A Good Sport

Ron Ott was determined to be a sportscaster, and neither the Vietnam War nor a successful career at Cincinnati Bell could stand in his way. For the past 25 years, the 1977 M.B.A. graduate has lived his ambition by volunteering as a reader for the Cincinnati Association for the Blind’s radio reading service.

It all began in 1970 when Ott was working for Cincinnati Bell. The company was looking for someone who had broadcast experience to set up a studio for the reading service. Armed with an undergraduate degree in broadcasting, Ott volunteered. He not only set up the studio, but began reading a half-hour of sports each week. Over the years, the reading service grew and so did he. There have been letters and stories like the elderly man in a nursing home who rescheduled his lunch each week around Ott’s time slot. Then there are those who assume the show is syndicated.

Ott finds such things flattering, to be sure, but they aren’t his primary motivation. “I started off because I wanted to be in broadcasting and it was fun,” he says. “But when you begin getting feedback about how much what you’re doing impacts people’s lives—well hey, it makes you feel good that you’re helping them.”

A Family Affair

When parents come for a campus visit, there’s often an expectation of certain unspoken amenities among their students—a couple extra bucks in the wallet, a clean pair of socks, a free dinner somewhere other than the cafeteria. However, there are times when parents get to reap some benefits as well. On Friday, Oct. 22, and Saturday, Oct. 23, parents and siblings get more than just a tour of a dorm room.

The days are part of family weekend, which offers parents a mid-semester chance to reconnect with their children. Scavenger hunts, cornhole tournaments, jugglers, soccer games and theater performances are only a few of the scheduled events. And new this year is a trip to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which opened in August.

“Family weekend provides a perfect time for students and parents to catch up since it’s halfway through the first semester,” says Dianne Fisk, director of parent relations.

For more information about family weekend, visit www.xavier.edu/family_weekend, or call 800 344-4691.

Legends of the Fall

They’re ghosts now, distant echoes riding the crisp air, forever suspended in the mists of long-lost autumn afternoons. They’re the groans of effort, the crack of helmet on helmet, the ring of cheers, the music of a fight song. They are a peculiar sense of togetherness.

It’s been 31 years since the final gun sounded and the last Musketeer football squad ran off Corcoran Field and into the dark tunnel of history. But for many, the names are still tinged with a bronzed familiarity—Kropowski, Mutryn, Gilmartin, Martinkovic, Hauser, Hoffman, Abramowicz, Shinners, Conaton and a legion of others. They span the rise and fall of a small-college program with major-college aspirations, a program that glimpsed greatness before financial realities brought the game to an end.

It began in 1901, when the Spanish-American War was recent news and Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were national heroes. The first St. Xavier College football team put on its turtleneck jerseys, bulky pants and high-top shoes and proceeded to go undefeated. But the record deserves an asterisk at best: The wins came over foes like Woodward, Franklin, Hughes, Walnut Hills and Technical—all high schools. The school began facing more formidable opponents, including Miami University, the following season, and in 1907, started a long-standing rivalry with St. Mary’s Institute, now the University of Dayton.

In the eyes of most, however, the St. Xavier football program didn’t arrive in earnest until 1918 when Joseph Meyer became head coach of the Saints, as the team was then known. Over the next 16 seasons, Meyer literally built a program from the ground up: In the early days he even marked the field himself using a coffee pot filled with lime. Following his lead, the team went 4-1 in 1918; 6-2 in 1919, including wins of 74-0 over Hanover and 121-0 over Fort Thomas; and 7-2 in 1920.

As the decade of the 1920s wore on, the University settled into its first real building boom, and it became evident that the football team needed a home in line with its upwardly mobile aspirations. After a fundraising drive led by Myers Y. Cooper, later governor of Ohio, the $300,000, 15,000-seat Corcoran Stadium officially opened on Nov. 23, 1929. According to a handwritten note in the University archives, the stadium offered “a splendid view for all.” The 1929 season also marked the first time the Governor’s Cup was presented to the winner of the Xavier-Dayton game. There were other changes, too:

In 1929 the Saints became the Musketeers, and in 1930 St. Xavier College became Xavier University.

Between 1918 and 1934, Meyer’s teams tallied 14 winning seasons and one .500 season versus just two losing campaigns. Then, just three games into the 1935 season, Meyer unexpectedly resigned. A newspaper account said Meyer “gave no reason for his action,” but added, “it is rumored that the present regime is not favorable to the continuance of football except as an incidental phase of the Xavier instructional program.”

