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"Anyway, I was a fairly big guy. I must have stood out. When I went in for PE the trainer asked me to come out for track. He said, 'You can throw the hammer.' I didn't know what a hammer was, much less how to throw it. You never see one in high school. But Coach [Gordon] Kelly is an unbelievable teacher. For the next four years the hammer was a big thing in my life. I threw three hours every day, and lifted weights. When I won the NCAAs in 1974 it was a first for MIT.
"I believe I'd never have made it here without athletics. If I'd gone to Cal Tech, say, or Stanford, where the varsity sports program is limited or the athletes are handpicked, I'd have studied, period. And probably flunked out. I didn't do well as a freshman and sophomore. I still don't know why I wasn't put on notice, except that MIT bends over backward to keep you in school. They're so meticulous about admissions they feel the ones they choose should make it.
" Athletics gave me a reason to stay. A commitment. And a release from the academic crunch. In athletics you make your own pressure. The coaches here don't come around dragging you out of bed to practice. But if you want attention, they'll go with you every step.
"I found that athletes at MIT actually become the better students. They make better grades. They organize their time better. They have to. Most of them get their best grades during the season of their sport. Sounds crazy, right?
"It's not just sports at MIT, it's everything. There's something like 170 activities on campus. The rule is, if a group of kids wants something, it's made available. We had the world Frisbee champion here giving classes. A couple years ago somebody wanted to start a tiddly-winks team. They went to the student government. They got the money for it."
(When asked about the latter, Publicist Close looked as though he had been hit with a cream pie. "Oh, don't mention that," he said, grinning sheepishly. Why not? "It's embarrassing. Tiddly-winks." What prompted it? "The world championships. In London. Please don't mention it." The team went to London? "Yes." How'd it do? Subdued voice: "They won." How'd they get the money to go? " MIT is very soft shouldered. Get a guy who wants to enter a Ping-Pong tournament in Hong Kong, and Jim Smith will scrape up the money. Get two guys and he'll find a coach.")
Exhibits B, C, et al.
Al Dopfel, class of '72, marketing major, baseball pitcher. Dopfel pitched the first no-hitter in MIT history. In 1972 he led the nation with 15.4 strikeouts a game. He was voted the Most Valuable Player in the Greater Boston League. He signed, for a bonus estimated at $15,000, with the California Angels. "I think it will be easier to get a job in baseball than in the business world," he said. Dopfel dropped out of baseball this spring rather than be assigned to the Angels' AA farm team in El Paso. He was convinced that he was not going to make the big leagues, though at MIT he is still proudly referred to as "the only guy in our history who could have."
Bill Young, class of '74, aeronautics and astronautics. Tennis captain. The 1973 New England singles and doubles champion. Coach Ed Crocker, who has been at MIT 19 years ( MIT coaches do not discourage easily and are usually given every opportunity to die with their boots on), says Young was "the best we ever had, good enough to make the pro league right now if he wanted." Young has entered the Air Force instead. "I have a thing about height," he said. He once took a special mountain climbing course at MIT.
George Braun, class of '75, oceanography. MIT's current lacrosse captain and a consistent winner in the 600-yard run. He was the lacrosse team's leading scorer the last three years, though the team went 0-11 and 0-14 the first two. It was 3-9 this year. Braun is the first MIT man in anyone's memory who came right out and said that he would like to chuck engineering and become a coach. Blasphemy. To that end he plans to do graduate work at Springfield. "Engineering," he says, "isn't much fun."