Part V: The 1980’s Opened An Expansion Period for Athletics and Recreation

Athletics was growing to meet the varsity needs of women on campus, but needed a modern master plan. Twenty-five years after President Moriarty’s first special committee on athletics, President Edward Henry established in July, 1980, the College’s first Task Force on the Goals for the Athletic and Physical Recreation Program. His action was in response to a report filed by Thomas Niland, who was retained as a consultant on Saint Michael’s athletic programs, and also to answer continuous questions being raised on the prospect of establishing men’s ice hockey as a varsity sport; the elevation of men’s basketball to NCAA Division I; and the role of athletics in relation to the college’s mission. Henry asked Jerry Flanagan, ’71, Director of Admissions, to chair the Committee, and charged the group to set goals for the athletic program, to explore the proposal to conduct one or more sports at the Division I level, and to elevate ice hockey to varsity status.

To ensure that the membership of the Task Force was representative of the college’s various constituencies, it was comprised of members from the athletic department, Society of Saint Edmund, faculty, trustees, students, staff, and alumni. The committee met for the first time in September, and continued every two weeks for 18 months.

In January, 1982, the Athletic Task Force issued its report. It included the following recommendations: 1) that physical education be required of all students, with at least two semesters as a graduation requirement; 2) that additional resources be directed to the intramural program, particularly in developing more recreational skiing opportunities; 3) that all club sport programs be eliminated and that all intercollegiate sports be conducted on a varsity level – administered by the athletic department and funded by the College; 4) that the golf, track, baseball, softball, and rugby programs be eliminated for different reasons, including academic calendar and weather conflicts, lack of student interest, and risk of injury; 5) that basketball remain at the Division II level; 6) that men’s ice hockey be eliminated, due to the anticipated increase in expenses to fund a quality program at the varsity level; 7) that the College has a moral obligation to comply with Title IX and should provide continuous review to ensure compliance; 8) that the College increase physical space in the Ross Sports Center to accommodate the campus’s growing population of women, and increase and improve the athletic playing fields; 9) that the College increase athletic department staffing to include another full-time administrator, and a full-time Sports Information Director; 10) that the athletic department and development office work in concert to develop a fundraising program for athletics, and that athletics make a stronger recruiting effort to benefit all sports programs; 11) that coaches be diligent in tracking student-athlete academic performance and eliminate as many academic/athletic conflicts as possible; 12) that the college increase that athletic department budget to at least 2% of the overall operating budget and that the athletic department explore all opportunities to economize operations; 13) that the college take a hard look at its athletic scholarship issue (18 at that time, 12 for men and six for women), suggesting specific ways to economize, and recommending college representatives propose to the NCAA that scholarship aid be limited to tuition only; and 14) that a Sports Council be established to set athletic policies and review programs on a regular basis.

President Henry and the Board of Trustees placed great weight on the report, and acted on many of the recommendations. Women’s soccer, men’s lacrosse, and women’s lacrosse were established as varsity programs for the 1982-83 academic year. The club sport classification was eliminated at the College, and two new positions were added to the staff – a full-time staff person to assist with women’s varsity programs and a full-time Sports Information Director. In addition, in opposition to the report, President Henry endorsed the launch of men’s ice hockey as a varsity program that year.

From the earliest days of athletics at the Hilltop until 1967, the College considered itself a member of the Green Mountain Conference, with its traditional instate opponents being Norwich, Middlebury, and the University of Vermont. It was a conference in name only – created by the media as a tool to crown state champions in the sports of football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey. In the 1960’s, as the NCAA basketball championship tournament began to rely heavily on conference tournament outcomes to select teams, it became a necessity for Saint Michael’s to secure an official affiliation.

In 1967 the College gained entrance to the North-East Collegiate League in basketball only, joining Central Connecticut State, Saint Anselm, Stonehill, Adelphi, Bridgeport, C.W. Post, and Southern Connecticut State. The league dissolved in 1970, leaving the College without a conference for 14 years. Saint Michael’s was invited to join the New England Collegiate Conference when it was formed in 1980, but decided to wait for an opportunity to join a league with member institutions more similar in philosophy. Another New England-based Division II league was forming at the same time, one that had more appeal to the college. With its small, private, liberal arts institutions, the then-Northeast-7 Conference appeared as the ideal for Saint Michael’s, and the college’s administration lobbied for membership through the early 1980’s. At the same time, the NCAA’s Division II Championships Committee voted to offer automatic bids to the men’s basketball championship tournament to the individual conference champions around the country. Saint Michael’s had to do something quickly if it wanted to remain a viable Division II program, and the College joined the Mideast Collegiate Conference in 1984. The league offered a championship in men’s basketball, as well as a conference championship race for men’s and women’s cross-country. Member institutions at that time were Adelphi, Gannon, LeMoyne, Pace, Philadelphia Textile, and St. John Fisher. When the invitation finally came from the Northeast-10, the College jumped from the Mideast Collegiate in 1987.

