When the Band quit playing.


The Band quit playing in 1978. The University cut the heart out of a young coach, just as the season was coming to an end. It was a done deal, sealed and packed away where it could not be revealed or opened. D1 Hockey was done, finished, kicked in the ass out the door. Oh, there were other sports added to the list. They were pinned to the bulletin board for anyone to see. Cost savings was the mantra. But hockey, that demon that always festered those die hard basketball fans who lived and died for Penn basketball and football success, had to be terminated. It was intolerable that this sport, let alone any sport, have attendance at full capacity and the basketball team come up short. Had to take that probability away.

Money. The University was up against it for money. Who would have guessed? And dropping D1 sports such as badminton, tennis, gymnastics and hockey was going to put it back in the black. Right. Students rose up and marched on the Presidents office (students always like to rise up for something.) “Give us our sports back or we are going to park ourselves in your hallway.” Whatever. The University “gave in” and put back in play all of the sports pinned to the wall. That bad boy stayed locked away.

This was untouchable said the University. The decision could not be reversed. “In its current capacity hockey draws down too much liquid capital from our sports programs. You can have the cheap ones back.” (Well, hockey players have never shied away from drawing down real liquids.) But the students did not see the difference. They had a hard enough time passing Econ-1 and Stat-1. At least they got back the much attended “other” sports. There was the caveat of the administration looking at possibly renewing the program, in the future. They just failed to enunciate what it would look like.

It had been a backroom sell out. Perhaps the regents wanted some head on the platter from the athletic department to show how serious they were to the alumni. That head wasn’t going to be football or basketball. Wouldn’t look like a real Ivy League school then. Except they never told anyone of possible interest about the decision. Not even the hockey program, friends or boosters. There was no time to organize and see about financial support outside the Ivy walls. The program had unknowingly eaten its last meal.

So it was left to a cop’s kid from Minneapolis; a Penn grad and certified Physical Therapist, whose integrity, hard work and passion had drawn kids with aptitude, attitude and skills to once again compete at the top-level. He was on his own to try and get to that sealed envelope. Didn’t even get a “sniff.” No one inside the University had his back. So he made sure he had the back of his players and found them places at other Ivies and colleges. He left no one behind who wanted to continue to play while securing a coveted degree. Once he had placements adjudicated, he walked away from 1923, she who he had helped inaugurate while a senior captain.

The memories of all the time committed to make D1 real, practicing and playing in Cheery Hill New Jersey had their moments, but it was in the 1923 Rink under another young passionate coach that Penn had pushed the envelope of excellence. Now that envelope was sealed and hidden.

It was a brutal ending. Players who had been part of the legacy were off making lives and families. Ones from eras before were never contacted personally as the moorings had been cut with only slight mention. They would read snippets about what occurred in the back pages of the Daily Pennsylvanian and local papers. And the next week those papers would be used to wrap fish on Market Street.

The resumption of hockey came in the way of pay your own way, Mate. Club hockey. And come they did. Friendships were made. Memories developed and “lied” about. Beer still sampled in unmeasured quantities. 1923 was still there. The sacrifices resurfaced but this time instead of spatial it was financial (the players not the U/P.) In Philadelphia hockey is loved. People are passionate for the game.

The years clicked by. Careers were established. Children sprouted and grew. Players from the silk days began to look over their shoulders. How were things at Penn? What had transpired for old teammates? A slow trickle of interest started to accrue; enough to generate a gathering. And a game, of course. Older bodies and minds reverted to younger days and the thrill of Never Never Land. But now maturity was articulated and the thoughtful acknowledgement that D1 hockey has a place still available at 1923.

When Ernest Shackleton needed an additional 24,000 pds to meet the required 60,000 to make his historic journey, he turned to a philanthropist in Scotland, Sir James Key Caird. He was not optimistic, but time was dwindling down and resources run dry. Shackleton was about to leave without one quid when Sir James told him to hold on. He produced a pen and wrote a check in the amount of 24,000 pds. “I like passion and I think one’s talent should be used where it is best,” he said. And Shackleton became one of the world’s greatest leaders.

Frank Hurley was the famed photographer on the voyage. When he signed on, he did not know that Shackleton had sold the film rights, story rights, in fact every “right” to help finance the “run across Antarctica.” When he told Hurley that he would have to give up his rights to is pictures, Hurley still decided to go. Sir Ernest asked him why? “My dad said there is always a way and if not find one,” said Hurley. And his pictures along with the story have made riveting history.

The Imperial Trans-Antarctica Expedition was considered in severe trouble when a committee was drawn up to discuss the chance of organizing relief. (money hard to come by in the middle of a war.) It was still meeting when Shackleton arrived in Chile safely with his full compliment of crew.

Whatever or whomever decides to make the Band play again at 1923, there will need to be passion and willingness to find or make the way.

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