Over the years, many descriptors have been applied to my father’s life’s work of 62 (and counting) years: educator, visionary, philosopher, teacher, mentor… and those are just the positive ones!
However, when I think of my father as, well, my father, I am transported back to my childhood in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire. Dad has a whistle dangling from his neck. He’s wearing bottle green sweats with the words “New Hampton” emblazoned across the chest. Perhaps that’s why it was such a special honor to join my sisters in accompanying our father for the ultimate homecoming at New Hampton last weekend (11/9-10) when the school inducted him into its Hall of Fame as a 3-sport coach.
If the 3-sport athlete is now an anachronism, then my father was definitely old school. He began coaching football, basketball, and baseball at New Hampton in 1951 and kept at it until 1964. (He did drop the baseball after a decade in order to concentrate on his duties as Director of Admissions.) All totaled, he coached 39 varsity teams at New Hampton, winning several Lakes Region championships in all three sports with several appearances in New England tournaments.
During the weekend there were several references to one particular winning streak from 1958 to 1960 when his football team lost only one game. (For the record, it was to a legendary Brewster Academy team that featured a few future NFL players, Cleveland Brown tight end Milt Morin among them.) In the middle of that streak was the undefeated 1959 team that was also inducted into the New Hampton Hall of Fame during its inaugural year in 2006.
I was a ball/water boy for many of those teams and spent a lot of my time trying to finagle my way on to the bus for road trips. Dad’s players were like big brothers who would baby-sit me, show me how to throw a spiral, shoot a foul shot, or even how to do my arithmetic homework. I fondly recall some of them counseling me on the finer points of romance just before I attended my first dance at the New Hampton Grange Hall. And here they were again, some of them past retirement age, to say nothing of prime playing shape, but all of them still sporting that very same twinkle in the eye I remember from half a century ago.
There were four inductees in this particular class, and my father was introduced first in front of a crowd of 600 that included the entire New Hampton School student body. He was inducted by Gordon Plumb ’60, who was the captain of that ’59 team and is regarded by my father as the toughest and most dynamic competitor he ever coached. (Hyde folks might remember Gordon as a long-time member of our Board of Advisors.) As jocks do when they get together, Gordon told some stories about my father – some inspiring, some humorous, and some both. He focused on a particular basketball game against Bridgton Academy when New Hampton was down by five points with 27 seconds to go. Gordon marveled at how my father called a time-out and mapped out a precise strategy right down to who would steal the ball, who would foul, and at which 5-second intervals these actions would occur. Then the team went back out on the floor, did exactly as my father had instructed, and beat Bridgton by one at the buzzer. Gordon described this as typical of my father’s on-the-fly innovation, a quality that has characterized his entire career, making things like the founding of Hyde School possible.
Then it was my father’s turn to speak. He sidled up to the podium, looked out over his former players in the front rows, and promptly dissolved into tears. Although he had prepared some remarks, he chose this moment to go off-road for a while. (Surprise, surprise…thought his three children.) He proceeded to give credit to his players and pointed out, particularly to the students in the audience, what some of those guys went on to do with their lives after New Hampton and how that was the whole point of the whole thing. He even offered his own interpretation of Gordon’s story about the Bridgton game, pointing out that Gordon’s portrayal failed to mention that he (Gordon) was the guy who made the very clutch shots that beat Bridgton that day. He basically stressed how easy it was to set strategies and draw up plays like that with athletes like the ones who were sitting in the audience that day.
My favorite part of the whole morning was the informal interactions between my father and his athletes. It was as though for a few brief moments they were transported back to those fields, to that court of 50 years ago. As I told Headmaster Andrew Menke, to this day I feel funny when Hyde teams compete against New Hampton. It may be in my DNA to root for that particular shade of green and white. Don’t get me wrong – I still want to beat them, but the whole sensation triggers a mindset of people coming together to commit themselves to doing their best. Yeah, Dad’s indeed right… O.K., again(!)… That is indeed the whole point of the whole thing.
Onward, Malcolm Gauld