From the Readers

Overlooked athletes from a century of SCIAC, and other reactions to Oxy's plans to revive athletics

A Century of SCIAC

You were correct when you stated that Occidental Magazine would probably get some letters regarding great athletes that were not mentioned in the Winter issue ("A Century of SCIAC"). I certainly appreciate being mentioned in the year of 1966 along with my Oxy friend, Rich Verry '67.

But I'm almost embarrassed to be ­mentioned without the naming of Dennis Chinn '66, co-captain (with Jim Wanless '66) of Jim Mora '57's SCIAC champion­ship football team of 1965. He was named the Bill Anderson Award winner (MVP), co-Best Defensive Player (with Dave Milam '66), and was a first team All-American. Dennis was the heart and soul of that team; he helped drive all of us to our team success by his example.

There is no question that had Dennis been three or four inches taller he could have played at any major college with great success. He also was an exceptionally valuable member of the first Occidental rugby team that went undefeated in 1965. Several years ago, Dennis was named to the Eagle Rock High School Hall of Fame [where he was inducted by Coach Mora, above]. He really was the symbol of ­athletic success in the years 1964-66.

Dennis went on to coach at the Division I level and then became a doctor of veterinary medicine. He practiced for many years in upstate New York, where he was able to see his sons wrestle at the collegiate level. Dennis exemplified what it means to be a student-athlete and the product of an Occidental education. Unfortunately, Dennis passed away last year but was in contact with his Oxy friends until almost the end.

It was a great group of young, talented athletes—too many to mention, but their ­collective effort led to great team success in both football and rugby.

Incidentally, that group of athletes, both football and rugby, from the classes of 1965, '66, and '67 have stayed especially close, with a reunion of some type or other every five years or so (thanks to Phil Anton '67, who has kept the best email list of all time). Just last summer, at the beautiful home of Tom Noble '65, the first rugby team (plus a football guy or two) had a wonderful reunion with 40-plus attendees, counting wives and significant friends. Coach Mora was in attendance with his wife, Connie, as well as his good friend and first rugby coach, Mike Quint '58. We all had a wonderful time reminiscing and were able to exaggerate our athletic talents, largely because most of us can't ­remember what really happened. Io Triumphe!

Joel Sheldon '66
Pasadena

Fun article on athletics. It was sad that you limited yourself to a single accomplishment for each year, as the 1963 track and field team had some incredible moments. Dave Moon '63's 880 was clearly one of them; he deserves to have been chosen for the Track and Field Hall of Fame. Two other efforts stand out.

Bill Neville '64 broke the NCAA discus record (193'4"). And Steve Haas '63 had an incredible year—four school records (in the 100, 220, 440, and 880). The 880 was especially unique. He had an injury that kept him from his sprint specialties, so he asked Coach Jim Bush if he could try the 880. On an overcast Wednesday, paced by 4:05-miler Leroy Neal '63, he ran in the low 1:50s and three weeks later qualified for the international meet vs. Great Britain and West Germany with a time of 1:47.6. Three weeks later! The smoothest runner ever.

One last note: In 1959, Pete Tunney '60 got his yards out of Coach Chuck Coker's Lonesome Center formation, used because of injuries to his quarterbacks. With Tunney (drafted by the Detroit Lions) at tailback, Tony Yim '61 (tryout with the Rams) at fullback behind the center, both halfbacks, including Clarence Treat '60 (14.0 hurdler and future New Christy Minstrels member), and all linemen spread out 20 yards away from the center. Creative.

Robin Paulsen '63
Santa Barbara

A Winning Strategy?

I read with some disquiet in Occidental about Oxy's latest crusade to rescue the athletic teams, particularly the "signature sports" of cross country and track and field, from decline ("To Be the Best" and "What Price Glory?," ­Winter). I was most concerned to read that the strategic plan for athletics makes the ominous recommendation that there be "more successful collaboration between Occidental's admission and athletics departments." 

I have had personal experience at two separate small liberal art colleges, Oxy and Colby College in Maine, when the respective administrations sought to improve the performance of athletic teams: at Oxy as a student, at Colby as a member of the academic staff. From these two experiences, I learned that the concern about athletic senescence arises periodically and, stoked by alumni concerns, is used for marketing purposes and does not necessarily serve students or faculty well. 

