The year 2020 has made many of us think back to simpler times, and when thinking about local fall sports teams — football, soccer, field hockey and the like — I was drawn back to a sunny day somewhere around 1964.
I loved baseball more than anything in the world, and on that fine day I sat in my family’s house looking out the window, watching my friends play on our neighborhood’s makeshift baseball diamond. I had contracted a cold, and I was told I would be housebound for a couple of days. The fact that I could not play baseball was painful enough. Watching others play was torture.
Dan Swanstrom can relate. The head coach of the idle Ithaca College Bombers has been dialed in on football every fall since he was in fourth grade, and when we talked about the fact that some conferences are playing this year, he told me: “I hear you. We are so accustomed to working seven days a week this time of year, and when watching other teams go through that routine, it makes you really miss it. I can feel the thrill of their wins and the pain of their losses.” He added, “Personally, I just have to find ways to stay busy. The less I think and the more I move, the better off I am.”
The team is staying connected via Zoom, interacting with alumni, doing some virtual competitions and focusing on some career development tasks, and, given the fact that Swanstrom is in his fourth year, the seniors would have been the first class he brought all the way through the program. “There are 18 seniors on the roster,” he offered, “and while some are planning to come back, most will likely not. Some are enrolled in grad school, law school, med school, the Police Academy – they have built a four-year plan and they’re staying with it.”
While the coach has always stressed that academics and career development are more important than football, and is very proud that his guys have paid their dues to move on, he is very honest that this year’s unforeseen circumstances have been painful. Dan said, “I really wanted them to have their moment, to get on the field as a team, and when they come to me one guy at a time and we have that rough conversation, it’s hard.”
When word came over the weekend that Charlie Moore had passed on at the age of 90, I thought back to the times I interviewed him during his tenure as Cornell’s Athletic Director (from 1994-1999) and I recall thinking, Wow… this guy is a force, a get-it-done kind of guy. Compared to many who had been around Cornell Athletics far longer than I had, I was late to the party with such a realization.
Long-timers recalled Moore’s incredible career as a Cornell track star. He held Big Red records in the 440-yard dash (47.0) and the 400-meter hurdles (51.1), and he was the 1949 NCAA champion in the 440. He graduated in 1952 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Some Ivy League athletes are considered the proverbial “big fish in a small pond,” but Moore went on to be the biggest fish in the biggest pond. At the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland, he settled into the starting blocks for the 400-meter hurdles, facing not only the best hurdlers in the world, but pouring rain as well. He responded by winning the gold medal with a then-Olympic Record time of 50.8 seconds. He never lost a 400-meter hurdle event in his entire career. In 1978, he was among the first group inducted into the Cornell Athletic Hall of Fame, and in 1996, he was named one of the “100 Greatest Living Olympians.”
More than 40 years later — after a similarly stellar business career — Moore could have easily retired and relaxed, be he instead returned to Cornell as the Athletic Director. He vowed to stay five years, and he did just that — and what a five years it was. Moore hired 21 of the 30 head coaches during that time, and he was instrumental in the establishment or upgrading of iconic Big Red facilities like the Friedman Wrestling Center, the Friedman Strength and Conditioning Center, the Kane Sports Complex (named for Bob Kane, a former Cornell A.D. and former Chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee), the outdoor tennis courts at the Reis Tennis Center, the Niemand Robison Softball Field, the Oxley Equestrian Center and the Stifel Fencing Salle. Yes, it was a productive five years. Charlie Moore was a get-it-done kind of guy.