Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Goodbye Old Friend - Ryan Gym 1901-2005


by Greg Kannerstein '63, Haverford College Director of Athletics

The Haverford College Gymnasium, 104, closed its doors today after an exciting century-plus as home for exercise, competition and even a little romance (many a college prom was held there!)

Its revels ended, and student and coaches who passed through its doors melted away, Ryan Gym and its sports feats will live on in memory and the building which contained them survives, but its cozy athletic ambiance and the sounds of strenuous exertion now fade into Haverford history.

When the world and Haverford were younger, The Gymnasium was one of the most advanced sports complexes in America, containing an alley for Haverford's varsity bowlers, a swimming pool (lacking on the campus of 2005!), a gymnastics arena, and shower and locker space for a student body of 200.

The Gym was part of President ISAAC SHARPLESS' plan to turn Haverford from a glorified boys' school into a top-flight college. Sharpless wanted first-rate athletics--minus gambling, hired athletes and raucous atmosphere of other institutions. The Gym's classical proportions and diversity of facilities exemplified Sharpless' ideals of sport.

In The Gym's early years, gymnastics, not basketball, was the primary activity of the main floor. Annual class gymnastic competitions were forerunners of varsity track & field and of Haverford's lively intramural program. Though Haverford had a team in the first year of college basketball (1896), not until the 1920s did The Gym become home to varsity basketball.

Haverfordians from 1901 to 1970 were linked by similar memories of early college days, including doffing all clothing to pass a swim test consisting of about six strokes back and forth in the tiny pool, with a turn in between. The swimming pool, later converted into the Ryan men's locker room, in its heyday was transformed into a wrestling room during the winter.

Fencing and wrestling first occupied The Gym in the 1930s. Swordplay occurred on the main gym floor until the renovations of 1983, which created the Henri Gordon Fencing Room in the former locker room for the entire student body. A partitioned corner of that locker room served as coaches' dressing area while a small cage at the north end of the locker room with a padded table or two and a whirlpool was the domain of legendary Haverford trainers 'DOC LEAKE' (LEAKE RAGLAND) and DICK MORSCH, along with a few bottles of oil of wintergreen and lots of tape.

When the Locker Building on Hall Drive, now to become the College's storage facility, opened in the early 1970s, the trainer's cage became Haverford's first rudimentary weight room, containing only a universal gym machine. Would that exercisers in the new 7,200-square foot ARN and NANCY TELLEM FITNESS CENTER could spend just one day in that initial Haverford
conditioning facility to see what progress has been made!

While many feats vie for title of "The Greatest" ever in The Gym, the two-game 100-point outburst of Haverford 5'8" guard of the 1950s, PHIL D'ARRIGO '56, gets our vote. ERNIE PRUDENTE, a hoop coach in that era, says orders were to "give the ball to Phil and get out of his way." Great strategy: D'Arrigo scored 52 and 48 points in consecutive games vs. the University of Delaware and Philadelphia Textile as bigger, slower defenders ran into each other while D'Arrigo scooted between bodies on the postage-stamp floor.

SOL TOLLIN '51, leading scorer before D'Arrigo, was a diminutive master of finding spots to shoot from on the crowded court, though he recalls he could never launch his two-hand set shot from the corner because of the overhang. Old-time Fords describe a raucous home crowd, legs dangling from the balcony track or bodies crammed into two rows of chairs around the court. One former opponent says Ford fans pulled the hair on his legs as he attempted to pass the ball inbounds but that must be just a myth born of frustration!

The Gym really never got over the arrival of its larger, more glamorous sibling, Alumni Field House, in 1956. Now called "The Old Gym," deprived of varsity basketball, its upstairs track (was it 20 or 22 laps to the mile?) rarely resounding to racing feet, it settled into depressed middle age, though offering opportunities for hotly-contested intramural and pick-up basketball.

Coaches who'd guided The Gym's activities for many decades, Brown "Iron Man" ROY RANDALL, Temple grid All-American BILL DOCHERTY, Penn three-sport star ERNIE PRUDENTE and the inimitable A.W. (POP) HADDLETON passed away, except for Prudente who suffered a grimmer fate, 23 years of coaching at Swarthmore (editor's note: wink, wink!). By the early 1980s, nightly creaks of floorboards and clanks of the heating system were mournful indeed. In 1983, though, a renaissance for The Gym arrived in the form of wholly-coeducational Haverford and benefactor THOMAS J. RYAN '46.

The need for facilities for sports-minded Haverford women, the urgings of Athletic Director DANA SWAN and contributions and solicitations by Tommy Ryan transformed the old building. Creaks and clanks remained, but a new, resilient basketball floor replaced the old one (by then transparent in some places), locker rooms fit for a coed college were built, fencing got a new home, and the augmented athletic staff finally had a conference room (in the old visitors' locker room). Offices were created from former storage closets and even from a bathroom which many claimed housed the first flush toilet in America.

Thus, the newly-named Ryan Gym lived on for 25 comfortable years of a green old age, adjusting to aerobics classes, badminton and martial arts. Folk dances replaced the waltzes and fox-trots of those proms. Wrestlers ran up and down the steep stairs between the basement and the first floor. Presidents named TOM (KESSINGER and TRITTON) must have had the old place gasping a bit as they changed into togas in Ryan and departed from its front door to bring a torch to Founders to open the annual Dorm Olympics.

We don't know who will be the last of the athletic personnel to slip out that same door this afternoon and take the brief walk to the Gardner Center. We suspect it will (most appropriately) be TOM DONNELLY, the marvelous 33-year track coach who epitomizes Haverford sports and who still had his runners use the old balcony track once in a while so they could see what their predecessors had to deal with.

Tom, turn out the lights, say goodbye, and thank The Gym for all the memories it gave alumni and students and for being there for Haverford for so long.

*****************************************************************

EPILOGUE

The Gardner Athletic Center will open on Monday, October 17, at 9 am. Ryan Gym will then provide offices for the contractors and Haverford staff responsible for finishing off the GIAC and then faculty fleeing crowded conditions elsewhere.

In the fullness of time and fund-raising, the building will become the home of some of the exciting new academic centers the College is developing. It may do for art and theater some of what it did for athletics for so long.

We injure any benighted architect for the renovations from carving up the historic gym area, with its now rarely-seen upstairs track and magnificent divided-light windows, lest the ghosts of founding AD JAMES BABBITT, M.D., the omni-talented ARCH MacINTOSH '21, Randall, Haddleton, Docherty and Gordon haunt the building forever.

We commend the spirit of The (Ryan) Gymnasium to its future occupants, and leave any nourishing remnants of snacks and
coffee hours to the family of mice who inhabit its lower depths, appearing just often enough to remind us that all things pass
away and that the meek *do* inherit the earth and--for a few days at least--Haverford's gymnasium.

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