I say "latest crusade" because in 1959, when I entered Oxy as a freshman, the College had just finished reacting to a demand by influential alumni to arrest what they saw as the disastrous decline of Oxy track and field from its glory days of the late 1940s and early 1950s. In the previous spring and summer the administration had mounted an intense and ultimately very successful effort to recruit for the track and field team a set of highly accomplished ­California athletes. Once on campus and installed in a set of adjacent rooms in Stewart-Cleland Hall—"Jock Alley" they dubbed their lair in a section of an upstairs hallway—this privileged group quickly became a closed, entitled subset of the freshman track and field team that monopolized the meager coaching resources then available. Non-recruited track and field athletes  like myself were effectively frozen out and not given a full chance to participate. I saw a similar process take place at Colby when a new football coach, hired to address alumni demands to change a "long habit of losing," segregated the players he recruited from players already on the team. In short order he destroyed the football program and left after overseeing three more losing seasons, during and after which several classes of football players were cast aside.

When I served on the admissions ­committee at Colby, I learned just what "collaboration" between admissions and athletics meant. The coaches always seemed to insist that whatever shortcomings a high school transcript might reveal, a highly regarded ice hockey player, for example, should be admitted on the basis of his or her potential contribution to Colby's brand, not on consideration of how that person might perform in class. We committee members always asked ourselves at that point to consider the possibility that that star hockey player might enroll in one of our classes and to speculate on how we might evaluate his/her performance. Indeed, in the classes I taught I had to deal with polite but firmly worded calls from coaches concerned that I was grading their athletes too harshly. 

I understand that whatever my misgivings, the College will pursue, as always, the chimera of the perfect marriage between academic and athletic excellence. The danger, as I see it, in creating a class of highly visible athletes who to justify their role as emissaries of the College must receive an outsize share of available resources, is that the College risks shortchanging all other full-fledged non-athletic students and places unnecessary pressure on the faculty who must deal with the consequences in their classes on a daily, ad hoc basis.

Fraser Cocks '63
San Marcos

A Mountain of Opportunity

While reading your well-written article about Oxy athletics, it got me thinking about the cost of sports and the desire to make a name for the College. One thing that strikes me as a great possibility is to develop a winning mountain-biking team. Several reasons I think this would be easy and financially cost effective:

1. No significant building or facilities costs. Mountain biking takes advantage of Oxy's ideal location, being nestled into the local San Gabriel Mountains where the mountain-biking community is growing quite fast. No millions of dollars for buildings, courts, or field costs—just access to the local mountains and thousands of dollars spent on good quality mountain bikes.

2. Founded in 2009, the National Interscholastic Cycling Association is growing like crazy, as are many regional leagues. The Southern California league is growing at a rate of 25 percent a year and is only in its seventh year (540 kids from 55 schools currently participating). The Northern ­California league is in its 17th year and was recently split into two leagues with more than 1,000 kids. These are all upcoming freshmen who love the sport and could be persuaded to consider colleges that offer mountain biking as a sport.

3. The winningest high school coach in the Southern California league lives eight miles from Oxy and is looking to move up to a college-level competition. He has taken beginners over and over and produced top racers for the Southern California league.

If Oxy wants an affordable sport with the most likely road to being at the top of the mountain of sports, mountain biking may make for one of the easiest rides.

Tyson Cobb '85
La Crescenta

A Gold Medal Effort

I really enjoyed reading the Winter 2015 Occidental, where you featured "100 Years, 100 Moments" of Oxy's SCIAC history. This was in sharp contrast to my last letter to you regarding the demonstration featured in the previous issue. You and President Veitch, with his letter of introduction, ­deserve kudos for promoting a resurgence of athletics as part of the Oxy experience.

Athletics was one of the major reasons that I chose Occidental, on the recommendation of my high school football coach, whose best friend was Tigers basketball great Don Hankins '48. I especially enjoyed the item about my friend Bob Gutowski '59, who, if he had lived, would have been world champ when they changed the vaulting pole to make it more flexible.

A story you may not know is about Bob taking the silver medal in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics with a pulled hamstring. I believe he would have taken gold if he had not had the hamstring injury. 

Bob would not settle for third place in any event—since George Roubanis '59 (who enrolled at Oxy from Greece, then transferred to UCLA) took the bronze, and Bob would not have wanted to return to Oxy having been beaten by George.

Peter R. Palermo '59
Pasadena

Thrown Off the Mark

There is a picture in the latest Occidental showing Coach Payton Jordan with Tom Meyer '57, and it describes him as the school record holder in the shot put and javelin. I was the co-sports editor of the school paper in 1957-58 and probably ­attended every track meet from 1953 to 1959, but certainly don't remember Meyer ever throwing the javelin. 

