Sports at Harvard: Hard to Figure
Everything You Wanted to Know About Jocks
Joe Bertagna remembers the incident well. Maybe a little too well.
The night was March 6, 1973, and Bertagna--currently Harvard's sports information director and at the time the starting goaltender for the Crimson's hockey team--was scarfing a cheeseburg club at Elsie's Deli, his hair still wet from a shower at Dillon Field House.
"How're you doin', Joe?" a friend from his House called across the counter. "You just get out from practice?"
"No," the senior goaltender replied, "We just lost to Clarkson in the first round of the ECAC playoffs."
The season, the four years of hard work, the hopes for an ECAC title and a national championship had died, some 45 minutes earlier, with a shocking 7-4 upset by Clarkson at Watson Rink, and this turkey--well, no, not a turkey, actually, but a friend--was asking if he had just finished practice.
At Oklahoma, or Notre Dame, or Ohio State, the mindless offender might have been set upon by an outraged mob. At Elsie's, in the middle of the Harvard campus, Joe Bertagna shrugged it off, finished his burger, probably stopped off at the Pi Eta club for a beer, and went back to his room to sleep.
You see, sports at Harvard are hard to figure. On the one hand, Harvard maintains a well-funded, high-powered athletic machine that supports a major intercollegiate program, as well as a healthy intramural setup. But on the other hand, well, it is Ha-h-h-h-v-a-a-d, for God's sake. Half the people at this University think the single-wing offense has something to do with table manners at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
So there are star jocks, like Joe Bertagna, who go relatively unnoticed around school (with the exception of Kirkland House, and the possible exceptions of Quincy, Winthrop and Eliot Houses).
And there are those like current junior Mike Stenhouse, a first-term All-American baseball player and a varsity basketball stud, who get shipped off to the Radcliffe Quad via the housing lottery, even though the playing fields are light years away on the other side of the Charles.
There are guys on varsity teams here that go on to the pros--gridders like Pat McInally, Dan Jiggetts and Richie Szaro, baseball player Pete Varney, soccer goalie Shep Messing--while on the other hand you can find an occasional character on the rifle team who looks like an overinflated rugby ball.
There are national championship treams in some sports (squash, crew), and butts of jokes on the Prudential scoreboard in others (football).
There are outrageously beautiful facilities, like the brand new Blodgett Pool and the track hall, and then there's a place called the Indoor Athletic Building (IAB). If you're interested in Medieval Studies as a possible major, the IAB should be your first stop--it's Harvard's only standing example of the architecture of the Middle Ages.
There are pretty good women's sports here, in terms of both quality and administrative support; but for you male chauvinist pigs, there is hardly a cheerleader in the entire school (you thought maybe I was kidding when I said "this is H-a-h-h-h-v-a-a-d, for God's sakes"?)
In short, Harvard has a diverse, solid sports program that you have to get involved with--in some way--to like. And most people like it--I think.
Intercollegiate sports at Harvard are divided into two categories: football, and the rest. If considered separately, tailgating ranks a close second to football in popularity, but most objective observers lump the two together.
Hockey, men's heavyweight crew, basketball and baseball all rate as major sports, but none comes close to football. I mean, where else do you get the chance to sit in the sun all afternoon, yell obscenities about Dartmouth, get totally sloshed, and be considered normal?
Unfortunately for the sloshed Harvard fans, coach Joe Restic's usually fine squad has taken a nosedive since the members of the class of '79 first walked through Johnston Gate. After soloing as Ivy champ in the fall of 1975, the Crimson slipped to a tie for third in '76, before suffering its first losing campaign (4-5) in Restic's eight-year tenure last fall.
But don't worry: the Ivy League is the most unpredictable circuit in the nation, so Harvard's always in the race. And don't worry about having to watch a bunch of Pop Warner rejects in Ivy League football, either: the quality of play here really is quite good, even if we'll never (ever) make the top twenty.