To fill Meyer’s shoes, Xavier officials promoted assistant coach Clem Crowe. Already the University’s basketball coach, Crowe had been a two-sport star at Notre Dame, where he played end on the famous “seven mule” line of 1924. Crowe provided solid leadership into the war years. But when Xavier dropped football for the 1944 season, Crowe left for a position at Notre Dame.

Conference affiliation is a big plus for any college sports team. Natural rivalries and the possibility of a conference championship generate fan interest, and the lack of such an affiliation plagued the Musketeer football team virtually throughout its existence. The University tried to alleviate this problem in 1937, agreeing to become a member of the Buckeye Athletic Conference. But the conference died before Xavier achieved full membership.

With the end of World War II came an influx of G.I. Bill athletes. On their shoulders, the football program rode to its greatest heights. In 1947, the program found a leader in 1940 graduate Edward Kluska, and from 1947-1951 his teams ran up a 35-12-2 record, outscoring opponents nearly two-to-one.

In 1949, Kluska’s Musketeers went 10-1, losing only to Kentucky, 21-7, and were invited to the Salad Bowl game in Tempe, Ariz. There, on Jan. 2, 1950, the favored Musketeers fell behind early before rallying to knock off Arizona State, 33-21. No less an authority than then-Kentucky coach Paul “Bear” Bryant called the squad “one of the best teams I’ve seen anywhere.” And the winning trend continued in 1950 when the team lost only to the University of Cincinnati, 33-20.

Two years of near-perfect seasons finally boiled over in 1951: The Musketeers went 10-0, the only legitimate perfect season in school history. The team didn’t crack the Associated Press’s final Top 20, but it did receive votes, along with other programs such as Notre Dame, USC, Michigan, Texas, Louisiana State, Purdue and Alabama.

In all, seven players from the 1950 and 1951 teams soon found their way into the National Football League. But even amidst the success, there were ominous rumblings. Georgetown University dropped football in 1950 in a cost-cutting move, and there was speculation that other Jesuit schools would follow suit. And the stream of G.I. Bill players was drying up. In 1973, Cincinnati Post sports editor Pat Harmon points to this factor as the beginning of the end of Xavier’s program. “Most college players of 1951 had been ex-G.I.s attending school on government scholarships,” Harmon wrote. “Now the burden of providing scholarships shifted to the schools or their fans.”

Still, there were many bright spots to come. Harry “Mick” Connolly took over as head coach and registered several successful campaigns. His 7-3 team of 1956 featured end Steve Junker, later a star for the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Ed Doherty followed Connolly for three years, but Eddie Biles arrived as head coach in 1962 and continued Xavier’s winning tradition throughout the 1960s. And the Musketeer faithful watched with pride as 1967 graduate Danny Abramowicz rose to stardom and All-Pro status in the NFL, and 1969 graduate John Shinners became the school’s only Sporting News All-American.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the team struggled under two new coaches—Irv Etler and Tom Cecchini—while the gap between the program’s income and expenditures widened. School officials made a careful cost analysis in 1969 and each year thereafter. Ultimately, the program was losing about $200,000 a year. Something had to be done, but what?

The University board of trustees answered the question on Dec. 19, 1973. In a move that shocked virtually everyone, the board voted 15-3 to discontinue intercollegiate football. Xavier President Robert W. Mulligan, S.J., made the announcement at a press conference hours later.

The next morning, The Cincinnati Enquirer carried the program’s obituary under the headline: “Xavier Drops Football; Cost Cited.” The University announced it would honor the scholarships of all players, although many left to play elsewhere. Cecchini became linebacker coach at the University of Iowa. The stadium was razed in 1988, six years after an aborted attempt to revive the sport as an NCAA Division III program.

Today, the legion of honor plaque and memorabilia for the planned athletic hall of fame are the only reminders of autumns past, and for two generations of graduates, basketball has sat at the core of Xavier athletics. But those whose memories are long may well relate to the words of Paul L. O’Connor, S.J. Interviewed by Enquirer columnist Tom Callahan on Dec. 20, 1973, the former president and then-chancellor recounted how it was when his alma mater, Loyola of Chicago, dropped football. “There was,” he said, “always afterward a sense of something lost at the place.”

The All-American

Offensive guard John Shinners enjoys a special place in Musketeer football lore: He is the program’s only Sporting News All-American. And as the 15th player taken in the first round of the 1969 National Football League draft, he is also the program’s second highest-ever professional pick. Of course, the University teams produced numerous small-college and Catholic-college All Americans over the years, but Shinners was the first to achieve the title without a qualifier. It was the preface to a nine-year NFL career, first with the New Orleans Saints, then the Baltimore Colts and finally the Cincinnati Bengals.

