Can anyone here kick a field goal? wonders Hartwick College football coach Steve Stetson. It is late August. Hartwick has had 42 years to prepare for its Sept. 12 season opener with King's College, and Stetson still has no placekicker.
He did have Chris Weeks, a soccer-style specialist, who had been doing a terrific job of demonstrating why he was not on the soccer team. Then one day Weeks attempted a placekick and drove his toe into the turf instead. He wound up going to the hospital for emergency surgery on his shin.
Funny thing about the Warriors' field goal follies. Hartwick is in Oneonta, N.Y., you see, and if there's one thing that folks there know how to do, it's kick a ball. Oneonta is Soccertown, U.S.A. It is a community of 15,000 in which the youth soccer leagues can count 1,600 participants. The National Soccer Hall of Fame is just a corner kick off Main Street. "The difference between Oneonta and the rest of the country," says Hartwick's president, Richard Detweiler, "is that here soccer is part of Americana."
Hartwick itself, a private liberal arts college of 1,498 students, is a soccer leviathan. Under the guidance of coach Jim Lennox, who has become something of a legend, the Warriors have made the NCAA Division I semifinals six times in the last 18 years, winning the national championship in 1977. Forty-seven Warriors have entered the pro ranks, and last year's team captain, Mike Burns, also played on the U.S. Olympic team in Barcelona. And Burns wasn't even Hartwick's best player last fall.
"Paul Conway was," says Graham Starr, a senior on the basketball team, "but Coach Lennox had to kick him off the team because he would berate his teammates when they messed up. Conway was a disruptive force."
Conway was a light breeze compared to the typhoon that swept over the campus when talk of reinstating football began. After thrashing Clarkson Tech 20-0 on Nov. 10, 1950, Hartwick announced that it was discontinuing football "for an indefinite period," because of an expected shortage of men. In 1990, when it announced it would consider reinstating football for the same reason—this time the goal was to attract men—the campus erupted.
Hartwick's board of trustees first met in May 1990 to discuss reviving the football program. Arriving at their meeting, the trustees were alarmed to find 50 students waiting to talk to them. One protester, Paul Harrison, now a senior, explains, "I hate football." Says Burns, who chose Hartwick over big-name Virginia, "I love how soccer is Number One here."
Like many small private colleges, Hartwick is at war against a declining enrollment, and male application figures are particularly low. Two years ago Philip Wilder, then Hartwick's president, began casting about for ways to make the school more attractive to men. Apparently the 60-40 female-to-male ratio was not enough of a lure.
Wilder heard plenty of suggestions. How about a Latin American studies program? An environmental-studies major? Semester abroad? And then, football. "Once it was suggested, football jumped, jumped, to the top of the list," says athletic director Ken Kutler.
The man who first suggested that pigskin might bring home the bacon for Hartwick was the school's vice-president for finance, John Pontius. Wilder immediately warmed to Pontius's proposal. What both men underestimated was just how many proud Warriors resided on the hillside campus. Sixty-seven percent of the faculty voted against football when the subject was first broached, and 78% of the student body nixed the idea as well.