Tag Archives: Track and Field

“Sammy, my Sammy . . .”

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Williston’s Song of Songs

It is sung, with varying degrees of solemnity and competence, at solemn events like graduations and hockey games.  If “Hail to Williston Northampton” is our recently adopted Alma Mater, then surely the much more venerable “Sammy” qualifies as our Alma Aviam.  (That’s “Beloved Grandmother.”  Don’t you regret not having taken Latin?  But I digress.)  At least one former Head of School thought the song and its associated traditions puerile and tried, without success, to suppress it.  “Sammy” remains the Song that Would Not Go Away.

Link: Listen to the 2012 Caterwaulers singing “Sammy!”

The music for “Sammy” — a broadside printed for Williston Academy’s centennial in 1941.

Link: A more rough-and-ready performance from Mem West, National Kazoo Day, 2019.

Venerable Williston Lore tells us that “Sammy,” our “stand-up song,” was written by Paul “Pitt” Johnson, class of 1905.  This appears to be accurate, although it seems that the memory briefly slipped Johnson’s mind after he graduated.  But in 1939, Alumni Secretary Howard Boardman asked for Johnson’s recollection.  Pitt wrote back,

Pitt Johnson to Howard Boardman, 1939

“Although  there might have been in my mind a slight doubt of the authorship, nevertheless, it was instantly removed after singing the first two measures.  I instantly recognized it as my work, which was one of the many songs I wrote during my years at the old school.”  [The full letter is reproduced at right; please click on the image to enlarge it.]

Johnson continued, “It so clearly comes to mind now how Dr. Sawyer [Headmaster Joseph H. Sawyer], upon hearing the song on the campus, called me to his office and suggested that theretofore the name Samuel had never lost its dignity and couldn’t I rewrite the song using Samuel instead of Sammy.  I remember how three or four of us tried it out but it sounded a bit brummy and didn’t cut the mustard so the song continued to refer to the founder of Williston as Sammy and I cannot recall a single instance of where Samuel Williston haunted me from the tomb because of it.”

Headmaster Sawyer

It is perhaps ironic that Johnson knew “Sammy” as his own when he heard the first two measures, since that is the one portion of the tune that he most certainly did not write.  Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas will recognize the phrase as having been lifted, note for note, from the Bridesmaids’ Chorus in Trial by Jury, at the words “Wear the flowers ’til they fade.”   The show was wildly popular at the time Johnson “borrowed” the tune – and the cribbing was probably unconscious.  As for the lyrics that so bothered Joseph Sawyer, it is likely that having written “Sammy, my Sammy, my heart yearns for thee,” Johnson needed a rhyme, and settled on “and your old elm tree.”  Nothing we know of Samuel Williston suggests that he ever took an interest in trees, elm or otherwise.  Yet, as has been detailed elsewhere, from this bit of doggerel entire school traditions have risen.  (See “The Brand,” particularly toward the end of the article.) Continue reading

Track and the Camera

Photo by Rachel Deena ’13. Click images to enlarge.

Preparation for the inauguration of the Williston Northampton Athletic Hall of Fame — whose first class will be enshrined on Reunion Weekend, June 6-8 — has involved looking at a great many photographs.  I hadn’t thought about this much before, but it has recently occurred to me that some sports are more photogenic than others.  Before I sink my own ship by suggesting that, for example, all field hockey photos look the same (they don’t!), or that golf images tend to be ruined by golfer’s outfits (can I get back to you?), let me go out on a limb and suggest that one of  the sports that has produced an awful lot of really exciting photography over the years at Williston is Track and Field.

Golf, late 1930s. Those checked trousers and two-tone shoes have never gone out of style. (William Rittase)

There are undoubtedly reasons for this, some of which, truthfully, may reflect this writer’s prejudices.  I mean, preferences.  So we won’t delve too deeply into the psycho-sociological issues of why, for example, from the photographer’s point of view, helmets and sticks can both be dealt with, but not usually at the same time.

(Yu Chen Wang ’15)

OK, let’s be serious.  Is it that track and field athletes, perhaps more than any others, achieve pinnacles of effort and passion that are concentrated in the briefest of durations, perhaps a few seconds, perhaps even less?  Yes, this happens in other sports, but I submit — without meaning to diminish any athlete’s accomplishment — that most of the time the brilliant goal-out-of-nowhere, the impossible catch, is reactive.  For the track and field athlete, successful execution is entirely studied.  And the great jump, the winning acceleration derives from someplace deep within the athlete’s psyche, a place where the soul is quite alone, where all that remains is abandonment to the moment.

(Yu Chen Wang ’15)

Or perhaps this is nonsense.  But the camera has captured some extraordinary track and field moments.  The older images on this page are the work of William Rittase (1894-1968), a Philadelphia-based photographer who specialized in industrial images, but who did some very special catalog work at both Williston and Northampton School in the 1930s and ’40s.  His photos are even more remarkable when one considers that he favored a large-format camera that was not conducive to “action” photography at all.

(William Rittase)

As many are aware, there is a photographic tradition at Williston Northampton.  Bob Couch ’50 mentored student photographers beginning in the 1960s and began to teach photo courses in the ’70s.  That program is now in the capable hands of Edward Hing ’77, himself a Couch protégé.  We offer seven different photography and film courses plus evening lecture programs that bring world-class photographers and photojournalists to campus.  And wherever one looks on campus, there are talented kids with cameras looking back.  We’re proud to feature some of their work here as well.

(Rachel Deena ’13)
(William Rittase)
William Rittase
(Yu Chen Wang ’15)
(William Rittase)
(Rachel Deena ’13)
(William Rittase)

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