Sports

Karl Lindholm: An exhilarating return: Bates-Middlebury

MIDDLEBURY PLACEKICKER ANDREW Haas adds the final point to Middlebury’s 24-0 defeat of Bates last Saturday before a packed house at Youngman Field. Our columnist discusses his shared loyalty to the two schools as reflected in experience of football.

Last Saturday, I ventured to the Middlebury-Bates football game, the first athletic event at the college I have attended in more than year and a half.

I was exhilarated by the game, not so much because the Panthers won, though that is always gratifying — just by being there, so happy to be there, outside, released into God’s green acre on a beautiful early fall day, cloudless skies, temperatures in the 70s.

I was hardly alone in that sense of exhilarating release. I had plenty of company, there with an estimated 2,650 other folks, all in a mood apparently as festive as mine, as large a crowd as I have ever seen at Youngman Field.

Sports are back for me, in-person, with friends and other partisans lost in the excitement of the moment and the spirited play we witness. I trust and pray it is not a chimera and when the snow flies, we are thrust back indoors, masks on, prisoners once more of COVID and now its variants.

I used to say that I owned a few acres of property in Cornwall and 350 acres in town! Having graduated from Middlebury and worked at the college for 35 years, and lived here another 10 since retiring, I “owned” Middlebury College.

The pandemic put an end to that.

I drove by campus every day, multiple times, and saw those neon signs on Main and College streets that read “No Visitors/ Campus closed/Even you, Karl!”

That hurt, but I didn’t object. As a townsperson, I was proud of the way the college staff, students, and faculty (despite skepticism) unified to ensure that protocols were followed explicitly last year, and we all remained comparatively safe.

It’s fitting that this happy reunion for me last Saturday was a football game against Bates College. My attachment to Bates, and Lewiston, Maine, where it is located, is equal to my attachment to Middlebury College, and Middlebury, Vermont.

While my life for the last half-century has been in Middlebury, my roots are at Bates.

If you see me around town, I’m likely to be wearing a weathered “Bates” baseball hat, a gift from my daughter Annie, Bates class of 2020. Annie was home last weekend and at the game with two Bates friends. I wore that Bates hat — and my Middlebury pullover!

My father and mother met at Bates and both graduated from that college. My sister, my only sibling, went to Bates, so did Uncle Peter and Aunt Sara, and Cousin Wendy and many other cousins too. Annie actually attended Bates with three of her cousins whom she met for the first time there.

When people ask me why I came to Middlebury for college, I explain, “because I couldn’t get into Bates,” and it’s true. My dad was the dean of admissions and he told me that, explicitly. He thought I needed to get out of Lewiston, which I thought was the center of the universe.

I had assumed I would go to Bates. Middlebury, all the way over in Vermont, was sufficiently like Bates to appeal to me. Fred Neuberger, admissions director at Middlebury, was a friend of my dad. The admissions building at Bates is the Lindholm House.

My dad was a football player at Bates, a very good one (unlike his son), a member of the team that famously “defeated” Yale 0-0 in 1932 and captain of the team his senior year. He loved the hurly-burly of the game and believed in football, and sports generally, as character-building, a precursor to a healthy manhood.

When I was growing up at Bates, in that era, football was the only game in town — soccer was a foreign sport, and women’s intercollegiate athletics were yet to come. The football game was the centerpiece of the fall weekend, even in small colleges like Middlebury and Bates, in a way much bigger than now.

Everyone came to The Game, the whole school and town. The stands were packed. There was organized cheering (“Hold That Line! Hold that Line;” “Block That Kick! Block That Kick!”), and the fight song was sung after every touchdown. (Middlebury had a great fight song, “Victory, Oh Victory,” that only old fart alums like me know now.)

I have keen memories of football games at Bates, on the same field that they play on today. Compared to Middlebury, the Bates campus is constricted physically, and Garcelon Field is surrounded on three sides by college buildings.

Opposite the grandstand not 50 yards from the gridiron itself, the exterior of Smith Hall, a large dormitory, would be festooned with white bed sheets hanging out the windows painted with battle cries: “Beat Bowdoin!”; “Crush the Mules (Colby)” and so forth.

I sat at games with my dad and his male friends, old footballers themselves whom I admired extravagantly. They enthusiastically encouraged the Bobcat players and excoriated the referees. I traveled to State Series away games with my dad, to Colby, Bowdoin, and the University of Maine — and the rides home, buoyant after wins, gloomy after losses.

When the football team was away, we would await the ringing of Hathorn Hall bell in the center of the Bates campus after a victory. That’s how we learned of the outcome. Should it ring, we could hear the celebrations on campus at our home two blocks away.

All this personal history packed into my high at Saturday’s Bates-Middlebury football game.

A poignant note amid the cheer: I and others were aware at the game of the presence of another Bates man, Russ Reilly ’66, though he was there in spirit only. In his retirement from his career in the Middlebury athletic department (basketball coach and athletic director), he became the Voice of the Panthers as the PA announcer at football games. Russ died in the summer of 2019.

In stentorian tones, Russ would greet us, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, welcome to Youngman Field!” He took the job seriously but was characteristically exuberant in his resonant announcer-voice, inserting light embellishments in his capsule descriptions of play: “tackle by a congress of Continentals” or “a herd of Jumbos.” Russ would offer scores from NESCAC’s “sister conference, the Big Ten,” and would on occasion give what he called “partial scores” — “thirty-love; nil-nil, and seven.”

Russ was missed at Saturday’s game.

OK, I am returning to earth now from this sentimental flight.

Tempus fugit.

Be safe.

See you on the sidelines.

Editor’s note: Karl Lindholm’s account of his relationship to his dad and football won a First Place, Sports Columnist, in 2014 from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. You can read it at tinyurl.com/HabitsOfRightLiving.

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