Tag Archives: Spring 2011

The Adventures of James Fitzsimmons

 

The 4×4 double cab rolled west through the lowlands of northwest Petén, Guatemala, hard by the Mexican border, carrying four workers for the Guatemalan Institute of Anthropology and History (IDAEH), Middlebury Assistant Professor James Fitzsimmons, and me. It was summer solstice, and hot. Cattle grazed on poor clay soils under a clear, blue sky, and open views extended to the horizon where a generation ago high canopy rain forest had sheltered jaguar, tapir, armed guerrillas, and Maya ruins. The ruins were still there, but the land now belonged to ranchers, immigrant coyotes, and narco-traffickers, and an ever-growing population of full- and part-time looters, who dug unauthorized trenches in the omnipresent ancient sites and sold what artifacts they found on the open antiquities market.

We were on our way to a Maya site called Zapote Bobal to see if James—Professor Fitzsimmons—and the workers could begin the process of moving important late-Classical monuments (ca. 600–800) to the museum at Tikal, a major Maya site three hours back the way we had come, for safe-keeping and further study. He had been trying to get them there since he discovered them on a dig with Middlebury students in 2005 and had reburied them so they wouldn’t get looted before he made it back. They bore remarkable inscriptions and carvings from Hix Witz, “Jaguar Hill,” an eccentric and short-lived kingdom, which may have helped explain the dynastic alliances and political shifts in the critical seventh-century Maya world.

He’d gotten this far, but there were always obstacles. Approvals took forever. Nobody had tried to move monuments of this size in years—at least not without breaking them. “Not since Morley!” James said, naming Sylvanus Morley, the explorer and Mayanist of the late 19th century, who was among the most adept at transporting large monuments to museums—a kind of sanctioned looting, in many eyes.

And questions often arose about who owned the “patrimony,” the fund of both known and as yet undiscovered wealth from the precolonial civilizations that occupied the region, often leading to violence. Fifteen years ago, when the Mexican equivalent of IDAEH had tried to move a monument from a remote village a few miles away, across the Usumacinta River, armed campesinos kidnapped the workers and archaeologists, beat and stripped them naked, and shot at them when they escaped and swam across the swollen river to safety.

We turned off the paved road a few miles shy of the smugglers’ village of El Naranjo, “a very sketchy place,” in James’s words. The truck lurched over the rutted dirt road for more than an hour, through colonias that had sprouted from nothing in recent years; burned and scarred fields; milpas of maize, chiles, and melons; and the spindly cecropia trees of early forest succession. An oil pipeline paralleled the road, running down from El Tigre National Park, and there were enough cell towers scattered about to give all the looters, narcos, snakes, and parrots for miles around four bars of phone reception. Finally the truck climbed a forested limestone mesa to the site of La Joyanca, one of three, along with our final destination, Zapote Bobal, and El Pajaral, nearby, that might have served as multiple and shifting capitals of the anomalous and minor kingdom of Hix Witz (pronounced heesh-weetz).

Open sight lines in all directions had made it easy to defend. On one of the kingdom’s plazas, IDAEH had erected a few rough cabins and an open-air comedor. After we pitched our tents in one of the cabañas, James suggested a walk. We followed a narrow trail into the high forest. Howler monkeys roared in the distance, then the trail opened onto a compact plaza with the familiar outcroppings of cut stone and grassy, partially cleared pyramids and palaces.

After the hot and jarring ride, the plaza held the indefinable stillness and mystery you come to associate with even the remotest minor sites, a combination of silence, teeming nature, and the presence of the towering past. While we looked at the partial restoration of one temple—the clean, rebuilt walls and lintels emerging out of the softer and more crumbled stones, moss, and vegetation—an old Ixil Maya man, a worker in the ruin, approached us wearing black rubber boots, with a machete and net bag over his shoulder. We traded news of the country and told him of James’s plan. The man had followed one of the recent migrations to lowland Petén from the southern highlands during the 40-year insurgency that ended in 1996, and he shared James’s commitment to seeing the stones of Hix Witz protected and remaining in public hands.

James, like his mentors, Ian Graham (one of the great epigraphers and explorers of modern Maya studies) and MacArthur Fellow David Stuart, was trained as an epigrapher, or a specialist in Maya inscriptions. To be copied, read, and deciphered, inscriptions had to be readable and safe. The monuments he wanted to move lay half buried, fragile and immobile, and he had brought Ephraim Peralta, the most experienced person at moving monuments in Guatemala, to do the job.

In the sixties, Ian Graham had begun a similar program to relocate the most vulnerable pieces from remote sites to the Guatemala City museum, a good effort that nevertheless damaged a lot of monuments. Subsequent attempts also failed. Relocation became frowned upon, for reasons of maintaining site integrity as well as politics. Nevertheless, James told me, “You work on a place because you love it and don’t want it to be screwed up.” If the Zapote Bobal monuments remained where they were, he said, “they will be looted.”