Honors aside, Shinners says his stock really rose with the NFL when he played in several all-star games following his senior season. The last of these, the College All-Star game, was both a high and low point: Shinners played with many future pro stars, including O.J. Simpson, but tore cartilage in his left knee, an injury that dogged him through the first three years of his NFL career.

In 1972, after a brief stint with the Colts, Shinners arrived back in Cincinnati. The Bengals, coached by Paul Brown and led by quarterback Ken Anderson, were an exciting, competitive team, and for Shinners, it was a chance to reconnect with old friends and be part of a winning atmosphere like the one he’d enjoyed at Xavier.

But aches and pains add up in the NFL, and Shinners retired after the 1977 season. He’s kept his eye on Xavier, however. In 1991, he took biology, the one class he needed to finally complete his degree. And his daughter, Rebecca, graduated from the University in 1997.

Shinners now lives in New Orleans and works as a marketing consultant. But his current passion lies in helping to create affordable housing for moderate-to-low income families.
“There’s a big need for that down here,” he says.

The most visible player

The image is etched into the memories of longtime National Football League fans: New Orleans Saints wide receiver Danny Abramowicz, body stretched parallel to the ground, making a fingertip grab along the sideline. It’s an impossible image that screams grit, determination and no little amount of faith, words that go a long way toward defining the 1967 Xavier graduate.

Abramowicz, who holds Musketeer receiving records for most catches, yards and touchdowns, was nevertheless an unlikely pro success. At 5-feet-11-inches, 190 pounds and lacking real speed, he was far from a prototypical NFL receiver. Drafted in the 17th round in 1967, he was cut after the third exhibition game but refused to leave.

“You didn’t give me a chance,” he told head coach Tom Fears. “I’m not leaving.”

Fears relented; Abramowicz flourished. He got a starting position when a teammate was injured. He never looked back. Abramowicz led the league with 73 receptions in 1969 and was selected to the All-Pro team, and by the time his eight-year career came to a close, he’d caught 309 passes for the Saints and 62 more for the San Francisco 49ers, scored 39 touchdowns and held the NFL record for most passes caught in consecutive games with 105, a mark that stood until 1982.

After retiring, Abramowicz worked as a Saints broadcaster before going into private business. In 1981, he “hit a glitch” and joined Alcoholics Anonymous, which he says brought his relationship with God into perspective. He returned to the NFL as an assistant coach with the Chicago Bears and the Saints in the 1990s. But when the latter run ended, he passed up coaching offers and followed his faith to become president of the Donum Dei Foundation, an organization focused on Catholic education and vocations in the Church. He also serves as coordinator for the New Orleans chapter of Legatus, an organization of Catholic CEOs, presidents and their spouses. “I look at this as a ministry,” he says. “I love what I do.”

Breaking the color barrier

Dennis Davis is a true pioneer. In 1951, four years before Rosa Parks and more than a decade before the Civil Rights Act, Davis became the first black athlete to play for a Musketeer team. A two-time All-Ohio linebacker at Steubenville Central Catholic High School, which sent many players to Xavier, Davis was hand-picked by the city’s archbishop, John King Mussio, to integrate the University’s football program.

“Bishop Mussio said Xavier had never had a black athlete, and he said I had the temperament to withstand it,” Davis recalls. “It took somebody who could laugh at things. I laugh at everything.”

Davis was put to the test quickly. “My freshman year, we played Louisville, and they snuck me down there because blacks weren’t allowed to play there,” he says. “I stayed with an old priest at a monastery. I had to dress at the monastery and the team picked me up and took me to the stadium.”

Now retired from the United States Postal Service, Davis fondly recalls the glory days of Musketeer football. “We beat the University of Cincinnati three out of the four years I played,” he says. “The fans would tear down the goal posts and carry them all the way back to Xavier. There’d be about 5,000 Xavier fans marching down Victory Parkway.”

Those good times also included a pair of wins over Boston College. Drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1957, Davis was cut after three exhibition games but continued to play semi-pro football into the 1960s. Now, as he looks through the brown leatherette scrapbook that traces his football youth, Davis shows no trace of regret about the historic choice that brought him to Xavier. “I had a ball here,” he says.

College Life (Revisted)

At 2:00 a.m. I’m squinting through the thick white haze of a smoky joint named Soupie’s looking for my student-host, Constance Fowler. I need her to help me maneuver this under-21 crowd. 

