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The Stacks: Athletics with a Vision

August 29, 2014
The 1922 basketball squad

The 1922 basketball squad

The following was originally delivered by Robin Lingle ’60 at Founders’ Weekend 1991 and was reprinted in the April 1991 Stony Brook Bulletin.

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In the eleventh chapter of his letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul begins with these words, “To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” It was by faith that people of ancient times won God’s approval.

We are gathered here to honor those who were certain of things they could not see, whose faith, whose vision has stood the test of time, gained God’s approval.

During the spring of 1922, when Clyde Mellinger sat in a New York City office that was being used as a recruiting headquarters, he could not see the marked off playing fields with well trained student-athletes in attractive uniforms competing against closely matched opponents. However, he did share a vision with Frank Gaebelein who was asking him to become science teacher, dorm master, and “the coach” at the new Stony Brook School. It probably was a good thing that Mellinger was in New York City and not actually on the campus when he accepted the position offered, for when September came and “the coach” set out to field a football team, vision and reality were rather different things.

The area that our present athletic fields occupy was a twisted maze of trees and brush. Mellinger located a field just off Route 25A near where the 7-11 is today, erected goal posts and lined the field himself. There were 27 boys in the entire student body of which only 12 showed any interest in football, and some of those were raw beginners at the game. As for attractive uniforms, the yearbook reveals what appears to be a combination of unlettered, unnumbered, black, padded shirts and baggy, brown pants that reportedly were purchased by the individual students themselves.

Somehow, against such odds and with some earnest encouragement from the headmaster, Clyde Mellinger put a team on the field to compete in interscholastic athletic competition during those very first days of our school’s existence. The results seemed to be a forgone conclusion. No scores are registered in the score books.

However shaky the beginning, it was a beginning. If there were ever doubts about Clyde Mellinger’s certainty of what he could not see, they were laid to rest when two days after the last football game was played, “the coach” started basketball practice with many of the same students who had played on the football squad, still nursing their bruises.

The practices were few, the court was improvised on the floor of Carson Auditorium, but the basketball uniforms had a bright “SB” on the front of them. Playing the first game against Smithtown High School, the Brookers surprised everyone–including the visiting team–with an aggressive offense and determined defense, winning the game 32-6. The school was totally unprepared for victory. According to the record, “Their jubilation knew no bounds.” Now I don’t know what that means, so to get the right story, you had better check with some of the first students who are with us today. The basketball team won its first six games that inaugural season, played 22 games in all, and finished with a winning record.

When Clyde Mellinger moved outdoors again in the spring of 1923, to coach the baseball squad, athletics at Stony Brook had become an important part of the school’s spirit. Mellinger would remain at Stony Brook for three years. In his final year, the 1924 football team went undefeated with a record of 4-0-1, beating some of the strongest teams on the eastern end of Long Island. Our school had made its mark and “the coach,” Clyde Mellinger, had made certain by his vision, things he could not have seen.

During that initial decade, others would contribute to the athletic “firsts” that were only hopes at our school’s inception.

In the spring of 1925, new faculty member Pierson Curtis would become the first tennis coach at Stony Brook. Most Stony Brook students who remember P.C. as a coach, probably don’t even realize that he was the first tennis coach. They probably saw him more as a permanent fixture. He served out school as tennis coach in five different decades. Certainly the vision of Pierson Curtis in athletics and in so many other parts of our school’s life stood the test of time and won God’s approval.

In 1926, an ex-college runner, Francis Armstrong, would, in the words of the yearbook, “Do something about track.” The yearbook goes on to describe Stony Brook’s first track coach’s efforts by saying, “Mr. Armstrong worked steadily every afternoon for two weeks with fellows who were on work ‘as penalty’ to make a straightaway and a quarter-mile track.” In addition to creating the first track during that season, Coach Armstrong would guide Tom Brohard, competing at the 440-yard dash, to be the first in a line of Brookers who would become Suffolk County champions. The next spring, Stony Brook entered the Penn Relays for the first of what has become an annual trip to that classic track event in Philadelphia. Cary Weisiger, who will share his memories with us in a moment, was a member of that group.

A review of premier names in Stony Brook athletics would not be complete without the mention of coach Charles Ruffner. In 1925, he became Stony Brook’s second football/basketball/baseball combination coach. Although Charles Ruffner was not the first to hold that position, he was greatly responsible for inaugurating an attitude which is at the center of Stony Brook’s vision for athletics. Again, let me quote the yearbook, “One of the principal things which has inspired our fellows to fight cleanly and gamely, has been the fine leadership which Coach Ruffner has always displayed. His thorough gentlemanliness is a constant source of admiration among the fellows and has many times been an inspiration to them to go out and give their best for the school. We are proud to have such a man with us.”

We are gathered here to honor those who were certain of things they could not see, to celebrate their vision, to be proud of those who saw athletics and our school as more than lined fields, attractive uniforms, win-loss records; who saw “that on the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds which on other days and other fields will reap a harvest of victory.” Mellinger was certain that with the snap of a football was sown a seed of discipline. Curtis was certain that at the serve of a tennis ball was sown a seed of hope. Armstrong was certain that with the exchange of a relay baton was sown a seed of loyalty. Ruffner was certain that with the acceptance of a referee’s call on the basketball court was sown a seed of peace.

In the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul begins with these words, “As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, the win which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end.” Amen!

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Seal

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