My memory isn't what it once was, so I went to my NCAA Track and Field Guides from the years in question and found nary a single mark for Tom in any javelin event at the Coliseum Relays, the Compton Invitational, the West Coast Relays, nor the SCIAC meet. He was the shot put champion at all of the SCIAC finals and placed high at the other meets, but nothing in the javelin. 

Jack Kemp '57, however, was a good javelin thrower and had a helluva arm. I once saw him throw a softball from one end of the football field to the other end. I think a revision in the records is in order.

Joe Sinclair '58
Pasadena

Doctors of Dunk

Thank you for sharing the letter from Don Riddell '69 in the Winter issue ("Coach, Friend, and Hero"). Coach Grant Dunlap '46 gave me, and many others, a chance others had denied. Our lives are better ­because of the lessons learned from Coach and Occidental.

After our 50th reunion last spring, I shared with Coach that at least four from the 1962-63 basketball team had earned Ph.D. degrees. He thought that may have been the highest percentage ever, and asked me to write the magazine (hence this letter). Bud Barker '65, Larry Edwards '63, Ben Roth '64, and I were in that group. Doug Willsie '63 had all but his dissertation. Coach suggested this might be a challenge to other teams. I apologize for the lateness, but running down my old teammates is not as speedy as I'd hoped for.

Dave Sell '64
Mount Washington

Brothers in Arms

In reading the alumni letters last issue in response to the article "Civil Disobedience" (Fall 2014), I was struck by the fact that the three contributors most critical of the article and the protests were graduates from the late 1950s: '57 and '59. Presumably, they had the opportunity to attend Oxy at a time when students need not have concerned themselves with being drafted to fight a controversial war. In any event, I am prompted to offer what I think may be my unique experience with, and perspective on, those ties and the war.

I matriculated at Oxy in the fall of 1966. Ray Celaya '70 was in my freshman dorm (Bell-Young) and a pledge brother. (Ray—I am so glad you made it home safe.) In mid-May 1967, my father picked me up to drive me home to Long Beach for the summer. As we pulled away from the College, he disclosed that my older brother, Jim, had sustained serious head injuries in combat in Vietnam about a week earlier. My parents had withheld telling me until I got through my finals (including, of course, the dreaded "Items Test" in History of Civ).

That August, Jim would turn 21 and be eligible to vote as to whether this was a war that should be fought. His life was saved at least three times: in the field by the medic; at the MASH hospital to which he was evacuated; and in a Tokyo military hospital. Nevertheless, when Jim was flown home in August he was essentially in a coma, and ­remained so for a year. When he "woke up," the motor damage he had sustained confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life; it also caused a variety of other physical limitations. There would be no wife, kids, or T-ball games for Jim.

Our family rallied around him and, combined with his remarkable character, helped him, despite his significant disabilities, to put together a rather extraordinary life until he passed away in May 2010. I, the little brother he had always protected, served as the guardian of his person and ­estate for the last 30 years of his life. In 1970, Craig Smith '70 and I were among the first three graduates in the new American studies major. Somehow, we both ended up practicing law in Yakima, Wash. Craig ­handled Jim's guardianship and other legal matters for 30 years. Lynn Hoffman '72 was Jim's first speech therapist and remained a dedicated, lifelong friend.

I had worked on Nixon's campaign in 1968 based on his promise to end the war. (By 1972, I had a McGovern sticker on the back of my VW bus.) Although I thought I had received a sufficiently high draft number to be "safe," in the spring of 1970 I got called for a pre-draft physical. I had a minor heart murmur since childhood. It had never limited me physically; I played two years of rugby at Oxy. But it was one of those ridiculous conditions that could provide a 4-F. The chaplain at Oxy was providing draft advice. He advised that medical letters were being torn up at physicals in Los Angeles and I should try to move my physical somewhere.

On the plane ride to Denver, I compiled a list of persons I would consult if I passed my physical. I had decided I would not allow myself to be drafted. This was not for political or moral reasons; I simply could not and would not put my parents through another son in Vietnam. Canada? Jail? ­Conscientious objector? This was hard. My family has a long and proud history of serving in our country's military going back to the Civil War.