Ephraim would make casts after the monuments reached Tikal. The reproductions would go back to the site and be erected where they had stood. With luck and funding, James hoped, one or more might make their way to Middlebury’s Museum of Art.

At 36, James, who teaches in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, had just published his first book, Death and the Classic Maya Kings, an “indispensable compendium of all the current knowledge of Maya concepts of death,” according to Stephen Houston, another MacArthur Fellow. In the nineties, James had worked for Houston at Piedras Negras, the sprawling and important Maya site on the Usumacinta River. It was “an arduous project,” Houston said, that could only be reached by boat, speeding past bandits and through vicious class-three rapids. More than once the crews went without food for days. “You could always send James out to survey a site and depend on him to produce a perfect report, with drawings and maps,” Houston said. A few miles away, at the jungle site of Tecolote, James had suffered even more with archaeologist Charles Golden to place this remote and minor site in a historical and geographical context.

“His cheery personality doesn’t hint at the underlying toughness of an archaeologist who thrives in the environmental and logistical difficulties of the unbroken jungle and the even more perilous world of rural community politics,” Brandeis University’s Golden said. “James is among the few Maya epigraphers who has engaged in and directed archaeological field projects, wrestling with the challenges of integrating two very different kinds of data to paint a more complete picture of the Classic period.

“He is putting in the effort to make a real difference in protecting these precious links to the past,” Golden continued, “links that give voice to a great ancient culture and which contribute to modern Guatemalan culture.”


Taking Stock

Danny Metzger-Traber ’11 has a flashbulb memory of where he was the September morning in 2008 when Lehman Brothers imploded in spectacular fashion, and the financial crisis began in earnest. “I was in a campus information session with Morgan Stanley,” he recalled recently. “The Morgan Stanley guys were coming in and out of the room on their cell phones, freaking out.”

Metzger-Traber is co-chair of the Student Investment Committee (SIC). In a nearly empty lecture hall after one of the group’s weekly meetings, he said, “Our formative years in this club were during the financial crisis.”

“We started the fall of 2007,” added his other half, Evan Caplan ’11, “and the market peaked in October.” The two economics majors can tell you the order in which Wall Street’s investment banks failed (Bear Stearns, Merrill, Lehman, AIG); when the S&P 500 bottomed out (March 2009); and how Libya’s crisis will affect the SIC’s $14,000 stake in Exxon Mobil (got a minute?).

The group of nearly 40 members independently manages $330,000 of the College’s $860 million investment pool, a sum grown from seed money set aside 24 years ago by the Board of Trustees. In 1987, economics professor and adviser Michael Claudon asked the board’s investment subcommittee for $100,000. The idea was to give the nascent SIC enough money to feel lousy if they lost it, relieved if they made a fair return, and ecstatic if they engineered something great.

Despite its revolving officers and not-for-credit workload, the SIC routinely beats the S&P 500, often unnervingly so. They’ve made $55,000 since this time last year, and when the College’s latest endowment figures showed an investment return of 14 percent this fiscal year to date, those gains were led by the SIC’s 27 percent return during the same period. “We like to make sure we beat all the other Middlebury money managers,” Metzger-Traber said, laughing.

The SIC has a three-prong mission—manage its portfolio, educate the quants of tomorrow, and network like gangbusters. Divided into subgroups like energy, tech, health care, and emerging markets, the groups meet to research new investments and vet existing positions and then present their findings along with a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold. To pick stocks, explained Metzger-Traber, “We find a good story, gather the financials to back it up, and then see what everyone else thinks.”

The SIC is a pure democracy, and anyone who shows up—including a kibitzing journalist—is asked to vote. “The reason we perform so well is that all our members help make the decisions,” Caplan said. “We’re not traders. We’re investors. Some of the positions have been in there longer than we’ve been at Middlebury.”

On a recent Wednesday night, the emerging markets group presented its findings. The recommendation, delivered with the kind of gravity befitting a corporate war room, was to sell $16,000 worth of shares in a Brazilian energy distributor. The company’s fundamentals were off, and its leadership undergoing an unpredictable upheaval. Also, its annual filings were in Portuguese, which no one could read. “The former chair of the group was a native speaker,” said Metzger-Traber. “Evan and I tried to learn a little over the summer. It was tough.” The recommendation to sell was approved, with one dissenting vote.

I asked the pair what it was like to stand in front of a room full of fellow undergrads, some of the College’s sharpest analytical minds, and propose spending so much of someone else’s money. “It’s a pretty friendly group,” Metzger-Traber said. “You’re not going to get destroyed up here.”

