documentary: “Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.”
    Placing second in the javelin at the ’70 Heps was Frank Champi, who figured prominently in The Game this film features. All the recent interviews neatly interspersed nicely express the context of those times and how that was handled by the team. Extended in extras on the DVD, the interviews conclude perfectly with comments by a Harvard player, and another trackman, Ray Hornblower.

    –Erik Roth, Harvard ’70