At my advanced age, I’m exhausted and ready to go home. As I sit on a stool next to
a table that needs a good scrubbing, I scan the crowd. Constance’s friend, Melissa Downey, sits perched on a stool nearby, deftly holding a cigarette she’s bummed and chatting with anyone who will listen. Another friend, Amme Hawkins, stands by her, blonde hair in perfect trim, a touch of blue eye shadow setting off her freckles. She’s pretending not to notice the guy she has a crush on because, she glibly told us three hours ago, her mouth turns to mush when he shows his face.

To my back is Keith Jackson, the basketball player. His ball cap is on backward, his pants hang loose, he’s got an easy smile. A girl prances in with her boyfriend. He’s stylish with hair spiking up. She’s in a skirt that couldn’t be shorter and brown suede ankle boots trimmed in white fur.

It’s only Wednesday night, but Soupie’s is a happening place. You have to be 21 years old to drink, but you can come inside if you are 18. The girls scream over the music that I should come on Thursday or Friday, when it’s standing room only. I laugh because I know that won’t be happening. It’s only because of them that I am here now. Constance and her friends agreed to let me spend 24 hours in their shadows, getting a feel for how student life today compares to that of my own.

It’s been 30 years since my undergraduate days in Boulder, Colo. It was in a different place and a different era—the 1970s, the tail end of hippiedom, a time of bad clothes, big hair and such weirdness that they make television shows about it nowadays. Nothing, of course, could (or should) match the style of those days, but it was the structure and substance of college life I was curious about. What do they do with all their free time? What’s dorm life like these days? With a child of my own just a year away from entering college and campus visits on the agenda, can I still offer him an honest portrayal of what he can expect? Or has time consumed what was my reality?

These were questions that needed answers, so here I sit, chasing the decades, hanging out in a noisy bar in the middle of the night in search of how the life and times of today’s college students have changed— or not.

Constance, my roommate for the day, is just turning 20. She has a 3.4 GPA, is at the University on a partial scholarship and, when not at school, lives with her mother, a body shop manager in a small Ohio town. She takes any babysitting or house-
sitting job she can snag to help pay her tuition, in addition to her work-study job. A member of student senate during her freshman and sophomore years and a member of Xavier College Republicans, she’s just been elected to a leadership position in the student government association as the legislative vice president. She relishes the responsibility.
“I like to be leading people and listening to everyone, being a voice, and that position let’s me do that,” she says.

I ask her how she has time for all this. She answers, “I don’t sleep.”
It’s true. Just this morning, she says, she went to bed at 3:30 a.m. and was up at 6:00 a.m. “I’ve been going all day,” she says.

At 3:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, I join Constance for a class on urban administration and public policies. It fits her majors—political science and criminal justice. She plops down her notebook and pushes aside an envelope addressed to Bush Cheney ’04. It holds a student campaign volunteer form that she’s been trying to mail for days. Tuning in to her teacher, she heaves a sigh of relief when she hears that their next paper won’t be due for another two weeks.

Meanwhile, I’m wondering what my story’s going to say. The classes, the studying, the demands of academic life haven’t changed. Ten-page papers are still required, along with quizzes, exams and reading three chapters by tomorrow. Textbooks are still marked up by highlighters. As I ponder, I hear a muffled ring, and Constance dives for her backpack. She yanks out her cell phone, turns it off and I suddenly know. Technology. It’s everywhere. Walking across campus, students hold phones to their ears as they move between the buildings. In Constance’s class, a guy sitting next to her pulls out his cell phone, holds it below the table top and punches in a text message to her. He sends her a picture, too, that she views on her phone. She says she’s heard some kids use their phones to send test answers to each other in text messages. Beats writing the answers on your hand.

After class, we walk across the campus green, right past the mailbox, to Husman Hall. She forgets to mail the letter again. Inside the entrance, she gestures to a notice describing an incident where people vandalized hallways and the basement. As a result, all student residents are to pay $4 toward the cleanup. Those who don’t are charged $10 on their bursar bills. Constance says everyone thinks it was freshman boys visiting from another dorm. They really trashed the place, she says, and now she has to pay for it.

Welcome to college, I think. The worst thing I remember happening in my dorm at the University of Colorado—the first year of co-ed living—was guys slapping on their snow skis and clacking down the stairs at 2:00 a.m. It was funny, and the noise was enough to wake the whole building, but the damage was limited to the skis alone.

Actually, there was something worse, but it didn’t involve me. Twice I witnessed students streaking—running in packs while wearing only sneakers and a smile. I’m still not sure why they did it, but I do remember it got them on the evening news.

