[Note: To print this piece, I suggest viewing it on the Chicago Sun-Times site and printing from there.]
Months ago, the Cooperstown Central School Board of Education authorized the creation of an Athletic Hall of Fame to celebrate the high school careers of its most accomplished athletes. Led by Athletic Director Michael Cring, the Hall of Fame committee begins by considering nominees – players, coaches, and personnel – from before 1970. Up to five inductees will be chosen from that era.
About six years ago I attended an academic conference on the state of the social sciences. A professor there with whom I talked remarked that Cooperstown, “… likely gets more mentions [in a day] per capita than any town or city in the world.” He was probably right. But even in a place like Cooperstown – with the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the New York State Historical Association, The Farmers’ Museum, the Fenimore Art Museum, etc. within a stone’s throw – our historical memory atrophies.
There are few alive who can recall the decades-old exploits of others with any sort of precision. If it didn’t have intense personal or national significance, we tend to forget it slowly.
Imagine playing a game of ‘telephone’ – a difficult enough game as it is – where those in your circle are constantly replaced by people with a different message. After a few rounds, our message would be almost wholly lost to a degree even greater than what makes the game so much fun for children. That’s the current state of much local history, partly due to rapidly-changing demographics and partly due to rapidly-changing priorities.
Cooperstown High School once was separate from Hartwick High. SUNY Oneonta professor Alexander Thomas detailed their consolidation in his book In Gotham’s Shadow, a study of the effect of economic changes on three towns in Upstate New York:
By the middle of the 1950s, the New York State Board of Regents was actively encouraging the consolidation of school districts in both urban and rural areas. As in other forms of upscaling, school consolidation ultimately would benefit larger communities over small.
In September 1956, the senior class of Hartwick High School started the year unaware that they would be the institution’s last graduates. Members of Hartwick’s school board contemplated a consolidation with Cooperstown throughout the winter and spring of 1957…
… On April 17, 1957, the Cooperstown Freeman’s Journal reported that the two school boards agreed to send Hartwick High School students to Cooperstown High School and begin discussions of consolidation. In less than four months, a decision that would dramatically alter both communities had been discussed and decided. [original text from Google Books]
Thomas cites a column from Oneonta’s Daily Star that mentions the effect this would have on area sports:
In a column … describing a Hartwick man who could “name the heroes, goats, records, pitches, and situations over the past few years with the quickness of an IBM machine,” the rhetorical question was raised as to what the man would do in the absence of Hartwick High School:
“Next year? Jim hasn’t looked that far ahead, but we’ll put a bob on the line that he’ll know the facts and figures on the Cooperstown Redskins forwards and backwards . . . Thus, educational progress has ended a sports era.”
“Jim” refers to Jim Hamilton, a tireless, unparalleled sports fan who – as that column attests – knew it all about area sports.
Hamilton, who is now deceased, took too much of that knowledge with him. I talked recently with a long-time staff member at Cooperstown who said, “I have no idea when Hartwick merged with Cooperstown.” It would be folly to think that many in the community could recall the accomplishments of Hartwick High’s outstanding athletes. Fifty-plus years is just too long.
On March 15th, the due date for nominations, I submitted to the committee a brief description of Francis “Bugs” Schweitzer’s athletic career at Hartwick High. Those who lived in the Town of Hartwick – about 6 miles from Cooperstown – remember Schweitzer as the finest, most accomplished athlete that the school ever produced.
My father grew up in Hartwick and attended the school until the forced migration to CCS in 1957. I asked him who stood out in his memory of Hartwick athletics. He didn’t hesitate for a second: “Bugs Schweitzer.”
I spent a few days researching Fran’s career for the purpose of nominating him for the Hall. That’s when I came across a neat photo [in which he doesn't appear] and a wonderful bit that gave some context to Hartwick sports. The Chicago Sun Times picked up the post via syndication; I continued researching.
