Osher Class Discusses History of U.S. Sport

  • Rick Hutchins, of Canaan, N.H., poses for a photograph at Dartmouth College's Red Rolfe Field at Biondi Park in Hanover, N.H., on April 11, 2018. Hutchins has coached seven sports at the college level and has taught a total of 50 different classes. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rick Hutchins, of Canaan, N.H., poses for a photograph at Dartmouth College's Alumni Gymnasium in Hanover, N.H., on April 11, 2018. Hutchins taught college level health and physical education courses for 21 years. (Valley News - Carly Geraci) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hanover — Rick Hutchins has long cherished sports and their impact on American culture. Now he has a whole curriculum designed to share it with others.

Hutchins, 72, is teaching Sport in America Since 1865, a class offered though Dartmouth College’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The course is held weekly inside the Dartmouth Outing Club House on the north end of Occom Pond.

Slideshow presentations display historical sports photographs and information for discussion springboards, each two-hour class designated to cover certain time periods. Several weeks ago, the class began with the 50 years immediately following the Civil War, and it has continued in 20-year increments from there.

The class allows Hutchins, a longtime educator, athlete and coach, to remain immersed in perhaps his favorite aspect of society.

“I’ve always loved sports; I never get tired of it,” said Hutchins, a student-athlete at Hanover High and Plymouth State University during the 1960s who went on to teach and coach a multitude of sports — as well as serve brief stints as athletic director — at both alma matters. “I love talking about sports and playing sports. I still play hockey, and I’d play more of them if I could.”

Some of the seven students in the class are bona fide sports nuts, such as Bill Tingle, a western Pennsylvania native and diehard Pittsburgh sports fan. Others, like John Schumaker, don’t typically follow sports very closely. Most everyone, however, is at least vaguely familiar with iconic sports figures such as Babe Ruth, Muhammed Ali and Michael Jordan, and that familiarity is part of the reason Hutchins felt the topic worthwhile to delve into more deeply.

“Even people who don’t like sports are aware of these names, because you can’t help but to be,” Hutchins said. “Media — TV, radio and newspapers — make it so we have no choice. Sports is very integrated into society. They’re important to a lot of people.”

Hutchins began last Wednesday’s class by asking students to think of three influential sports figures from any era. The lists for some were made up entirely of athletes — student Norman Specter came up with Jackie Robinson, Arnold Palmer and Jordan, for example — while Tingle included executives such as Branch Rickey and Pete Rozelle. Rickey broke baseball’s color barrier when he signed Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers, while Rozelle helped the NFL reach new heights of popularity during 30 years as commissioner.

Sugar Genereaux also named a pioneering black athlete, tennis player Arthur Ashe, as well as former road cyclist Lance Armstrong, who won seven consecutive Tour de France’s before the victories were voided for doping.

The mentioning of Armstrong led to discussion about other prominent athletes accused of aiding their performances with illicit substances, namely home run record setters Mark McGuire and Barry Bonds.

“To me, winning the Tour de France seven straight times is unbelievable no matter what,” Hutchins said. “Other people disagree.”

Specter also mentioned Pete Rose.

“He’s different because he was a gambler,” Hutchins noted, to which Specter responded, “But he never bet against himself.”

Breaking into conversational tangents is welcome in class for Hutchins, who encourages debate and performs very little lecturing.

“I’d rather hear what (students) have to say than listen to myself talk,” the teacher said. “It’s their class, so it’s about their ideas.”

Students rotate bringing in snacks for break time, and Tingle, dressed in a Pirates T-shirt, presented Pittsburgh-themed fare including kielbasa — popular in the city’s Polish neighborhoods — as well as Snyder’s of Hanover (Pa.) pretzels and Clark candy bars, invented in Pittsburgh.

The occasion reminded Hutchins of the time he visited the Pirates’ PNC Park and met usher Phil Coyne, who is 99 years old and recently retired after 81 seasons in the stands.

“My dad and I know him,” Tingle said. “My dad is 99, too.”

After the treats, class resumed with a slideshow featuring black-and-white images of teams and individuals from the designated 1905-24 period.

Students were encouraged to take note of how much elements such as equipment, uniforms and skin color differed from today. Indeed, most of the athletes shown from the era were white, one exception being Negro Leagues baseball great John Henry Lloyd.

“Babe Ruth and sportswriter Ted Harlow said he was the best baseball player they’d ever seen,” Hutchins noted.

There were numerous gasps when a women’s hockey team called the Saskatchewan Swastikas was shown, each player’s sweater emblazoned with the symbol today identified with Nazism. Hutchins pointed out that the era depicted was prior to World War II, and Tingle noted that the swastika is traditionally a sacred Sanskrit symbol used in Buddhism and Hinduism.

The class wrapped up with a handout and discussion about prowess factors in sports, items that go into making athletes elite. For example, accuracy is a hallmark of archery and riflery, and hand-eye coordination is essential in baseball and lacrosse.

Hutchins brought up pain tolerance, something he feels he possesses a high degree of — but not when it comes to certain areas of the body. “I tried boxing once, and the first time I got hit in the nose, I said, ‘Forget it. This isn’t for me,’ ” the teacher said. “I can put up with a lot of things, but I just can’t stand being hit in the nose.”

Specter marveled at the general toughness of ice hockey players, whom he feels routinely play though injuries that sideline athletes in other sports.

“It’s part of the culture of the sport,” Hutchins said. “The ‘manliness’ factor is higher than it is in some sports.”

“Is it the same in women’s hockey?” asked Genereaux.

“You know, I’m not sure,” Hutchins replied. “I haven’t been exposed to it enough.”

It’s just those types of questions Hutchins hopes students will begin exploring more frequently after Sports in America Since 1865 is complete.

“All of these questions are worth asking,” Hutchins said. “Because sports is part of our fabric.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.