Husman is a co-ed dorm divided by wings. Girls on one side, boys on the other, all on the same floor. Constance’s room is on the second floor, east wing. We walk past an empty all-glass study room and down the hall, passing soccer shoes and gym bags stashed against the walls. The girls don’t want their smelly shoes inside, she says.

But there’s another reason. Open the door and you see—there’s no space left in these dorm rooms. Constance’s room, with a window looking out over the residential mall, seems much smaller than what I remember of mine. Perhaps it’s just perception. But there’s very little floor space and virtually no wall space except for one corner. In addition to one set of bunk beds, two dressers, two desks, a sink and a small fold-out sofa, the room is crammed with everything electronic or technological.

Constance’s cell phone goes off. It’s Sirisha. While she talks, I take inventory. There’s a television with a DVD player stacked precariously on a shelf high above. Next to it is a small white refrigerator holding only a tub of margarine, a bottle of salsa, three water bottles and two slices of American cheese. A microwave oven sits on top of the fridge and stashed around it are a jar of peanut butter and a box of popcorn. We were only allowed hot plates in our dorms, and microwaves ovens were barely a household item.

Constance’s roommate Adrienne Blumthal—Ada for short—has a Dell flat screen computer monitor on her desk with a printer shelved above and a stereo higher up that feeds through the computer’s speakers. Over on Constance’s desk, is a Dell
laptop notebook computer, a printer shelved above and a five-CD stereo system on the top shelf.

These girls are wired. Somewhere, there’s a room phone on a land line, but the girls only check for messages about once a week. My 1973 dorm room had an outlet for a lamp and my turntable with speakers. The phone was downstairs in the lobby.

In the last corner of this rectangular space is a small sink. It’s limited surface space is obliterated by sink-type things—toothbrushes and toothpaste, hair clips and curling irons. Someone using the sink blocks the door to the bathroom, which is shared with the two girls in the adjoining room. The tiny bathroom has a toilet and a shower and not much else. A sign on the doors inside the bathroom reminds users to unlock them when they’re finished.

Despite the small dimensions, the arrangement could be considered superior to my own experience. Our dorm rooms all shared a common bathroom with showers way down the hall. I’d throw on a bathrobe, grab my soap, razor and shampoo and hope to find a shower stall not in use.

“You going out tonight?” Constance asks Sirisha.

It’s the question of the evening. Most say no. They’ve got too much work to do. Papers or reading or projects. Ada leaves for dinner at Zip’s—a nearby burger joint—with some friends, while Constance and I head to the cafeteria for food. Over a plate of nachos and cheese, pasta and sauce, a grilled cheese sandwich and frozen yogurt dessert, Constance, who is very skinny, talks about her friends, her classes and her ambitions in student government and politics. Some kids on campus are very religious. Others not so much. She tries to get along with all.

At 7:10 p.m., it’s off to a meeting of Amnesty International where a group of bleary-eyed students in sweatshirts and jeans sits around talking about what to do with the little bit of money left in their budget. A guy with a heavy beard and long shaggy hair—a throwback to the Boulder boys—takes notes on his hand and arm.

Constance leans over. “I’m getting really nervous about my paper,” she says. Fortunately, the meeting breaks up and we arrive back at the dorm as Ada returns from dinner. They both sit down to their computers, as if 8:00 p.m. is the designated homework start time. Ada’s working on a business project for her entrepreneurship class. She cuts and pastes on her Dell. Constance, at her computer, writes and edits her own paper. There is no White Out, no ripping of paper, no scissors and tape.
“Are you going out tonight?” Constance asks Ada. “No,” she says. “I’ve got too much work to do.”

But at 8:45 p.m., Ada leaves to join friends in another dorm room where they watch the show “The OC.” It’s almost as popular as “American Idol,” and she says they never miss a show, reminding me of the weekly afternoon “Star Trek” gatherings when we’d crowd into someone’s room to watch Capt. Kirk and Spock outsmart the Klingons.

At 9:00 p.m., Constance and I walk to the Gallagher Student Center to pick up a financial aid form faxed from her mother. The center is alive with students escaping the chilly weather. They play pool, talk by the fireplace, study in lounge chairs. Back in her room, I help Constance edit her paper while she makes a few phone calls. Amme drops by. She’s from Spokane, Wash., where her family wanted her to stay at Gonzaga University, but she fell in love with Xavier and has never regretted leaving home.

After another phone call from a guy inviting her to a late, late night party at a University of Cincinnati fraternity on Friday night, we go to Melissa’s room. Constance asks them if they want to go out. This group says yes, and Amme goes to take a shower. It’s 11:15 p.m.