It occurred to me that I’d even come across Schweitzer’s famed athleticism in fiction. I pulled out a copy of BC Stevens’ Warriors of a Morning Calm and thumbed through the pages. Stevens’ Korean War memoir has ample chapter-space devoted to Hartland High, the fictionalized version of the real HHS from which he graduated [Class of 1952]. Stevens’ main character played 6-man football with Frank Miller:
“Frank was Hartland High’s six foot two inch quarterback, running back, outside linebacker, basketball center – you name it, Frank could do it.”
It hit me that Frank Miller is Fran Schweitzer.
I pored over 1950′s HHS yearbooks and chased up a few clippings, including a feature article about Fran that appeared in the Binghamton Sunday Press on March 6, 1953. There was plenty to make the case that this prolific athlete – who held Section IV’s career scoring record in basketball, who averaged over 25 points per game years before the 3pt shot, who pitched a no-hitter for HHS, who led the 1952 HHS football team to an unbeaten, untied 18-0 record in Tri-Valley competition, who was elected to the Section IV Hall of Fame in 1975 – deserved a place in the inaugural class of inductees to our district’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Things got busy – as they often do – and I tabled the nomination.
Fran “Bugs” Schweitzer, born on July 4, 1934, died on February 4, 2008. I never met or spoke to him; he died without knowing that he was to be nominated for the Hall – or that those in future generations would recognize and remember the outstanding athleticism that made him a legend of a school long forgotten.
“Talk ye of all his wondrous works,” Fran’s senior quote, is taken from Chronicles 16:9. It’s preceded by Chronicles 16:8 which advises that we, “call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people.”
I’ve pasted below my talk of Fran’s wondrous works – my calling upon his name, making known his deeds. One can only hope that the committee will listen.
Nominee: Francis Thomas Schweitzer [â€œBugsâ€]
Nomination Category: Athlete
Athleteâ€™s Graduation year: Hartwick High School, 1953
â€œThe Hartwick School in this Otsego crossroads contains 26 boys and no gym. Of the eligible males, 23 play varsity or J.V. basketball in the low white wooden hall next to the feed mill.â€ – Binghamton Sunday Press, March 6, 1953 feature on Francis Schweitzer
Schweitzer attended HHS after arriving from Rahway, NJ in the 7th grade . He began his legendary athletic career immediately, leading Hartwickâ€™s small rosters to victories that began Hartwickâ€™s pre-consolidation dominance in football, basketball and baseball.
Schweitzer gained statewide fame for his athletic exploits; he excelled in baseball, football, basketball and volleyball. In basketball, he led to HHS to several Tri-Valley title games and playoff appearances, including averaging over 25 points per game in a season before the 3pt line. He held the Section IV scoring record for 24 years and in 1975 was elected to the Section IV Athletic Council Hall of Fame.
Francis also played for the Cooperstown Indians baseball team while in high school.
His physical ability was so recognizable â€“ and so obvious – that he inspired the character Frank Miller in BC Stevensâ€™ â€œWarriors of a Morning Calm.â€ From the book:
â€œFrank was Hartland Highâ€™s six foot two inch quarterback, running back, outside linebacker, basketball center â€“ you name it, Frank could do it.â€
After a stellar high school athletic career, Schweitzer attended nearby Hartwick College on an athletic scholarship. He entered the Navy in 1956 and, after being discharged, completed his degree at SUNY Oneonta. He extended his community service into teaching, working for the Lindenhurst School District for over 30 years.
Francis, who harbored a love for our areaâ€™s athletics for over 50 years, died on Feb 4, 2008.
His HHS resume at a glance:
â€¢ Baseball: 1, 2, 3, Captain 3; League All-Star 1, 2, 3, Section All-Star 3
â€¢ Football: 1, 2, 3, 4
â€¢ Basketball: 1, 2, 3, 4; Captain 3, 4
â€¢ Volleyball: 1, 2, 3, 4; Captain 2, 3, 4
â€¢ HHS Athletic Association 1, 2, 3, 4
It is with the utmost sincerity that I commend Francis Schweitzerâ€™s athletic career for examination by the Cooperstown Central School Athletic Hall of Fame. Schweitzer exemplified commitment, performance and scholarship during his playing days and after his graduation. His career in the Cooperstown Central School system teems with merit worthy of recognition as a legend in the annals of Cooperstown athletics.