A three-sport standout athlete at Spencerport High School outside Rochester, NY, Daryl Stevenson ’70 could easily have worn the red and black of Roberts Wesleyan had he followed the calling of his high school friends and a few rival competitors as high school graduation approached in 1966.
But Stevenson heeded a different call, one that brought him to Houghton to continue his family’s legacy. Traditional class athletics and Houghton’s heated Purple and Gold rivalry filled his need for a competitive outlet, something he took immediate advantage of as he arrived on campus during the fall of his freshman year.
As the spring semester rolled around, however, Stevenson and a few other top soccer players at Houghton were called to Coach Doug Burke’s home to gauge their interest in being part of Houghton’s first intercollegiate team the next fall. The students enthusiastically pledged their commitments and waited for the college to move forward.
By late spring, The Wesleyan Church granted each member college the option of pursuing intercollegiate competition. In June, Houghton administrators presented their proposal to the Houghton Board of Trustees—on which Stevenson’s father (Herbert Stevenson ’38) was serving—and the group gave their approval for Houghton student-athletes to display their talents beyond the confines of the college.
Intercollegiate athletics at Houghton was now a reality.
That summer was spent putting the teams together—men’s soccer and cross country in the fall and men’s basketball in the winter—and scheduling opponents to take on Houghton’s fledgling programs.
Stevenson and his soccer teammates played two games in the fall of 1967, getting a win at Messiah and losing a tough contest at Roberts Wesleyan. He went on to play two more seasons and was a key contributor and leader for Houghton before graduating in 1970.
Stevenson returned to Houghton in 1982, serving on the faculty until his retirement in 2013, raising his family, following the Highlander teams and even supporting his three sons (Kyle ’96, Tyler ’03 and Eric ’08) as they continued the Highlander tradition.
Stevenson recently offered his reflections on what it meant to be a part of one of Houghton’s first teams, the impact athletics had on his life and the importance of athletics in the Houghton experience.
Why was there a push to move to intercollegiate athletics?
Everybody understood that this would be taking another step up in competition and showing how Houghton’s athletes could compete against other colleges. For decades, teams of guys would go up and play against a group of guys from other schools. This had been happening since the 1930s and 1940s, so having intercollegiate teams was always on people’s radars.
Was there a worry that Purple and Gold and Class competition would be lost?
We moved on. We had intramurals and intercollegiate. No one said we needed to go back to [Purple and Gold]. We appreciated the foundation and what they provided. I’m glad we celebrate what they did for us, but athletically, we elevated it to all one team who wore both Purple and Gold. It became a symbol for carrying on the foundation that Purple and Gold provided.
What was that first game and season like?
Coach Burke had contacts with Roberts Wesleyan and knew the people there, so they left open their fall homecoming game and plugged us in there for early October. Against Roberts, I think we wore our gold shirts from the Gold team, but we didn’t have unified shorts. We had players wearing black and blue and brown and white shorts. It was a rag tag group.
Our first win was against Messiah. Afterward, the team came home to a welcome back event on campus. We drove the vans around campus, honking horns with people coming out and cheering. It was a big deal.
How does intercollegiate athletics play a role in the life of the college and student body today?
The word I would use is integration—the integration of faith and learning. The notion that we don’t have lives of silos. We don’t have a spiritual life and a professional life. All of these can be integrated.
In athletics, people learn leadership skills, the never-give-up attitude. You do things you think you could never do. Then you go out and apply those skills. There are a lot of examples of people who have come through Houghton and found ways to integrate their spiritual perspective with their profession and their athletics involvement. We are more cognizant of the pattern that unfolds in our lives. As I look back on it, I think about my athletic involvement as part of the growing process.