President Henry and Markey had worked through the early 1980’s to gain consideration for membership by the (then) Northeast-8 Conference, but to no avail. The distance for the member schools to travel – to a state that, from a marketing standpoint, didn’t have a lot to offer the southern-New England-based league – was too great a deterrent to overcome…initially. Markey’s close friendships with the athletic directors from the member schools kept the college’s candidacy alive, and when President Paul Reiss came to the college, he brought new energy and negotiating skills to the challenge. Finally, in late 1986, the conference voted to expand by two institutions, Quinnipiac College and Saint Michael’s College, (effective for the 1987-88 academic year) and to change the league’s name to the Northeast-10. The remainder of the conference’s membership at that time consisted of: American International, Assumption, Bentley, Bryant, Merrimack, Saint Anselm, Springfield and Stonehill Membership in the conference fulfilled a desperate and longstanding need of the college to guarantee quality schedules and championship opportunities for its broad-based varsity program. It was the first time in the college’s history that Saint Michael’s belonged to an official, multi-sport conference. At this writing in 2004, the Northeast-10 is comprised of 15 institutions and is the country’s second-largest NCAA Division II conference. It offers 23 sport championships, more than any other Division II conference in the nation.

In September, 1986, President Paul Reiss charged the college’s second Athletic Task Force. It was chaired by Mike Samara, Vice President for Student Affairs, and again, committee members represented all corners of the campus community. Reiss charged the committee to review the college’s progress toward the recommendations from the 1982 Task Force report, and also to make preparations for the college’s entrance into the Northeast-10 Conference.

In March, 1987, the Task Force issued its report, highlighting 24 recommendations for the President and his Cabinet. Many of them were procedural in nature and also called for more staff positions to meet the growing demands of this expanding, broad-based athletic department. Most prominent among the recommendations was one that urged the college to expand its recreational facilities, especially with the addition of a multi-purpose recreation center. The committee also felt that the college should give strong consideration to implementing a “lifetime sports” component as a requirement for graduation.

The College’s Athletic Hall of Fame held its first induction and celebration on October 16, 1987, at Burlington’s Radisson (now Wyndham) Hotel. The Charter Members of the Hall inducted that evening were: George ‘Doc’ Jacobs, Rev. Ralph Linnehan, SSE, ’21, John ‘Pro’ Herbert, ’40, Dr. Robert Knight, ’50, Leo ‘Pete’ Plourde, ’52, Frank Simas, ’52, Anthony Nicodemo, ’59, Richard Tarrant, ’65, and Kathleen O’Neil, ’81. Jerry Healy, ’50, then Director of Public Relations for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, served as Master of Ceremonies.

The establishment of the Hall of Fame was the final act of John Donoghue’s illustrious career at the college, as he was one of the creators of the concept, and a founding member of the Hall of Fame Committee. The man who had arrived back at the Hilltop in 1947, the same year as Doc Jacobs, and earned the nickname “Mr. Saint Michael’s” had dedicated parts of seven decades to his beloved alma mater. In his role as Public Relations Director from 1947 to 1966, he had been extremely successful in gaining local, regional, and national exposure for the college, particularly when using athletics as “the hook.” He created the concept of Sports Information Director at Saint Michael’s and trained many talented Michaelmen to fill the position as students under his guidance. He also founded the college’s first student newspaper, “The Michaelman.” In addition to his time as a student and public relations director, Donoghue also served the college as music director; professor of humanities, education, journalism (a department he eventually chaired); and associate trustee. He received the college’s first Citation of the President in 1978, and received an honorary Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1981. Sadly, he died just months before the first Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place.

