What's in a name? For instance, try visualizing Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. Inner-city location. Old brick building that looks more like a factory than a school. Immediate placement for graduates: males start out in the garment district unloading racks of dresses, coeds get the latest model Touch & Sew on the assembly line and an ILGWU card. To avoid open revolt among students, there is an athletic program of sorts at PCT&S, but you not only have to earn your letter sweater, sweetie, you have to knit it, too.
Philadelphia Textile fits that picture about as well as Kate Smith does a size 5. To begin with, the school is blessed with a real campus, the equal scenically of neighboring Villanova and St. Joseph's. Located on 40 wooded acres of the old Bond Bread family estate just north of Philadelphia in Germantown, Textile's fall foliage is more colorful than an ad for Burlington House. One of Pennsylvania's oldest Atlas cedar trees, a massive specimen, thrives beside the admissions building, and the surrounding neighborhood is just as impressive. If you head up Henry Avenue past Schoolhouse Lane, you come upon the Kelly mansion, where construction-tycoon John B. raised a daughter named Grace, who grew up to be a movie queen and then a real live princess.
The college is hardly a spawning ground for blue-collar workers, what with the annual tab for tuition, room and board running to about $4,000. PCT&S offers degrees in everything from business administration to pre-med, but the school's principal concern is turning out chemists, engineers and future executives for its principal benefactor, the textile industry. It is the oldest and largest institution of its kind in the country and it likes to think of itself as the MIT of cloth. Down through the years the research department has been called upon to restore Betsy Ross' original flag when it started coming apart at the seams; to design flame-retardant flight suits for NASA; and to produce replacement parts for the human body, such as the connecting piece made from Dacron, which British doctors successfully used during intestinal surgery on the Duke of Windsor.
Textile is no pushover in the sports world either, despite an enrollment of only 1,300 students and a 39-letter name that drives Athletic Director Harry Pure—and many others, he fears—to distraction. "I thought something had to be done, so I went in to see the president about our name and the confusing image it projects to some people," says Pure, who is as devoted to horticulture and public relations as he is to balancing the athletic budget. "The president just looked at me and said, 'Harry, if you want to give a million dollars a year to the school, we'll be glad to call it Pure College. If not, it's going to remain Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science.' "
Apparently a cumbersome name hasn't hindered the success of the school soccer team, which made its sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament this fall, or of Striker Dale Russell, a four-year All-America who won what amounts to the Heisman Trophy of college soccer last year. However, it is Textile's basketball team, a small-college juggernaut for more than a decade, that is in a class all by itself.
Once known as the Weavers—what else?—Textile now answers to the chant of " Rams, Rams" from hometown partisans while trying to ignore a lot of unprintable epithets from its poor oppressed opponents on the road. The Rams have qualified for the NCAA small-college tournament every year but one since 1963. Their coach, Herb Magee, has the highest winning percentage of anyone in Division II, the spare room that the NCAA has made up to accommodate little guys like Philadelphia Textile, which play good basketball but cannot afford a major-college traveling schedule. In Magee's nine years as coach he has produced a 195-53 (.786) record and has won more than 20 games eight times. The only year he failed to receive a postseason bid was in 1974, when he suspended three starters for violating training rules.
Em (the Gem) Sammons was a meek freshman in those days, still feeling his way and unable to do much to stop the slide to 10-14. In three years, the bearded 6'1" guard has matured into the leader of an all-Philly contingent that again is a good bet to win the national championship. Last year Cheyney State upset the Rams 60-59 in the regionals, ending a 22-game winning streak and a 25-3 season on a sad note. Sad, that is, until the postseason party where community and school leaders surprised Magee with a new Dodge Charger and his players with watches to make up for the ones they didn't win in the tournament.
Sammons, a 19.1-points-per-game scorer who finished fourth in the nation in free-throw shooting (.888), is typical of Magee's players, a product of the Philadelphia Catholic League where Magee himself played and where teamwork and defense are considered the main tenets of success. Sammons was so overlooked by major colleges that he finally walked into Magee's office in August before his freshman year because he was tired of waiting for a phone that never rang. The rest of the starting five—and for that matter the remainder of the team—have similar stories to tell; they were all told they were "too short" or "too slow" or too something to make it at a major college.
Center Ray Tarnowski ended up at Textile because he was too bad. He was the 15th man on his high school team, the guy whose name almost never appeared in the box score. Now the 6'9" senior is a double-figure scorer and rebounder who seldom misses from inside 12 feet. Captain Jim Edwards, a 6'5" forward, is the strong, silent type. Critics said there was no flair to his game—and there isn't to this day. Edwards is just a likable guy with a 3.5 academic average who' makes about as many mistakes on the floor as he does in the classroom. Forward Rick Watson, one of two public league players on the team, got lost in the shuffle at Overbrook High, which has had wall-to-wall talent ever since Wilt Chamberlain went there. Guard Lloyd Ranson was considered an in-betweener at 6'3" and 180 pounds, but can jump so high and take care of himself so well that Magee is thinking of sending his name to the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Colts, who circulate questionnaires asking basketball coaches if they have any potential football players on their squads.
All of which made it ironic when the Rams' discredited players stepped up in class last year and beat both Villanova and Temple in the Palestra. Understand that the Palestra is the house of worship for Philadelphia basketball. The city championship is held there every year, and there isn't a player in Philadelphia who doesn't murmur to himself, "Gotta get to the Palestra, gotta get to the Palestra," every night along with his prayers. Herb Magee was no different, except that he was a good enough shooter to get his West Catholic High team there in 1959. Overbrook, the public league champ, had Wally Jones and Walt Hazzard and won going away.