Al Paul (Terry) Lefton '72
Anyone of my vintage (Class of 1972) can’t begin to recall the way sports were at Rectory then without being overwhelmed by what Rectory offers now. We had plenty of orange and black spirit, and some talented athletes, but Rectory’s sports facilities now put those of our era to shame.
It was a markedly different time in society, and on the Rectory campus. There were just five girls; all day students. Today, more than 50 girls board. Long hair was political enough then that any teacher could place a student with unruly locks on the dreaded “haircut list,” read just after lunch to accompanying jeers. There was a barber at the school twice weekly to handle the shearing. Coats and ties during the day gave way to requisite white shirts, grey flannels, blue blazers and ties from dinner onward-and oh, the many “neatnesses” one could acquire for inept switching from one dress mode to the other.
As for sports, there were then enough basketball players to field three separate teams. We did NOT have lacrosse, golf, equestrian, nor swimming teams, and there were surely no sports for girls. We couldn’t dream of something as nice as the Colhoun Athletic Center, a dedicated weight room, or an illuminated outdoor basketball court.
Hockey, soccer, and football were the “glamour” sports, then, attracting most of the boys. A lasting memory of hockey: practices were outdoors, on the pond behind DGB, providing it was frozen. When it wasn’t, hockey practices were held on an adjacent parking lot. Sure, pond hockey allowed you to work on skating, but as 1972 classmate Brian Powers recalled “that pond ice could get a bit lumpy and the wind there in February-ouch.”
Another obstacle for any aspiring NHLers: Rectory’s pond rink was little more than a few hockey goals. Any wrist or slap shot missing the net obligated the shooter to a long chase down the ice. “For that very reason,’’ chuckled fellow 1972 classmate Michael Ponce, “we had many more pucks than sticks.’’ Only a half dozen or so times a year did Rectorians get to play on Pomfret’s ice for “home” games, and that was in a Quonset hut rink with no refrigeration, other than winter’s chill.
As an alum of nearly 50 years, there’s a notable absence when it comes to Rectory sports: football. Since the school seal/logo in my time, dating to the 1930s, was a schoolboy cradling books in one arm and a football in the other, that was a seismic change. Accordingly, the school’s logo and team nickname changed; first to the Oaks, then to its current Wolves in 2012, after the local legend of Israel Putnam killing Connecticut’s last wolf in 1742. There’s a costumed “Wolfie” mascot now. Wonder if he has to wear a tie during the class day?
Retired former Assistant Headmaster Brad Seaward, who coached basketball, cross country, baseball, and tennis during his years at Rectory from 1975-2018, said football was “very big” during his early years. Mike Healy, Rectory’s athletic director since 1997, recalls varsity and JV football squads totaling more than 70 students when he arrived. More recently, “we got down to 16 kids or so, not all of whom were game ready,’’ Healy said. “We had to move on.”
Still, some sports that didn’t exist at Rectory 50 years ago have since flourished. Lacrosse was a club activity in my day. Things changed, as lax grew nationally. “It really eclipsed baseball as the spring sport of choice quite a while back,’’ said Seaward, now retired in Pomfret.
Seaward said growing Rectory’s basketball program into a power, which he did with the help of a pipeline into the Boys Club of New York City, was a career highlight. “We haven’t produced any NBA players yet,’’ he said, “but we have played against some kids that eventually made it there.’’ Recent Rectory alumni at top NCAA programs bear witness to his success; they include Terrence Clark (Class of 2018) at perennial powerhouse Kentucky, and Christian Vital (Class of 2013) at UConn.
Connecticut College Womens Soccer Coach Norm Riker (Class of 1986) says some of his Rectory lacrosse teammates later played for premier collegiate programs, like UVA, Duke, and UNC, where John Dolan (Rectory Class of 1986) played on the Tar Heels undefeated 1991 NCAA championship team. There’s an Olympic gold medalist among Rectory alumni. Julian “Dooley” Roosevelt (Class of 1939) competed in yachting during two Olympic Games, winning a 1952 gold medal in the 6-meter class. Roosevelt, grand nephew of former President Theodore Roosevelt, later served on the International Olympic Committee.
Riker, legendary schoolboy wrestler Lewis duPont Smith (Class of 1971), and longtime Rectory soccer coach George Groom are all on Rectory’s Athletic Wall of Honor; appropriately enough, since both students were coached by Groom, who was with Rectory from 1969 - 2020 as a teacher, coach, and trustee. “Mr. Groom,” as I still felt compelled to call him, when we recently caught up by phone, was my dorm master. “The athlete/coach relationship is a very personal way of getting to know kids, along with the classroom and dormitory,’’ said Groom, now retired and living across the street from Rectory.
“Rectory sports were really the foundation of my career,’’ said Riker, who came to the school from a class of just seven students on his native Block Island. “We had the Grooms and the Seawards, but we also had these incredible young teachers, just out of college, as coaches, who were such an inspiration. I’ve been coaching ever since, thinking of all of them.’’
Al Paul (Terry) Lefton (Class of 1972) parlayed being the sports editor of The Rectory News into a career as a sportswriter. He’s been editor-at-large at Sports Business Journal in NYC for the past 20 years. To date, the only handshake he’s experienced more powerful than Mr. John’s was a bone crusher from Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s fifth-leading all-time rusher.
Image: Rectory Archives, 1971