REFLECTIONS ON AN AMATEUR LIFE
By Coach Bill Cleary '56
Edited by John Powers '70 | Forwarded by Kevin Hampe '73, Mark Fusco '83 and Lane MacDonald '88-'89
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Reflections on an Amateur Life: Overview
Belief in and love for the amateur ideal was the common thread throughout Bill Cleary's career as an exceptionally successful ice hockey player and coach and former director of the country's largest Division 1 athletics program. This is the story of how Bill put those values into practice in all three roles and how he continues to champion them in an era of increasing professionalism.
Bill's memoir, an anecdotal tale written in his distinctive voice, covers his days at Belmont Hill and Harvard, his years with the US hockey team and the Olympic gold and silver medals, his experiences as a referee, his two decades behind the Harvard bench highlighted by the 1989 national title and another decade as AD.
"What drew me to Harvard and kept me there for so long was its commitment to athletics for all as a natural complement to academics," Bill writes. "And its recognition of the lifelong benefits derived from doing something for the love of it -- which is where the word 'amateur' comes from."
Professional hockey players in the Olympics. Football conferences with multi-billion-dollar television contracts. One-and-done collegians who sign pro contracts after one year. Athletes making money from their name, image and likeness. Kids specializing in one sport years before they're in high school.
The sports world today is not the one that I grew up with nor one that I support. My passion always has been for true amateur athletics because that's where by far the most people are. I wore a USA hockey jersey in two Olympics and played baseball and football in the Army. I also spent nearly four decades at Harvard as player, coach and athletics director.
What drew me to Harvard and kept me there for so long was its commitment to athletics for all as a natural complement to academics and its recognition of the lifelong benefits derived from doing something for the love of it, which is where the word 'amateur' comes from.
I always said that I never would coach or be an AD anywhere but at Harvard, where athletes can have a balanced experience on both sides of the river and still achieve excellence. Yet while the university offers 42 varsity sports, the most in the country, what I was proudest of was Harvard's extensive program of club, intramural and recreational sports. Eighty percent of the student body participates in some form of athletics.
I think it's important for Harvard to continue to provide athletics for all and be a beacon for the rest of the country at a time when the trend has been going in the opposite direction.
"I've been double talking since 1952 when I was a freshman. The trick to double talk is you start with a normal sentence, put in some phony word and then end it with something that sounds reasonable.
Double talking did help us win a game up at Dartmouth in 1978. We were leading by a goal with five minutes to play when we got a five-minute major. We only had a couple of kids who were really good at killing penalties and when we got down to about a minute and a half I needed to buy some time.
"Billy, Dartmouth is stustling with the puck as soon as they come across the blue line and they've been doing it all night," I told the referee when he went by our bench. "I don't mind it but Harvard got the gaishwinner every time we had the puck and intentionally the other team. And the Dartmouth coach just swallrid you the last time you went by him." "What?", the ref said. "Go over and ask him," I said. So the ref went over to their bench, and he was looking perplexed. He was starting to think about what the hell he was going to say and he looked over at me. Well, our team was on the floor they were laughing so hard. The ref looked at me and said 'You son-of-a-B, Cleary." "Billy, I needed a couple of seconds of rest," I told him. We got them and we won the game."