Karl Lindholm: Warming up to the college’s sports hall of fame
About 10 years ago, I got wind of a plan to initiate a Middlebury College Athletics Hall of Fame to coincide with the construction of the new field house. I thought this was a very bad idea and I wrote to the big shots at Middlebury and told them so.
I have never been a huge fan of Halls of Fame as they recognize individual achievement over all other aspects of sports participation. They honor the players who score the most points, and not those who are the “glue,” the heart of a team, the leaders, the unselfish contributors, the hardest workers, the most team-oriented, the defensive specialists — and the coaches who win the most games, not necessarily those with the highest standards who get the most out of their players’ abilities and contribute in less obvious but meaningful ways to their growth.
I know, I know, this attitude places me in the liberal-weenie camp, the “every kid gets a trophy” school, a charge I can live with. Even now, I maintain an idealized view of sports. At the core, they are an enterprise of the spirit, a passionate engagement, a source of tremendous intimacy, yes love, among teammates and their leaders, their coaches, that cannot be quantified and fairly evaluated by points scored and games won and honors accumulated.
Those making the decision wrote politely back to me and said, in effect, “Sorry, Karl. It’s a done deal. There will be a Middlebury Athletics Hall of Fame.”
Naturally, I said, “count me out!”
Well, not so fast.
I actually made the kind of pivot that I have become somewhat accustomed to as I age — falling off my high horse. “If it’s fait accompli, can I be a part of the process?” I inquired. To their credit and my everlasting gratitude, they said, “Sure.”
The Middlebury College Athletics Hall of Fame has now inducted eight classes and honored 53 athletes and five coach/administrators (25 women, 33 men) from 25 varsity teams from 1910 to 2004. I have been on the selection committee from the outset.
It is the most meaningful connection I have to the college I attended and where I was employed for 35 years. Having been a part of the college community for a half century, I do represent something of the “historical memory” of the college (though that memory is subject to lapses and embellishment!). I’ve been to a lot of sporting events.
I have enjoyed enormously being involved in the Hall of Fame process. It is safe to say I have moderated my view of Halls of Fame, at least the one here at Middlebury College.
About a dozen people serve on the selection committee, which includes the various constituencies of the college and is now co-chaired by the Director of Athletic Communications Alexis Paquette and varsity softball coach Kelly Bevere.
The committee meets frequently and discusses those Middlebury athletes (and coaches) who are nominated from the outside or are brought forth from a master list of viable candidates, eventually selecting the inductees for that year, from five to 10 in number. The discussions are lively and respectful, keenly collaborative.
This “master list” has been crucial to our work. Deliberations for the first six classes of inductees were overseen by Brad Nadeau, the director of athletic communications from 1993-2021. In 2015, he hired a recent graduate, Damon Hatheway, as an intern in his office to research the athletic history of the college and develop a list of potential candidates for Hall of Fame consideration.
That was an enormous task and Damon (now a third-year doctoral student in Classics at Boston University) did a brilliant job, providing for the committee a comprehensive set of names and their credentials from all of Middlebury’s varsity teams (14 men’s teams and 15 women’s teams). If we had an appropriate category, I’d nominate Damon for the Hall of Fame.
I am something of Damon legatee: I genuinely enjoy doing Hall of Fame research. According to the bylaws (Hall of Fame information is easily accessed online), we must have a “pre-NESCAC” honoree (before 1971) in every class. I feel a responsibility to the old timers from the 1940s and ’50s and before that too, the great early athletes who have died: I tell people, that’s the group I’m closest to in age!
I find happiness in the College Archives on the bottom floor of the library, pouring over the Campus newspaper and yearbooks, and the abundant other materials in their collection. I lose myself in the lives represented in image and text, so exuberant are they, so apparently confident, forever young. Some of it no doubt is vicarious appreciation.
At the moment, I’m looking at the careers of great skiers, Olympians all, from a time when Middlebury was atop the collegiate ski world in the 1950s. I’m trying to develop a pecking order for their consideration for the Hall of Fame.
The student newspaper and yearbooks go all the way back to the 1880s and the birth of organized competitive intercollegiate sports at Middlebury — for men anyway. For women, intercollegiate competition largely began with the passage of the groundbreaking Title IX legislation in 1972. The exception of course is skiing, where Middlebury women excelled. Middlebury’s first Olympian in skiing was Becky Fraser in 1948.
These sources, the Campus and Kaleidoscope, are reliable historical documents — except for the decade right after my graduation in 1967, the era of the youthful counterculture and Vietnam War protest, the newspaper a pastiche of radical commentary and the yearbooks a collection of photographic images, not even a team picture among them.
It’s not accidental that that decade is unrepresented in the Hall of Fame, so I’m also working on developing profiles of deserving athletes from that time when so little information on campus is available. Versions of the Burlington Free Press and (especially) the Rutland Herald on microfilm are helpful.
The induction ceremony every November is a wonderful party. The athletes, now mostly middle-aged or older, return with family and friends to celebrate and recall with emotion their experience of sports at Middlebury, and the glory of teamwork and collective effort, and always, their abiding affection for their teammates.
Karl Lindholm, Ph.D., is the Emeritus Dean of Advising and retired Assistant Professor of American Studies at Middlebury College. He can be reached at [email protected].
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