Monday, September 3, 2012

WESLEYAN FOOTPRINTS: Series puts spotlight on influential Wesleyan grads in sports

“One of the greatest things about Wesleyan,” a coach told me recently, “is that you’re inspired to follow your bliss and go anywhere.”

The Middletown Press presents a new series called “Wesleyan Footprints,” bringing you daily profiles of influential Wesleyan alumni in the world of sports. It’s a chance to retrace the steps of Wesleyan graduates who have made an impact on modern sports.

Henri Salaun '49: France native overcame WWII obstacles, found squash fame

It’s a long and intriguing success story — one that begins with a harried departure from pre-war France, winds through the Wesleyan University campus in Middletown, climbs to the highest of highs in professional squash, then quietly settles down to a home in Needham, Mass.

This is the story of Henri Salaun. 

He’s widely considered one of the world’s most influential squash players, and cut his teeth as a three-sport athlete at Wesleyan in the 1940s.

Salaun, 87, went on to win the inaugural U.S. Open of squash in 1954, earned a bevy of national championships and even adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1958.
But like so many people of his era, Salaun’s life wasn’t shaped by sports. It was shaped by World War II.

Barbara Martin Herzlich '81: Field hockey star met all goals

Mark Herzlich has a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants. At Boston College, he was an All-American and defensive player of the year in the ACC.

And the 6-foot-4, 246-pound linebacker might still be the second-best athlete in his family.

That’s because his mother is Barbara Martin Herzlich — generally considered the best female athlete in Wesleyan history.

Read more about Barb.

James Wendell '13: Olympian was world-class hurdler at Wesleyan

One century ago, Wesleyan was in a golden age of athletics.

Not only was quarterback Everett Bacon changing football with the forward pass, but a talented young hurdler named James Wendell was making history.

Wendell, like Bacon, was in the midst of his two-time All-American career. He won a national championship in high hurdles as a senior and five New England hurdles titles.

Bill Rodgers '70: Marathoner's elite career forged at Wesleyan

Bill Rodgers was a good runner when he first came to Wesleyan in 1966. But he wasn’t great — not yet.

It was a combination of his own ambition and some inspired coaching that turned Rodgers into “Boston Billy,” one of America’s greatest and most recognizable distance runners of all time.

Rodgers won four Boston Marathons, four New York Marathons and set an American marathon record in the process. He was named world’s best marathoner three times in the 1970s by Track & Field News, and today is a member of the National Track & Field Hall of Fame and National Distance Running Hall of Fame.

Bill Belichick '75: Patriots coach keeps Wesleyan family in mind

“As the year’s go on, his contributions have never been stronger,” freshly retired athletic director John Biddiscombe said. "Just a really loyal guy. He’s an active recruiter for football, talks with [football coach and current AD Mike Whalen] and helps with fundraising.”

Houghton 'Buck' Freeman '43: Alum left indelible mark on campus

As a dynamic scorer and captain for the men’s soccer team, Houghton “Buck” Freeman had a splendid athletic career at Wesleyan.

Still, his athletic prowess pales in comparison to the impact he had on the university decades after graduation.

His name will forever be attached to the Freeman Athletic Center, toward which he donated $5 million in 1988. He later helped create the Freeman Asian Scholars Program, which provides full scholarships for native Asians to complete a degree program at Wesleyan.

Everett Bacon '13: Wesleyan's football pioneer

One hundred years after Everett Bacon graduated from Wesleyan, the memories have, sadly, begun to fade.

There’s the Bacon Field House at Wesleyan, named in his honor. There are a few pictures scattered around campus. But they barely do justice to the two-time All-American and pioneer of football’s forward pass.

Read more about Ev here.

Ambrose Burfoot '68: A running student, savant

In the soundtrack to Ambrose Burfoot’s life, there is but one track.

It’s a rhythmic padding — something like worn-down sneakers on pavement. And it never stops.

Listen closely and you can hear it during his freshman year at Wesleyan, when he stole off to run the 1964 Boston Marathon without telling his cross country coach.

You can hear it four years later, when Burfoot became the first collegian to win that same race.
And you can even hear it presently, as Burfoot works as editor-at-large at Runner’s World Magazine.

Kathryn Keeler '78: Wesleyan's golden girl

On the brink of one of the biggest moments in school history, Kathryn Keeler was cool as a cucumber.

Wesleyan women’s crew was about to race for a national championship in Philadelphia in 1978, and coach Pat Callahan was giving his team some last-minute guidance.

Keeler, a senior, turned to her coach and smiled. “Don’t worry, Pat. We’re going to win.”

And just like that, they did.

Jed Hoyer '96: Cardinals pitcher found success in front office

Jed Hoyer could pitch. He could catch. He could play left field, shortstop, third base and second base.

And the 1996 Wesleyan graduate could do it all at the highest level.

It comes as no surprise, former teammate and current Wesleyan baseball coach Mark Woodworth said, that he does just as well playing the front office.

Hoyer is now the executive vice president and general manager of the Chicago Cubs, working under former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, now the Cubs’ president of baseball operations.
Read more about Jed.