If you starred in high school ball, don't hesitate to try out, but don't be too cocky, either. About a dozen quarterbacks try out for the freshman team each year (freshmen are ineligible for two varsity sports--football and men's crew), and at least a couple dozen high school captains will be out there.
Don't be discouraged, though. As a freshman, Larry Brown failed to earn the starting QB job on the frosh team. As a soph, he played fourth-string on the varsity. As a junior, Brownie got a break when the starting quarterback suffered a neck injury in the season opener, and went on to lead the Ivy League in passing and total offense. As a senior, Brown finds himself listed alongside the likes of Penn State's Chuck Fusina and B.C.'s Fred Smerlas in this month's Playboy as one of the top players in the East.
One last note about Harvard football: the offense is something called the 'Multiflex, which just about no one understands, except to the extent that it resembles the traffic flow in Harvard Square on a Saturday afternoon. Just enjoy it--if all works well, you'll be watching the Crimson and the multiflex beat Yale for the Ivy title November 18 in Harvard Stadium.
There's good news and bad news for prospective Harvard hockey fans. The good news is that the Crimson has traditionally been one of the top teams in the nation, and four members of this year's squad have been drafted by NHL clubs. The bad news is that coach Billy Cleary's club, almost unbelievably, has narrowly missed the ECAC playoffs the past two seasons, and that the renovations at Watson Rink will mean that all home games shift to B.U.'s Walter Brown Arena. Ugh.
The club won the prestigious Beanpot Tournament year before last, though, so look for some big doings out of the Harvard ice hockey team.
Harvard has gone to the College World Series four times, missing a possible fifth trip last spring when two regional playoff games took place just minutes after some players had taken final exams.
All-Americans Mike Stenhouse and Larry Brown have pro scouts drooling at Soldiers Field.
If you're any kind of self-respecting sports fan, you probably know of Harry Parker. If you're male, you're between the weights of 140 and 240 pounds, and you're not deformed, you probably received a letter from Harry Parker asking you to try out for his crew. According to different descriptions, Parker is the coach of the men's heavies, God, or some combination of the two.
In any event, Parker's career coaching record is 70-7 (match that, Bear Bryant!), and the Crimson either wins the national title each year or leaves people wondering why they did not.
Men's soccer would rank as a major sport, but for the overshadowing influence of King Football. Harvard has an especially strong team that would sport an exceptionally strong record each year except for one factor: Ivy League soccer is the toughest around.
Men's cross-country also stands out. A small, talented squad, the harriers won the IC4As (Eastern championships) year before last, and they consistently provide the best copy in The Crimson's sports columns because of very quotable, very capable coach Bill McCurdy.
Women's field hockey has matured from the clubby atmosphere of a couple years back into a tough, serious intercollegiate squad. Women's cross country and soccer, though, only in their third year of existence, have reached a surprisingly high level of quality. Fall schedules of the varsity sailing team and the women's tennis team round out the official schedule of autumn competition.
Aside from the biggies, men's swimming and men's squash stand out. The aquamen battle it out with Princeton each year for the Eastern Seaboards championship, while the racquetmen take on the Tigers each year in a two-team struggle for the national crown. Princeton won in both last winter, but the rivalries live on.
The wrestling and men's indoor track and field squads keep up a fairly high level of competition each year. though they rarely win any big titles.
Like all women's sports at this school, the women's hoop and swim squads have soared in terms of quality and seriousness of play in recent years. The women's squash team has always been somewhat respectable, and last winter established itself as one of the top few squads in the country.
The men's and women's fencing teams not only perform at a decent level of competition, but they also provide opportunities for demented sorts at The Crimson to pen the goriest headlines all year.
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot the newest winter varsity sport. Remember Joe Bertagna, the wet-haired goalie at Elsie's? Well, last year he joined forces with about 15 women and coached them through a scheduled season as a club team. This year the icewomen become Level II varsity (all sports receive a Level I or II designation), and while they may not look all that great yet, they're getting there.