While we wait back in Constance’s room, Aaron stops by. “You going out ?” she asks. “Not tonight,” he says. Too much work to do.

By 11:45 p.m., I’m beginning to ache all over. But I wash up, pull on my leather jacket and tell Constance I’m ready. She plans to go out in just a long-sleeved shirt, because she doesn’t like the smoky stink that clings to anything worn in the bar. But it’s really cold, I say—38 degrees. She shrugs. We find Melissa, and Amme finally shows up with perfect hair and makeup. Constance relents and grabs a jacket, and we head for the door. It’s midnight. We won’t stay long, she says. She has to come home early to do her laundry—something I’ve still never done after midnight. After a quick stop at the money machine, we wait for the shuttle. It arrives, but it’s packed.

“Let’s just walk,” she says.

I’m thinking dark streets, late night, group of girls, not a good idea.

“Good idea,” say Amme and Melissa.

So we cross the Cintas Center parking lot, down the sidewalk and along Cleneay Avenue. Nobody’s out except us. And Keith Jackson, who’s standing by the sidewalk that leads to Soupie’s. Constance convinces him to join us, and Jackson, whose season just ended, saunters up as we enter the uproar. Everyone has to show an ID. Even me.
am recalling the cowboy bars and burger joints of my college days in Boulder, where the 18-year-old drinking age put 3.2 percent beer within everyone’s reach.

Soupie’s is one of those places that’s just for the college crowd. The students smoke and share pitchers of beer or soda, talk loud and dance to the pounding music played by a band that’s far too radical for this blue-collar neighborhood. They come in to burn off steam and energy, to shake off the stress, to mingle, to let it all go. They have to, because their days are far too crammed with the demands of professors, parents—and themselves.

By the looks of the crowd inside, you’d never know that no one could go out because they had so much work to do. Maybe they changed their minds. Whatever. Right now, they’re talking and dancing and hugging. They do a lot of hugging. They also smoke, drink and talk loudly.

Two hours later, my eyes burn and I’m nodding into my mug. As the band breaks up, Constance and I walk back to the dorm. The tobacco smell tags along, but the cold night air feels good after the stuffiness of the bar.

As we walk, I feel a certain sense of misplaced pride. I can still do it. I put in a full day’s work after rising at 5:30 a.m., sat through a late afternoon class, edited a homework paper, chatted with friends and, an hour after my body konked out, spent
two hours at a bar.

Inside Husman, we pass the study lounge where a girl is buried in her books. We find Ada already asleep in the lower bunk. She doesn’t stir as we squeeze around each other getting ready for bed. I fold out the sofa bed. Constance has changed her mind. She’s not going to do her laundry after all. She’s going to study.

At 2:30 a.m., as I’m dozing off, she slips out of the room with her books to spend time reading in the study lounge. She returns at 4:00 a.m. and goes to bed. Four hours later, she’s up again, showering and using a curling iron on her thick hair that she pulls back behind a head band.

In jeans and a Xavier sweatshirt, she skips breakfast, grabs her cell phone and heads back out for the day, which begins with a meeting with her professor at 9:00 a.m. On the way, she slips the Bush Cheney ’04 envelope into a corner mailbox and closes the lid.

As for me, I find my car—a nice white mini-van—and head back into my world, satisfied with the experience but convinced that the college students of the ’70s were much more sane.

From Here to Eternity

On March 1, 1991, James E. Hoff, S.J., walked into his office in the former University Center, and the weight of a university in need fell on his shoulders. It was Day One of his tenure as Xavier’s 33rd Jesuit president. 

His office window overlooked campus and offered a clear view of the challenges before him. Ledgewood Drive and Herald Avenue cut through the heart of the University, splitting it into sections. Three of the oldest and most historic buildings were in deplorable condition, not having been updated in 70 years. The endowment that would allow for improvements was dangerously low—just a fraction of the annual budget.

Hoff, however, didn’t see despair. He saw hope. He was able to envision a University few could fathom, and in his inaugural address he went so far as to say he wanted nothing less than “everything” for the University. For nine years, he worked to make everything a reality. And by the time he retired on Dec. 31, 2000, the University was hardly recognizable to those who stood alongside of him back in the spring of 1991.

The changes were widespread and deep:

Physically

Hoff created a unified campus by closing Herald Avenue and Ledgewood Drive, turning them into grass-filled malls where students could play or lounge between classes. He restored the three historic buildings—Schmidt, Edgecliff and Hinkle halls—broke ground on the Gallagher Student Center and recognized the importance of having students live on campus by building Buenger Hall and the Commons apartments.

