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Different Worlds

My mother is a great sports fan, and mostly because of her I grew up watching Big Five basketball on TV.

Neither of us had any particular allegiance to the Quakers—although my mother does have vivid memories of Penn’s football teams of the 1940s, and still gets a little starry-eyed when she mentions the late Francis J. “Reds” Bagnell C’51, who before Penn went to West Catholic Boys High School around the same time she attended West Catholic Girls.

By the time I came to Penn, to say that I didn’t follow sports is a mild way of putting it. Sports and I existed in different worlds. Not only did I not attend a single football game, but the only time I set foot in the Palestra was when the Spring Fling concert my freshman(?) year was moved there because of expected bad weather. In fact, the only Penn basketball I saw during my entire college career was the first half of Penn’s crushing defeat in the fabled NCAA Final Four year of 1979—I saw the dream die, without ever having dreamed it.

To be honest, my game-attendance behavior hasn’t changed much, but I do enjoy reading about Penn athletics—both regarding the fortunes of the current Quaker teams and, as we’ve been preparing our Centennial issues, the University’s rich sports history.

There’s been a lot to read. Especially in the post-World War I era and up through the time that the magazine became a monthly in the late 1930s, sports took up the largest share of space in the Gazette. In our cover story, David Porter C’82, who recently became the magazine’s regular sports columnist, sketches some of the most significant and memorable developments, accompanied by a wealth of archival photos.

Also sports-related in this issue: In “Alumni Voices,” Nick Lyons W’53 puts in his vote for the greatest Penn basketball player ever—his classmate Ernie Beck C’53, who still holds a fistful of Penn records in scoring. In “Off the Shelf,” Al Filreis, the Class of 1942 Professor of English and faculty director of Kelly Writers House, reviews Hoop Roots, by John Edgar Wideman C’63 Hon’86, in which the former Penn basketball star and Rhodes Scholar describes—in prose as fluid and provisional as action on the court—“dying out of his basketball life.”

Bob Bigelow’s Full Court Press” details the post-Penn career of another familiar presence on the Palestra floor. For the past several years, Bigelow C’75 has been talking to just about anyone who will listen about the need to reform the current youth-sports system, both for the greater enjoyment of kids and to stem the increasing incidence of “youth-sports rage.” And “Finals” recalls John Baxter Taylor V’08, the premier quarter-miler of his day and the first African American to win a gold medal at the Olympics, whose athletic and professional careers were cut short by his death at 26 from typhoid pneumonia.

Speaking of different worlds, we also present in this issue an excerpt from Still Love in Strange Places by memoirist Beth Kephart C’82, a frequent contributor to the Gazette. The book concerns her love for her husband, Bill Sulit (who did the haunting illustration that accompanies the excerpt), and her rather more complicated relationship with his homeland of El Salvador.

Finally, in November Kyle Cassidy, a photographer with the Annenberg School for Communication, traveled to Egypt to photograph and interview Zahi Hawass G’83 Gr’87. Hawass is responsible for the preservation of Egypt’s most famous monuments and the excavation of recent discoveries like the Valley of the Golden Mummies and the tombs of the pyramid builders. He has already raised the level of interest in Egypt’s past to unprecedented levels, but his ultimate ambition is to use history to forge closer relations between people around the world. With the situation only worsening in the Middle East since Cassidy interviewed him, that enormous task has grown larger than ever.

—John Prendergast C’80

 

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