by Geoff Gall '65
The stars of Kalamazoo's Quarter System (think: three, four, and five hitters) have been the large off-campus programs: Career Service, Foreign Study, and the Senior Individualized Project. The reputation the College enjoys today has probably come from the implementation and development of those programs.
But the quarter system opened the door to smaller off-campus projects as well, such as athletic team trips, and though these smaller projects were less developed and more unpredictable, they were capable of providing "K" students with significant, life-changing experiences.
I was a member of the 1962 Hornet baseball team, when it left in March of that year on its first-ever spring trip. 1962 was the year Walter Cronkite began his career as CBS Anchorman. Johnny Carson started the Tonight Show. George Clooney, born in Louisville, one of our stops, was 10 months old, and March 19, the day of our first spring trip baseball game, was also the day Bob Dylan released his first record album.
Our schedule called for six games in one week against two teams: Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, Alabama, and Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia. We travelled by car, with Ray Steffen and "Swede" Thomas as our coaches/chaperones.
The Quarter System had started that fall, with all its attendant highs and lows. We were exhilarated to be at the forefront of a daring educational adventure, as promoted by the school and the national press, but by March, that exhilaration was losing steam and the stress of the shorter, 10-week term, the nagging feeling that a report or paper was imminently due, was beginning to wear us down. Most everyone on the team was looking for a changed venue, a place where we could relax and de-compress.
We arrived in Birmingham on the 19, and Howard, being on the semester system, was still in session. Students lounged about campus in their shirtsleeves, talking and reading. To us ballplayers, just arrived from snow-covered Kalamazoo, it might as well have been Honolulu. We immediately wanted to break out the bats and balls.
Howard put us in the basement of the basketball field house, and during the four-day stay, a flu bug hit the team, causing some late night visits to the bathroom. But, in the end, there was no epidemic and only a handful of members were affected. Before the trip was over, the flu was all but forgotten.
Howard's spring football practice was being held on an adjacent field at the time, and each day, before our baseball game, the head football coach would come into our locker room, take a seat on the end of a bench, and carry on an animated conversation with our coaches or any players who happened to be standing around. I remember him as a small, loquacious man, very likeable and eager to learn all he could about the sports scene up north.
I'm sure introductions were exchanged and then forgotten, so it wasn't until years later that most of us realized he was Bobby Bowden. The only trouble was we had met Bobby Bowden before he was nationally prominent Bobby Bowden. A few years later and access to him would not have been so easy. There's now a statue of him on the Florida State campus, in Tallahassee, honoring him as one of the most successful coaches in America (he completed his career second all time wins by a collegiate Division I football coach, 377).
Before leaving Birmingham we managed to catch the annual inter-squad game concluding spring football practice. Bowden had adopted the "swarm defense" developed by "Bear" Bryant at the University of Alabama, sixty miles to the west, and it was on prominent display in the inter-squad game. (Alabama would recruit Joe Namath that year and go on to win the NCAA Championship in '64.) Several players on the K baseball team watching the game also played football, including Frank Stuckey, Fred Reuer, John Persons, Don LeDuc, Eglis Lode, Tom DeVries, and John Miller. Later that year, they were all members of the undefeated 1962 Hornet football team. Following the game, an impressed Coach Steffen opined that Howard's football team was probably on a par with Western Michigan.
Coach Steffen's observation at the football game was not the first time the subject of Western Michigan University had come up on the trip. Western Michigan, under Coach Charlie Maher, had been a collegiate baseball powerhouse in the late '40s and '50s and WMU's baseball facility - Hyames Field, the prototype college ballpark, built in 1939 by the WPA - had been host to the first two college world series in 1948 and '49. Altogether, WMU had gone to the college world series six times and was runner-up in 1955. It came as quite a relief to the Howard baseball players, then, to find out we were not Western Michigan, as they had feared, although we were from the same town.
We had stayed over in Birmingham for the football game, so we left early the next morning in order to play a doubleheader with Oglethorpe University in Atlanta. For some reason, probably because the pitchers all had sore arms (I have a sore arm just thinking about it) we only played one game, which concluded our spring trip at five games.
The trip had been a success, despite the losses.had one more stop before returning home, though, and that was in Louisville for the Championship Game of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament. The final weekend of the tournament is, among other things, a big coach's convention, and I'm sure Coach Steffen had long since marked it on his calendar.
None of us baseball players had tickets to the game, but we did crash the victory party for Cincinnati after the game, held in the ballroom of a big downtown hotel. We were all impressed by how tall and imposing and well-dressed the basketball players were. I looked around the room for the great Oscar Robertson, to no avail. Robertson was the most celebrated college basketball player in America. In his three years at Cincinnati, he had set a new all-time collegiate scoring record. He had taken the Bearcats to the Final Four, in vain, all three years. He graduated in 1960 and the coach, George Smith, retired. Cincinnati then promoted freshman coach, Ed Junker, to varsity coach and Cincinnati's next two teams won national championships, back to back. This was just before John Wooden and the great UCLA teams. No school had ever won consecutive titles. The 1962 game in Louisville, against Ohio State, was the second one.
All five spring trip games were losses, four by double digits, but the regular season didn't turn out too badly. We tied for second in the MIAA, with an 8-4 record. Besides the spring trip, we played doubleheaders at University of Detroit and Central Michigan, losing all four. Our overall record then, counting the spring trip, was 8-13.
Most of the players on the trip would agree that it had been a success, despite the losses. We had travelled to a warm, sunny climate, which gave us a full week away from the classroom to play ball and unwind. What's more, the trip provided an intimate look at the inner workings of three major college sports and chance for us to experience a place so different from our home.
"I do remember the southern hospitality," said Tom DeVries '65. "They were very nice to us as were the players and students on the other campuses we visited during these trips."
The 1962 Hornet Baseball Team (l-r): front row - John Miller '65, John Mason '63, Fred Reuer '64, Don LeDuc '64, Dan Kozera '62, John Persons '64, Scott Cleveland '62, Robert Schwartz '64; second row - James Howell '63, Frank Stuckey '63, Tom DeVries '65, Robert Shearer '65, John Ingles '65, Gary Reynolds '64, Geoffrey Gall '65; back row - Coach Ray Steffen, Ronald Edmonds '65, Bruce Ketcham '65, James Goza '65, Eglis Lode '65, Richard Stevens '66.