One of the stipulations of joining the Northeast-10 Conference in 1987 was that the college agreed to reinstate baseball and softball for the 1990 season. Rebuilding the programs was a daunting challenge, particularly when considering that the college’s baseball and softball fields no longer existed. With the construction of the 300 series townhouses, it was no longer possible to position the necessary fields on the main varsity-field space. Saint Michael’s needed to expand its athletic field space – but where? The answer was right next door…in partnership with the Vermont National Guard. In November, 1988, President Reiss and General Donald Edwards signed a landmark land-use agreement between the college and the Federal Government. The agreement allowed the college to construct the much-needed new baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey fields on land adjacent to the campus that was deeded as part of the Vermont National Guard’s base. In exchange, the National Guard received educational and recreational benefits for its soldiers. The ten-acre parcel was developed into the Doc Jacobs Field complex, boasting state-of-the-art playing fields considered among the finest natural grass facilities in the Northeast.

As the college grew into the 1990’s and its demographics continued to change, it became very clear that the Ross Sports Center was not designed to accommodate the number of women that were fast becoming the majority of the undergraduate population! In addition, greater student interest in recreational activity and the ever-increasing needs of varsity programs to gain access to indoor training space showed that the college needed a new facility for athletics.

After nearly two years of construction, the Jeremiah J. and Kathleen C. Tarrant Student Recreation Center was dedicated on October 15, 1994. Rich Tarrant, ’65, All-American member of the Purple Knight basketball program, provided the lead gift for the project. He surprised his mother at the unveiling with the dedication to his parents. Built at a cost of $6.5 million, the 67,000-square-foot field house and recreation facility met a tremendous need of the college to be able to provide a wide range of athletic and recreational opportunities for all students. The structure included many “firsts” for the college population, including indoor tennis courts, racquetball and squash courts, a running track, and a climbing wall.

The next year President Reiss called for the formation of the College’s third Athletic Task Force in August, 1995, and asked Anne Berry, Vice President for Institutional Advancement, to serve as chair. The charge for this group was to look ahead and to set an agenda for athletics and recreation programs for the 21st century. The following May, the Task Force issued its report, outlining eight major recommendations focused on improving the varsity sports program: from creating a strategic plan for athletics, to suggesting a change in the structure of the athletic department, to developing fundraising and marketing initiatives for increasing revenue for the department.

On January 28, 1997, Ed Markey announced his retirement, marking the end of an era at Saint Michael’s. His decision brought five decades of service to the institution to a close. Only the College’s second athletic director since World War II, Markey’s career linked the Purple Knight glory days of post-war football and basketball and a six-sport menu with the college’s 20-sport, multi-faceted, co-educational world of modern athletics at the close of the century. He retired from a department that offered equal opportunity for women and men and a multi-million dollar athletic facility without divisional peer in New England.

Markey was a significant figure on the Winooski Park campus ever since he arrived – by train – as a freshman in the fall of 1947. As a student, he earned six varsity letters playing basketball and baseball. On the basketball court, Markey was a three-year starter at guard (remember, college eligibility rules at that time did not permit freshmen to compete on varsity teams). Originally counted on for his scoring ability (he scored well over 200 points in each of his first two seasons), Markey developed into a pure floor general – setting up plays, creating scoring opportunities, and playing tough defense. A captain in his senior year, the Knights went 19-4 for an .826 win percentage – the best in the program’s first 81 years of existence. In Markey’s three-year varsity career, Saint Michael’s was 50-16, winning 76% of its games.

On the baseball diamond, Markey was a three-year starter and a team captain his senior year. Playing mostly shortstop as well as some second base, he was known as an excellent fielder. He hit .300 as a senior, and led the team to the state championship in a dramatic 10-inning, come-from-behind win over Middlebury. There’s an interesting side note to Markey’s baseball career. During his undergraduate summers, he played semi-pro ball in Canada. After graduation, he attended a Boston Braves tryout in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and was offered a Class D contract (the bottom rung of the minor league system at that time). He wanted a Class C contract because he was 21 years old and already making more money playing in Canada, so he turned it down. The Braves took their offer to another young hopeful at the tryout, who signed the contract and headed to his assignment in Wisconsin. That young prospect was consummate Hall of Famer Henry Aaron!