Academically

The University was always strong in this area, but Hoff wasn’t content with that. He increased academic standards for incoming students—average SAT scores rose more than 150 points and average grade point averages rose from 2.9 to 3.46. He created the University’s first doctoral program, in psychology. He rewrote the core curriculum such that it became recognized by the John Templeton Honor Roll for Character-Building Colleges. He increased freshman retention to 90 percent, earned seven straight rankings in the annual U.S. News & World Report ratings and created the weekend degree program for adult students, keeping with the basis of Jesuit ideals to make education available to everyone.

Financially

When consultants initially estimated that $60 million was the most the University could hope to raise during the Century Campaign, Hoff balked. “Why not $75 million?” he asked. It seemed like a pie-in-the-sky dream. The most the University had ever raised was $30 million, but when it was over, Xavier had raised $125 million. Hoff took a portion of that and applied it to increasing the endowment so the future would be more solid than when he arrived. It began at $24 million and ended at $86 million. That’s still only half of where financial experts say an endowment should be, but it’s strong enough now to allow the University to make financial commitments toward just about anything—purchasing new properties, financial aid, increasing faculty—that it otherwise would not be able to.

Athletically

Hoff knew the benefits of a strong athletic program—a rallying point for students and employees as well as a way to make the University known to a larger audience. During his tenure, the Musketeers moved from the Midwest Collegiate Conference to the more prestigious Atlantic 10 Conference. And, more importantly, they moved back onto campus and into the $46 million Cintas Center. Hoff called the arena/dining hall/conference center the project with the greatest impact on the University.

Spiritually

First and foremost a priest, Hoff made sure ethics and religion courses were at the heart of the undergraduate core curriculum. He created the Brueggeman center for dialogue to help foster peace among the religions and started a division of spiritual development within the University. He started the academic service-learning semesters to help students become men and women for others. And he made sure the Psy.D. program had a required social component in which students must concentrate on helping one of three underserved populations.

Perhaps Hoff’s most important accomplishment as president, though, was leaving the University in a position for further growth. Even after his death, the impact of his decisions is still being measured.

“Jim raised the bar at Xavier and set a tone that pushed the University, and all of us associated with it, to dream big and strive to be better,” says University President Michael J. Graham, S.J. “He set the example, academically, spiritually, athletically, in every way, of how to do things right and we will continue to follow his example.”

University provost Roger Fortin agrees. “I’m about to complete the history of the University,” says Fortin, “and in terms of leadership, he and Paul O’Connor are the two presidents who have done the most during the past 75 years in transforming Xavier into the highly respected academic institution that it is. In my judgment, Jim Hoff’s vision and passionate commitment to the University’s mission and the foundation that he has provided for us may ultimately prove to be the most influential in the history of the University.”

Accomplishments
• Raising the endowment from $24 million to $86 million
• Constructing the Cintas Center
• Constructing the Gallagher Student Center
• Constructing the Clement and Ann Buenger residence hall
• Constructing The Commons apartment building
• Closing of Ledgewood Drive and Herald Avenue and creating the residential and academic malls
• Renovating the West Row buildings: Schmidt, Hinkle and Edgecliff halls
• Raising $125 million during the Century Campaign
• Joining the Atlantic 10 Conference for athletics
• Earning recognition from U.S. News & World Report and the John Templeton Honor Roll for Character-Building Colleges
• Creating the academic service-learning semesters
• Creating the Brueggeman center for dialogue
• Creating the doctoral program in psychology
• Creating the weekend degree program for adult students
• Creating the national alumni association
• Increasing academic standards for incoming freshmen
(SAT scores from 973 to 1134, GPAs from 2.9 to 3.46)

Table Tennis

The next time you pick up a Ping-Pong paddle on someone’s basement table, remember these three words: spin, speed, accuracy.

That’s what it takes to win, if you’re like Nick Snider. Snider, a 2002 business graduate, advanced from the days when he used to get beaten badly by his older brother in games of basement Ping-Pong to now being one of Ohio’s top players in table tennis—the competitive version of the recreational Ping-Pong. Snider accidentally discovered a propensity for the sport in college after a chance game with campus police chief Michael Couch, whom he soundly beat. No table tennis slouch himself, Couch steered him to the Cincinnati Table Tennis Club’s weekly sessions, which are held on campus at Schmidt Fieldhouse. When Snider got creamed by a 60-year-old member, he was mad—and hooked.

Now he owns about 20 $100-plus paddles, known as blades, and goes through a pair of shoes every six months. He plays three times a week, competes in tournaments every other weekend and is ranked first in Cincinnati and fourth in Ohio. He even vied for a spot this spring on the U.S. Olympic team.

