Athletics Dept. assembles definitive history of itself

The Athletics Department is assembling an online timeline of its history, an effort to catalog landmark events for a program which has grown in prominence and size since humble beginnings as a club in 1931.

The effort is also an attempt to help attract athlete-alums as a steadier base of donations, athletics officials said.

“For five years I had batted around the idea of doing something for the history of Emerson’s athletics and this summer it became a reality,” said Roger Crosley, coordinator of athletic operations.

Crosley said he was surprised to discover the college had very few records available about past athletic teams. Crosley credits the summer arrival of Emerson’s new Athletic Director, Kristin Parnell, and graduate student Chris Pineo with helping put the wheels in motion.

By publishing the project on the department’s Web site, alumni will stay connected to the college. “I believe it sends a signal to potential donors,” he said.

Athletic Director Kristin Parnell said she believes the timeline will help establish contact with alumni. “We are proud of the advances we have made over the past several years, especially in the area of facilities, and we want the alumni to see how far we have come,” she wrote in an e-mail.

Edward Blotner, class of ’57, who also played basketball and baseball, said athletics were largely forgotten by the school’s administration while he was a student.

“A couple years ago when I saw the new [Piano Row] gymnasium I saw how much more important athletics had become at Emerson,” he said in a telephone interview.

Former Athletic Director Joe Walsh, who served from 1994-1997, said during his tenure students and faculty on campus didn’t think much of athletics.

“It just wasn’t the nature of the students who came to Emerson,” Walsh said in a telephone interview.

Walsh now serves as the commissioner of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference-an organization which supports 11 teams in the Northeastern National Collegiate Athletic Association, including Emerson.

Walsh said being Emerson’s Athletic Director was the greatest job he had up to that time, but Emerson was a niche college.

“During my tenure kids went to Emerson for three things: theatre, production and speech pathology. If you cared about athletics you went up the street [at Boston University], and I don’t think they’ll ever care,” he said.

Rudy Keeling, who became AD in 2002, said the low interest in athletics was because the school still lacked practice and playing facilities.

“Nobody came to our games and we simply didn’t have an identity at the time,” he said in a telephone interview.

Keeling now serves as the Eastern College Athletic Association Commissioner. ECAC-of which Emerson is a member-is an intercollegiate organization with goals to initiate, stimulate and improve athletics programs for student-athletes.

He believes the resurgence in Emerson athletics can be credited with the building of the Piano Row gymnasium in October 2006. “[Athletics] have a great identity now because of the facilities. It’s convenient to come there. It’s in a dormitory with a built-in crowd,” Keeling said.

Since Sept. 8, Pineo-a former reporter for The Alewife, a North Cambridge newspaper-has given 20 hours a week to combing the NCAA Web site, Emerson college yearbooks, archive files, photographs and archived editions of iThe Berkeley Beacon/i.

About 60 hours into the project, which he calls “Tradition Today,” Pineo said he was disappointed to learn that some of this research had already been completed by former students.

In the mid-1990’s longtime Emerson athletic director and wrestling coach Peckham had four graduate students complete a textual database that Pineo said he found in the college archives. Jim Peckham was athletic director from 1967 to 1994.

Pineo is now working on publishing his results in an internet timeline on the athletic department’s Web site. Pineo said the timeline-which dates back to 1931 with the advent of the college’s Recreation Club-will be posted online within a few weeks.

It is organized by the era of each athletic director at Emerson. In addition to the records and rosters from each sport, Pineo said, “I want to focus on historical firsts under each director.”

Blotner who has donated money to the school for at least five years, said he finally feels recognized. “We were largely ignored for years and that has finally begun to change,” he said.