After serving a tour in the Army, Markey returned to Saint Michael’s in 1955 and accepted the position of assistant to Jacobs. He was immediately given the freshman basketball team coaching responsibilities and led them to a 70-15 record over the next eight seasons. He coached the varsity from 1963 to 1972 and posted a career record of 134-86. His 1964-65 team won the NCAA College Division New England Championship, finishing fourth in the nation. His 1966-67 team was also a NCAA New England Champion.

He was named Vermont Coach of the Year in 1964, 1965, and 1967 and was United Press International’s choice for College Coach of the Year in 1965 and 1967. At this writing, his 134 career wins are second only to Doc Jacobs’ total of 158. Markey also coached the Purple Knight varsity baseball team for 19 years.

Markey was an administrative cornerstone for college athletics, regionally and nationally, for four decades. He held several prestigious NCAA, ECAC, and New England committee assignments.

Among the many awards and honors bestowed upon him, there are four of particular distinction: in 1971 he was awarded the prestigious Alvin “Doggy” Julian Award by the ECAC for distinguished service to college basketball; the following year Governor Deane C. Davis proclaimed June 17, 1972, Ed Markey Day in the state of Vermont in recognition of his accomplished basketball coaching career; in 1988 he was awarded the ECAC’s Distinguished Service Award, in tribute to his long-standing and exemplary career; and on June 12, 2000, he joined his mentor, Doc Jacobs, in the National Association of College Athletic Directors (NACDA) Hall of Fame.

On May 7th, 1997, President Marc vanderHeyden announced the appointment of Geraldine Knortz as the college’s first female Director of Athletics. She came to Saint Michael’s after a successful 15-year career at Hamilton College, where she held the title of Associate Athletic Director/Senior Woman Administrator.

As the 20th Century was coming to a close, Saint Michael’s could look back on its athletic history and be proud of numerous championships and memorable moments. There was, however, one trophy missing from the college’s case – an NCAA National Championship trophy. Only the men’s basketball team had even earned the opportunity to participate in an NCAA team championship tournament, and through all their successes (four Sweet 16, two Elite Eight, and two Final Four finishes), the team had never won the national title. The 1998-99 academic year would finally produce that national championship for the Purple Knights; and it would be thanks to a talented men’s ice hockey program at an opportunistic time. Men’s ice hockey enjoyed solid regional success through the late 1990’s and produced a number of All-Region and All-American players. In 1997-98 the team posted its first 20-win season (20-7-0). It had lost only four games in the Eastern College Athletic Conference over the previous two seasons. In the summer of 1998, the NCAA Division II Championships Committee voted to eliminate the national championship for men’s ice hockey, due to the shrinking number of member institutions still sponsoring the sport at the Division II level. The decision meant that 1998-99 would be the final year that the championship would be awarded in Division II men’s ice hockey. The Knights had another strong season that winter, and were selected to participate in – and host – the final NCAA Division II Championship in the sport. Their opponent in the final series was New Hampshire College (now Southern New Hampshire University). The format for the final was a best of two games, with a third game to be played if necessary. A 4-4 tie in the opening game on Friday, March 12, 1999, set the stage for a winner-take-all contest the following day. The Knights never trailed in the final game, scoring two goals late in the first period, and went on to win, 8-5, in front of a capacity crowd at the Essex Junction Skating Facility. As he celebrated with his team on the ice after the presentation of the championship trophy, head coach Lou DiMasi said, “It’s an unbelievable moment for our program and Saint Michael’s College – It’s just incredible!”

The Purple Knights lived a life of celebrity through the spring of 1999. First they were celebrated on campus with a huge pep rally in Alliot Hall a few days after winning the title. Vermont Governor Howard Dean invited the team to a celebratory breakfast reception in his office at the State House on April 30th, and declared the day “Saint Michael’s College Ice Knights Day” in the State of Vermont. A week later (May 5th), the team was at Fenway Park in Boston as guests of the Boston Red Sox. They were introduced on the field prior to the start of the game with the Texas Rangers, with team captain Chris Davidson, ’99, throwing the ceremonial “first pitch.” The Hockey Hall of Fame, in Toronto, Ontario, requested several artifacts from the championship game, and displayed them in their “Champions” case for the year. Interestingly, because of the historical significance of the Knights’ championship, the items are still in the care of the Hall’s curator and are occasionally placed on display at the world’s shrine to the game of ice hockey. Women’s ice hockey became the College’s 21st varsity sport the following year, bolstered by the immense popularity of the championship team and the excitement on campus for the sport.

