Through a stroke of luck, I had the privilege to end up starting on Houghton’s first two intercollegiate sports teams—soccer and basketball—as a junior in 1967.
I played fullback for Houghton’s first intercollegiate soccer team in the initial games against Roberts Wesleyan and Messiah along with several unofficial scrimmages. Not bad for someone who had never touched a soccer ball until competing in Purple-Gold games the previous year.
After those few weeks of experience and pre-season workouts the following year, the game grew on me, and I wouldn’t have missed those two intercollegiate seasons with Coach Doug Burke for the world. A few highlights included running the dreaded sprints up and down Shen hill or up the ski hill during practice; enjoying the sight of the grace and skill of Daryl Stevenson, Buddy Jowers, and other experienced players in front of me; the comeback win against LeMoyne my senior year; and appreciating Coach Burke’s life and philosophy.
After that first soccer season, I moved right into basketball. We were all “walk-ons” on Houghton’s first intercollegiate basketball team. It turned out that several taller and more skilled players couldn’t participate for health or other reasons, so this 6’2” high-school benchwarmer ended up starting at center for the Highlanders under Coach Bob Rhoades. We didn’t win any official contests that first year, but it was thrilling to represent Houghton College proudly as we played our home games in the gym at my high school alma mater, Wellsville High School.
I was usually out-matched against opposing centers, especially a gifted Point Park center and Craig Dunham, the 6’8” center at Mansfield State University who had been my high school teammate. I was outplayed but put up a fight. My best double-double game was an away contest against Roberts Wesleyan. That was a proud moment that even brought a little praise from Coach Rhoades in the post-game locker room. A first and last!
I remember proudly wearing the old purple and gold outfits that first season—purple for away games and gold for home games. Our basketball practices were at the Houghton Academy gym because the college had no suitable place to play. Bedford was not regulation size, and my one patented shot, the baseline jumper, always hit the balcony.
Looking back, it was quite a privilege and luck of the draw for a very insecure and average high school athlete to find a role in Houghton’s first intercollegiate teams. I treasure such a rich and full college experience that included music, missions, academics, leadership, friends and athletics. Thirty years later, it was an even greater thrill to watch my daughter, Linda (Shea ’01) Knapp, have similar experiences, but this time all the way to volleyball NAIA Nationals. What a long way Houghton has come since those early years—but we had to start somewhere! n