The men's tennis team is very good, as is men's lacrosse, and most of the crews.
The racquetmen like their squash counterparts, have to contend with national power Princeton each season for their main goal--the Eastern League crown. Two years ago, the Crimson tied the nationally ranked Tigers for the title.
Harvard's laxmen came from out of nowhere to finish in the top 15 in the nation last year, and second behind awesome Cornell in the Ivies. Three All-Americans return, so make sure you're a hotshot from Baltimore or Long Island if you want any playing time.
Both the men's track and field team and the varsity golfers have reputations for some measure of talent, but also for erratic performances. Women's track and field remains a minor sport, but the women's tennis and lacrosse outfits established themselves as bona fide quality performers last spring.
The sailing teams continues operations from the fall, but big shots on the Charles travel in shells, powered by oars. If you have physical endurance and any sort of aptitude for the sport, you should be able to make one of the twelve lightweight or heavyweight, freshmen or upperclass men's boats. Similar opportunities prevail at Weld Boathouse, where the Radcliffe light and heavyweights ship out (yes, "Radcliffe"--the oarswomen remain the only women's athletic squad that shuns the title "Harvard women's").
If you make one of the men's or women's boats, don't be surprised to find yourself winning an Eastern Springs, or racing at the Henley Regatta over summer vacation. Harvard is the class of college crew.
Walk-ons occasionally make it in Ivy League basketball, but don't count on it at Harvard with bigtime Digger Phelps-disciple Francis X. "Frank" McLaughlin moving into his second year. Harvard upset Penn at the dungeon-like IAB last year, signaling the shape of things to come. By the time the class of '82 has graduated--assuming McLaughlin stays--former doormat Harvard will have joined Penn and Princeton as Ivy powers, and maybe as a national power.
This is the first year for freshman eligibility in the Ivies, so if you're on of the half dozen or so "trees" that McLaughlin recruited last winter, expected to get plenty of playing time on the Crimson's graduation-depleted front line.
O.K., I'll admit it, Harvard pales by comparison to big-time sports schools across the nation, and I'll hang up my typewriter the day that the likes of Goose Givens come to the IAB to play hoops.
Still, if you want to be a big stud, major laurels can be reaped here. A sampling of the top upperclass varsity athletes follow.
Number one honcho--subject to some debate--is one Robert Hackett, an All-American swimmer who as a freshman last year launched a one-man crusade against the Harvard record book. One more thing: before coming to Harvard, Bobby won a silver medal at the Montreal Olympics. He's not a bad bet to take a gold or two at Moscow, either.
After two years playing baseball here, All-American Mike Stenhouse already owns school records for career HRs (18), single-season HRs (10), single-season RBIs (40) and single-season batting average (.475). Sten also suits up on the varsity basketball squad, and he won the Dartmouth game last winter with a 15-foot jumper at the buzzer.
Third-team All-American right hander Larry Brown finished second in the nation in ERA last spring (0.95), and if that fails to impress you, check him out QB'ing at Harvard Stadium September 23.
If you're from Kansas City, or for that metter, anyplace but an East Coast private school, odds are you've never even heard of squash. Canadian junior Mike Desaulniers has definitely heard of squash--in fact, he's the number one amateur in North America--and how many pro squash players do you know?
Junior hockey defenseman Jack Hughes is an amateur, too, but in 24 months or so, he should be working his tail off at training camp for some NHL team. Jack's an ECAC and Ivy League All-Star selection, and to make matters worse for Crimson foes, big brother George (a senior) has led the icemen in scoring the last three campaigns and figures to move up from his current standing in eighth place on the all-time Harvard scoring list.
Peter Predun may be the most underrated lacrosse player in the country. As a sophomore last year, the midfielder placed only as high as the third team when All-American honors came out. This spring, there's no way they can keep the smooth wheeler-dealer off the first team.