The physical lasted most of the day. At the very end, the line approached a group of tables with Army doctors standing behind them. I handed up the letter from my cardiologist. (The heart murmur was so faint that my father, also a doctor, could not hear it.) The Army doctor read the ­letter, looked at me, and said: "You realize this is a full deferment!" His tone was one expecting me to be disappointed; I wasn't.

But this was too hard. I realized much more graphically than others that some other 18- or 19-year-old kid would go in my place and face the risk of coming home like Jim, or not at all. That some other family may have to endure what mine had.

Of course, I believe that Jim and all those who served are courageous heroes to be honored and remembered. But so, too, are the protesters, whose virtuous and ­patriotic message was not heard soon or sufficiently enough for Jim and for so many others. My view is that Oxy's legacy for each of us should be that we lock arms ­together and honor and celebrate them all.

A. Craig McDonald '70
Yakima, Wash.

A Light Bulb Moment

"The Fight Over Oxy Petroleum" (Winter) separates two student quotes by four paragraphs that, combined, constitute the real headline: "Increasing Human ­Population Choosing to Change Earth's Climate."

Lauren Breynaert '17 and another unidentified student contend, respectively, that companies extracting fossil fuel and manufacturers supplying energy-consuming products are contributing to climate change. "Changing light bulbs isn't enough," the ­second student says. "We have to go to the root of the problem." Yes, we do.

The facts that Earth has fossil fuels and companies extract these resources are not the root of the problem. Investments in oil companies are not the root of climate change.

The use of light bulbs, etc., is the root of the problem. We have a growing, energy-consuming and gas/particulate-emitting human population. Changing light bulbs (and our energy sources) is the solution to climate change.

The natural and socioeconomic feedback mechanisms limiting the number of humans on the planet are a messy topic, so let's not address these here.

Harry Hickman '71
Auburn

Limit Two Fulbrights Per Person

I noted in the last Occidental ­(Numerology) that Oxy keeps track of alumni Fulbright awards. I have received two of those awards, but I never informed Oxy of that fact. If you didn't know about them, you might want to add them to your numbers: 1996-97, Ecuador; 2013, Morocco. You may be aware that there is a lifetime limit of two Fulbright awards to an individual.

Alan Crawford '63
Emeritus Professor of Education, Cal State L.A.

Oxy's Endowment: A Better Story

I have long been concerned about the performance of Occidental's endowment for lack of transparency. When "After the Perfect Storm" (Winter 2014) boasted of a five-year annual return—4.4 percent—that I considered very low, I wrote some strongly worded letters to the College. Eventually Chris Varelas '85, chair of the Board of Trustees investment committee, suggested a meeting, invited me to join the committee as the alumni representative, provided reports from the investment adviser, and asked me to share my findings. 

1.  Whereas Oxy operates and reports by fiscal year, most performance reporting is by calendar year. The 4.4 percent five-year annualized return reported in the article covered the fiscal year beginning in July 2008—before the market crash two months later. A study of calendar years 2009-2013 reveals a 13 percent average return on endowment, which better facilitates comparisons with other funds.

2.  Exponential smoothing of annual returns shows the endowment is trending to almost 9 percent a year. 

3.  Downside protection is an investment objective. During the 2008 market crash, Occidental fell 13.4 percent less than an equity-only, passively-managed, market-tracking, global index fund that does not offer downside protection. Oxy ­performed about the same as other colleges with the same downside-protection objective.

4.  Over the last 10 years, Occidental consistently outperformed its peers by 0.5 percent a year, and performed about the same as the global index fund. Occidental performed superbly because it applies the principles of modern portfolio theory to maximize risk-adjusted return. 

5.  When normal conditions returned after the market crash and the policies of the Veitch presidency took effect, the ­withdrawal rate from the endowment to support operating costs remained below 5 percent, within the accepted norm.

6.  More than one-quarter of the total gifts to the College are deposited in the endowment, a sign of financial health. 

7.  The endowment has grown from $300 million in 2005 to more than $400 million today even while financing operations of the College with a 5 percent spend rate. If Oxy seeks to further increase the endowment's assets, such growth must come from donors, as the fund investment returns cannot be increased without assuming unacceptable risk.

All of this leads me to conclude that: 

1.) Oxy's return on endowment has been excellent; 2.) the administration and trustees have managed the endowment prudently; and 3.) the College is in far better financial health than your recent article suggests. Now, with increased alumni and donor ­support, Occidental is positioned to shine.

Leif Isaksen '62
Burlingame

Isaksen majored in physics at Oxy and has a Ph.D. in complexity from USC.