By Matt Liebowitz
Emotions ran high, and tears mixed with levity and laughter as the entire campus community, alumni included, gathered under the tent to pay homage to competitors of the past and induct a select group into Williston’s Athletic Hall of Fame on May 12, 2017.
Athletic Director Mark Conroy, in a brief introduction, shined a spotlight on a handful of current student athletes, including Gabby Mercier (diving), Nick Hill (cross-country), Devin DeVerry (skiing), David Fitch (swimming), and Hunter Adams (wrestling), whose accomplishments have set them apart in their Williston careers.
The first inductee in this year’s Hall of Fame group, given an introduction by Nick Hill, ’17 was Coach Alan Shaler. Shaler founded the cross-country program in 1963, and coached through 1999. Similarly, he had a 40-year track-coaching career. The Annual Shaler Invitational cross-country race is named in his honor.
“I feel very humbled and a little strange,” Shaler said in his acceptance speech. “When I was the age of the students I coached and taught, I wasn’t like them. I was regarded as a good student and a musician, but not much else. But I always thought that anyone who went out for interscholastic sports got even tired or hurt.”
Shaler praised the grit and determination necessary to excel in cross-country, a sport, unlike football or basketball, nobody “plays.”
His lighthearted speech was an endearing, often hilarious representation of the humor and ease he said he always tried to bring to practices and meets.
“The word games and play suggest big grins, a million laughs,” Shaler said. “If someone is running a cross-country race and is grinning and waving his arms around like Big Papi on a homerun trot, something is very wrong.”
Shaler told the audience he “learned early that the good cross-country coach is who can inject a little levity amidst the pain.”
To that end, he recalled his habit of making “all kind of inane comments and witty remarks” as his runners warmed up.
“I think they kids liked this,” he said. “They did this often, often at my expense.”
Following the induction of renowned football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, Saul Blain ’17 inducted David “Whitey” Felsen ’62.
In his senior year, Felsen, a soccer, basketball, and baseball player at Williston, shared the Denman award, given to the best all-around athlete. After Williston, Felsen went on to attend Haverford College, where he earned his undergraduate degree in 1966, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he got his Master’s degree in 1971.
Felsen taught, coached varsity basketball, and worked as an administrator at Germantown Friends School for 16 years, and recently was involved in creating a youth basketball center near his home in North Philadelphia.
“Returning to Williston Northampton and my hometown evokes a flood of memories,” Felsen told the crowd.
He then recounted the story, at times both heartbreaking and humorous, of his childhood. His father died unexpectedly when Felsen was 10; the headmaster of Williston at the time, Phillips Stevens, visited Felsen’s mother – the family lived on Park Street – and offered him a full scholarship.
He remembered dribbling a basketball in his Park Street basement, and another incident during which he was practicing his baseball swing in the living room and accidentally smashed his mother’s favorite flower vase.
“My passion for sport was boundless, and, I have to tell you, a little bit crazy, a little bit nuts,” he said.
Felsen praised the teacher-coaches who guided him through his time at school.
As a boy growing up without a father,” he said, “their care and encouragement meant more than I can express.”
Read Felsen’s full remarks here.
Also inducted in the Hall of Fame were Stephen White ’77, Abigal Ouimet Katuska ’99, Colleen Hession Thom ’02, and the undefeated 1981 Varsity Football team.