“As you get better, everyone starts playing the same, and it comes down to athletic ability and mental ability,” he says. “Strategy plus staying under control.”

Since going competitive, he’s learned that whoever controls the spin wins the point—something he wishes he’d known when he just played Ping-Pong with his brother.

Save the Date

Bow your heads on Dec. 5, 2004 as Xavier alumni gather with their chapters around the country for Communion Sunday.

Raise your voices, count your blessings, and while you’re at it, say a little prayer for another successful basketball season.

Room Numbers

It’s the kind of problem most campus administrators would like to have: too many students. But the price of success can also pose daunting challenges. With this year’s record class of nearly 900 freshmen—the most in school history—the University was faced with fitting 830 of them into 770 available beds on campus.

“It’s a good problem to have,” says Ron Slepitza, vice president for student development. “Only thing is, it’s like the pig going through the snake. Freshmen tend to become sophomores.”

Which means the situation could be worse next year. Adding to the challenge is that this is also the highest percentage of students overall to demand housing, with more students from outside the region and more Cincinnati students wanting to live on campus. By mid-summer, Slepitza and the housing staff had employed several strategies to free up as many beds as possible. Initially there were 718 available beds for freshmen and sophomores, who are guaranteed on-campus housing, says Lori Lambert, director for the office of residence life. But that number rose to 770 as some upper-class students decided to move off campus and additional bed space was created by converting study lounges into bedrooms. At one point, they were 100 beds short.

Among the other solutions: seeking students willing to triple up in a double room at below the normal triple room rate; encouraging upper class students in single rooms to double up; converting University houses to student housing; putting more honors students in the Buenger honors dorm by converting suite areas into extra bedrooms; and asking students whose parents work at Xavier to live at home their first year.

The remaining freshmen were assigned to triple rooms. “It’s not a first choice to triple students. It’s a last choice,” Slepitza says.

Reunion Union

As the luncheon for Edgecliff College alumni drew to a close during reunion weekend, 1974 graduate Michael Schooner rose, tapped on his glass and asked for everyone’s attention. He had an announcement. He said he was asked by Edgecliff alumni coordinator Joan Thompson to be a class liaison for the event, and had called a former classmate, Pam Futvoye, for help. She agreed to help, and in the process of working together the two rekindled their friendship—in a new way.

“In the recent months,” Schooner said, “we made a startling discovery that we’re really in love with each other.”

He then turned to Futvoye and in front of the entire lunch crowd asked her to marry him. She said yes. The two became friends their freshman year, but Futvoye later transferred and eventually moved to New York. They kept in touch for the past 34 years, but things didn’t progress until they started working on reunion weekend.

“It put us in a perfect position,” says Schooner. “It was like a light going on. It probably couldn’t have happened until now.”

Knowing that she was coming into town for the reunion, Schooner says, he wanted to make the visit special. “It was kismet—all these things were falling together as they’re supposed to happen,” he says. “You couldn’t have written a script better.”

Rebuilding Hope in Afghanistan

On the bumpy, dusty two-and-a-half- hour drive from Salang back to Kabul, Special Forces Capt. Kevin Garfield, a 1998 graduate, put up with deep ruts, narrow roads—and sporadic gunfire. Another man might have retaliated, but Garfield fumed silently, examined the hole in his truck and thought about the good people he’s encountered since returning to Afghanistan in February.

The shots were disconcerting considering the mission Garfield and his fellow Army troops had just completed. The 60-mile trek last March delivered a load of books and school supplies to an elementary school in the mountains. Another load went to a school in Kabul. Both were the result of an abundance of donations sent by Terra Centre Elementary School in Burke, Va., where Garfield’s mother teaches, after he asked for help restoring a preschool for government workers’ children.

Karen Garfield’s efforts to rally the families of Burke were so successful that the donations of books, papers, coloring materials, paints, pens and pencils far exceeded the Kabul preschool’s immediate needs. There were 45 boxes, so Kevin Garfield took the leftovers into the hills.

The project began when Garfield, in charge of a signal team that helps set up communications in the city, visited the preschool there. He was appalled at the conditions—chipping paint, moldy walls, filthy kitchen, leaking pipes and a potbellied stove belching heat in the middle of the playroom.

Garfield grabbed construction materials and a few friends to do the work. In the two months it took them to put up new walls, paint, fix plumbing and install windows, the supplies from Terra Centre had arrived. “Both the parents and children were ecstatic about the renovations and the supplies,” Garfield said. “It’s good to see the ambition that a lot of the kids have out here to learn.”