The new millennium brought a new look for the college’s athletic logo program. In May, 2000, the College unveiled its new athletic logo and colors at a pep-rally-styled “Study Break;” final exams began the next day. The new athletic identity program was created as a blend of the traditional Purple Knight nickname with several new components. The most dominant graphic is a profile view of a knight’s helmet, face shield closed and plume blowing back. The helmet is set on a backdrop of green mountains (a feature Fr. Lyons incorporated in the College’s belltower logo that was created during his presidency in the late 1940’s), and above the words “Saint Michael’s College,” written in a custom font. With the new logo came a new color scheme. The old logo was two-color, purple and a yellow-gold. The modern primary logo is a four-color design: purple (same as the College’s traditional color), gold, green (for Vermont’s green mountains), and black (a tribute to the cassocks worn by the priests of the Society of Saint Edmund who founded Saint Michael’s). The “Logo Launch Party” culminated a six-month process that involved the College and its contracted design firm. Athletic Director Geri Knortz said, “This is very exciting for our student-athletes and coaches – this program binds us all together with a very fresh, strong look. I think the logo captures the essence of our proud tradition, as well as a vision for the future.” Jerry Flanagan, Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing, said, “The time was right. We are entering a new century – a new millennium – and the College’s centennial is on the horizon. It was time to upgrade and unify our athletic look – maybe for the next 100 years.”

Women’s athletic history was made in November of 2000, when the College’s field hockey team advanced to the NCAA Division II Final Four (a feat they would repeat the following season) – marking the first NCAA championship tournament appearance of a women’s varsity team in Saint Michael’s history.

In January, 2002, President Marc vanderHeyden called for the formation of the College’s fourth Athletic Task Force and asked Mike Samara once again to serve as chair. He charged the committee to review the 1996 Task Force report and to evaluate current athletics and recreation programs in the light of the President’s 2010 Vision Statement for Saint Michael’s. The Task Force issued its report in May, outlining eight recommendations: 1) create a Wellness Center; 2) provide additional staffing for the Wilderness Program; 3) provide additional staffing for Intramurals; 4) recommend that the next two full-time coaching positions should be in the sports of Women’s Ice Hockey and Men’s Lacrosse; 5) offered a recommended list of new/enhanced athletic facilities, featuring an ice arena; 6) encouraged the college to enter into a partnership agreement with Smuggler’s Notch that would make recreational skiing available to every student on campus; 7) confirmed the college is best served at this time in Division II and the Northeast-10 Conference; and 8) confirmed that no program cuts should take place at this time.

It is interesting – and quite significant – that the college’s most recent Task Force would issue its report at the close of Saint Michael’s first 100 years. The report is a microcosm of the entire athletic history of the college – focused on the same priorities and issues that the founding fathers, early Athletic Associations and the Doc Jacobs/Ed Markey eras had called attention to. They are all ageless issues: offering increased quality athletic opportunities for all of the college’s students, using the college’s location to its advantage, ensuring quality varsity sports programs by remaining in a recognized athletic conference, and looking into the future to provide anticipated facility needs for the college community.

The most consistent theme that has run throughout 100 years of athletics at Saint Michael’s is that student interest in programming is recognized and supported by the college’s administration and staff. From the earliest days on the Hilltop, when student leaders formed the Athletic Association and built programs and facilities, the interest and spirit of Saint Michael’s College students has always dictated the development of the institution’s varsity, intramural, and recreational programming. At this time, one of the College’s most celebrated athletic programs is the Wilderness Program. In 1996, the program began with a small group of students who shared a love for experiencing the great outdoors in Vermont. With the College’s support and the interest of more and more students, it has grown into a student-run organization of volunteers and participants, with a full-time director and funding from the Student Association. In the 2002-03 academic year, the highly-trained student-leaders of Wilderness instructed over 60 programs in areas of skiing, snowboarding, telemarking, climbing, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, whitewater rafting, wilderness medicine, and week-long expeditions, involving over 700 Saint Michael’s students. Like the founding members of the Athletic Association 100 years ago, the student-leaders of Wilderness create programming, plan itineraries, train new members, and manage the vast majority of the day-to-day operation.

So as it was in the beginning, so it continues as the college enters its second century. Saint Michael’s remains a vibrant, active, spirited institution, with a student body always striving to reach new horizons, and an administration supportive of their efforts, energy, and dreams.