No one really knows the exact reason why senior Craig Beling's nickname is "Subway." Something to do with Newton's first law (Force equals mass times acceleration), I suppose. Subway led the football team in tackles while playing linebacker last year, and he earned All-Ivy honorable mention honors as a heavyweight wrestler.
Glenn Fine is not much, if at all, large, than a typical Craig Beling lunch. Listed as 5'10" in the basketball program, the nifty guard kept the lowly Crimson hoopsters from coming unglued last winter by quarterbacking the offense and leading the Ivy League in assists. But, c'mon, Glenn, 'fess up about that height listing in the program.
When Sarah Mleczko arrived at Harvard two years ago after devasting interscholastic opponents in four sports at Andover, the Crimson sports editor dubbed her "The Bionic Freshwoman." She's more than lived up to the epithet, establishing herself as one of the top women athletes in the East--if not the nation--in field hockey, squash and lacrosse.
Sue St. Louis arrived on the Harvard athletic scene on year behind Mleczko, but she's a tough person to overshadow. St. Louis tallied 17 goals in leading the soccer team into respectability for the first time, and she hacked around with a lacrosse stick, too.
About 20 very talented and very large athletes are going to descend on The Crimson when they see their names omitted from this admittedly arbitrary list, but as the cartoonist says, that's all, folks.
It's a pretty fair assumption that a lot of the people reading this piece were all-state in oboe, and not in wrestling. So despite the recruiting-supported and heavily funded intercollegiate program, 60 Boylston St. (that's synonymous for the Athletic Department, since it's located at 60 Boylston St.) offers a strong intramural program, with teams competing by House or freshman dorm affiliation.
Soccer is the only major sport for freshmen this fall, but once you've reached the bigtime (sophomore year), you can suit up for the House football league--that's tackle, with equipment and uniforms, just like high school--but for the absence of the crowds and cheerleaders and the presence of some burgeoning beer bellies.
Maybe the best thing about the Harvard sports program, though, is that you can play most sports here on the intercollegiate level if you're willing to work and you were any good in high school.
Varsity can be tough (in some sports, you had better have been All-State), but Harvard's athletic department merits high marks for its maintenance of a broad slate of these supporting programs. This fall, both men's soccer and football will send forth J.V. and frosh outfits, and all year round opportunities abound for the magginal college jock.
With 6500 high-powered people at this school, though, you find a lot of sports-folks who defy categorization as a varsity, subvarsity, or intramural competitor.
The fanatic fan is one such example. A wide variety of students makes up this classification, but a particularly zesty sample can be found in section 38 of Harvard Stadium on Saturday afternoons, chanting such creative slogans as "Intercept, contracept, stop that ball!" and, "Move to the left, move to the right, stand up, sit down, on my face."
Among others, the band the Crimson Sports Cube--a bunch of talented writers who just happen to be frustrated jocks--can usually be found in the ranks of this group. Favorite meeting places for this rabid group of sports fans are Kirkland House (the jock house), Master's Open Houses (glorified cocktail parties with free booze), and the Harvard Provisional Co., which is a nice corporate title for a little store on Mt. Auburn that provides just one thing--liquor--to the Harvard community. Whether you hand out at the Harvard Pro or not, it's not a bad idea to plan to hand out at Soldiers Field, across the Charles.
You see, sports at Harvard are funny--what with bigtime and small time aspects of intercollegiate sports all mixed together--but you should at the very least check out what's going on.
For all the drawbacks of sports here, I think a lot of athletes--both varsity and intramural--will tell you they've gained just as much in the locker rooms and on the fields as they have in a lot of classrooms.
As for me, I can barely remember some of my courses from fall of freshman year, but I can sure as hell tell you the score of the Yale game: it was 10-7 Harvard, giving the Crimson its first solo Ivy League title, and every undergrad at this school went a little bit crazy that day.
Even the guys who were all-state in oboe.