In this month’s column, John Cross ’76 reflects on winter break, the ice of a snowless campus, and the cycles of tradition.
For me, beginning a new year involves recalibrating internal calendars and cycles, and adjusting goals and priorities to the realities of another year having passed without my having written the definitive word on the archaeology of Northeastern North America, achieved the physical fitness of a 25-year old, or even managed to sort the “stuff” that threatens to engulf me in my office. The holiday break for students lasts until January 23—ample time in which to do some research at Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, establish an exercise routine at the Buck Fitness Center, and eliminate at least some of my office clutter. Winter break is also one of my favorite times to take in Bowdoin sports events, in part because I’ve always felt as though each increment of crowd support matters a little more to the players when there are fewer fans in the stands.
A video tribute to Sidney J. Watson (1932-2004).
My most vivid recollections of Bowdoin hockey practices are from winter breaks in the distant past. On occasion, while I was still a high school student in Brunswick, I would get a phone call from Coach Sid Watson, asking if I would be interested in scrimmaging with the Bowdoin varsity hockey team. They sometimes needed another goalie for the practices scheduled closest to the holidays. He never had to ask me twice, although I’m not sure that I provided much of a challenge to the stickhandling and shotmaking skills of the defending ECAC Division II Champions (in fact, I’m quite sure that I didn’t). Later, as a member of the Bowdoin hockey team, my outstanding memories of the winter break practices were of wind sprints. Operating on the assumption that overindulgence in food and drink was a universal behavior for his players over the holidays, Sid would add extra drills that were simple in concept and painful in their execution. The exertion of all-out sprints, abrupt stops, reversals of direction, and all-out rushes back across the ice at Dayton Arena built up through a series of repetitions: once over and back; twice over and back; three times…four times…five times…six times…five times…four times…three times…twice…once. I remember reaching a high of seven on one occasion. Encumbered by bulky equipment, the goalies were the last to finish each sprint, affording a little time for the rest of the players to catch their breath. The extra conditioning paid off during the second half of the season, although we didn’t necessarily appreciate that fact “in the moment.”
It’s hard to believe that it has been almost three years since the first intercollegiate hockey game was played in Watson Arena on January 18, 2009 (the Bowdoin and Hamilton women’s teams battled to a 1-1 tie). In the second game on that snowy day, the men’s team defeated Williams 8-3. For half the current student body, hockey has always been played in Watson Arena, and the site where Dayton Arena once stood has always been a large parking lot. For all Bowdoin undergraduates Sid Watson’s name is a familiar one, but it does not connect to any direct memory of the outstanding collegiate athlete, professional football player, renowned coach and athletic director, mentor, and friend, who passed away in 2004. Such is the nature of the passage of time and the turnover of student population on a college campus.
Admissions and graduation are bookends for the undergraduate experience, but there is enough variation within and between cycles to allow traditions to take root, flourish, or fade away with each cohort, and to be replaced by new customs and attitudes. For example, it may come as a surprise to some that the on-ice rivalry between Bowdoin and Colby took a back seat to the intensity of the Bowdoin-University of Vermont match-ups of the early 1970s or to the Bowdoin-Merrimack contests of the mid-late 1970s. In the same way, players from my era cannot fully appreciate the challenges faced by teams who not only played on an outdoor rink but who also worked to create, maintain, and shovel it. From the first intercollegiate hockey game played in the state in 1907 (a 4-1 victory over the University of Maine at Whittier Field) until the opening of a covered arena and a refrigerated ice in 1956, Bowdoin’s hockey program was at the mercy of temperature and weather. For many years an open-air skating rink was maintained on the Delta, a triangular piece of land now occupied by Sills Hall, Smith Auditorium, and Cleaveland Hall.
For a couple of seasons in the early 1950s an unheated airplane hangar at the naval air station provided cover for a hockey rink. Despite having limited practice time on less-than-ideal ice surfaces, the hockey teams of the early 1950s acquitted themselves well; the 1953-54 team won the New England Championship. In looking out on a largely snowless Brunswick landscape in this new year, I have gained an appreciation of how frustrating it must have been for hockey players in the pre-Dayton-Arena era to prepare themselves for mercurial weather conditions.
I hope to see you—and to hear you cheering on the polar bears—at Watson Arena, Morrell Gym, Greason Pool, the Lubin Squash Center, or Farley Field House during this winter break.
With Best Wishes,
John R. Cross ’76
Secretary of Development and College Relations