“The first time, it was scary,” Caplan admitted. “But it’s exciting. It’s real money.”


Play Ball

I turned 60 not long ago. It was hard to believe. Sixty is old. Or it was when I was 19, and 29, and 49. I’ve been hearing recently that 60 is the new 40. Nice try. No, 60 is 60. I just have to redefine it because I’m not old yet.

I was 20 years old in 1967. I was young with a vengeance. I inhaled. At Middlebury. I was dead center of the youth culture, and as editor in chief of Crawdaddy—“the first magazine to take rock & roll seriously”—I was professionally young well into my 30s.

I’ve played softball pretty much all my life. I was a hot shortstop, one of those thin, quick boys with soft hands and a strong arm who covered a lot of ground. (I’m no longer any of those.) As I grew older, I simply refused to stop playing. Teammates would ask me, “So how old are you, anyway?” I’d tell them, and they’d go “Nawwww!  Fifty-seven? Me and the guy in right field together are 57!” I lived for that. And then the legs went.

Arthritis. No more cartilage. Bone on bone. This was distressing. At first I shuffled from chair to couch; then, when I could no longer stand, I just took to throwing myself from place to place. Pain would strike without warning. I popped OxyContin like it was Pez. I was on my way to a wheelchair. I shopped for surgeons, and they all told me the same thing: I had to have both knees replaced. The most important question I asked was, “Will I still be able to play ball?” What I feared most was not the pain or the effort it would take to recuperate. What I truly feared was that I would never be the same, that I would go from being a young 57 to an old 58. Softball was my connection to my youth, to my entire sense of myself as, improbably, a young man. If I lost softball I would jump start the hearse.

Double total knee replacement. I didn’t have a leg to stand on. The surgery went well; I was attentive and serious about my rehabilitation. Eight months later I was back on the ball field. My team, the Wolfpack, won the league championship that year.
What is really wonderful is that at my age—and how I hate that phrase—a guy expects to be in worse shape this year than he was a year earlier, and in worse shape next year than he is this. No one likes the downhill slide. Doesn’t apply to me. I’m getting better!

It’s a paradox: have major surgery, reverse the aging process.

So there I was, 60 years old, standing at second base in a New York City playground on artificial turf, which is essentially a sheet of plastic glued onto a slab of asphalt. The 25-year-old batter swung and hit a line drive behind me into center field. I took off. (As much as I can still motor, which tops out at around second gear.) I was three steps from home plate when I heard my teammates yelling, “Down! Down!” It’s what you tell a ballplayer when he and the throw are going to arrive at the same instant. I didn’t have time to think. I slid.

I didn’t go in headfirst; I’m not crazy. I threw a straight-ahead, feet-first, figure-four slide, just like I’d been taught in Little League. The umpire was right on top of the play.

Safe!

When I pulled myself off the ground and trotted back to the bench, the guys were hysterical. I heard about it the rest of the night and expect my run to glory to go down in the annals of Wolfpack lore. For my part, it was one of the great moments of my life. I ran, I slid in under the tag, I scored…and I survived. Not bad for an old man.

Author Peter Knobler is currently collaborating with David N. Dinkins on the former New York City mayor’s autobiography.


Dear Carol

It’s morning in Manhattan, and Carol Weston, MA Spanish ’79, logs onto her computer in her Upper West Side apartment. Her e-mail has proliferated overnight with what she calls “girl mail”—teens asking about boyfriend problems, school pressures, bodies they worry are too large or too small, their BFFs, their fears.

One letter, from “nervous n scared,” begins, “hey:) so i have a problem,” and then describes the problem in graphic detail, leaving nothing to the imagination. It ends with “like wat do u think it is..? n how can i fix it…plz i need ur advice.”

Weston dashes off an answer to the anxious teen, writing in the vernacular, right down to the punctuation and emoticons:
“you say you had ‘safe sex’—to me this means you used a condom, but you didn’t mention a condom. . . .

“pls don’t just assume that it’s safe unless you use a condom. . . .

“it’s possible that you have a bladder infection and i would recommend that you . . .”

Weston offers several tips and advises the teen to go to the doctor if she doesn’t feel better soon. She ends with a message she delivers regularly: “take care of YOURSELF.”

For more than 25 years, Carol Weston has dispensed advice to girls: in “Dear Carol,” her Girls’ Life magazine column, in books, at school visits, and even on YouTube. She sometimes receives letters from grown women thanking her for being there when they were young.

To talk to her, you’d never realize that Weston is considered the doyenne of girls’ advice. She seems endlessly young. Her voice is warm and effervescent. Her conversation bubbles with thoughts that move about rapidly, like water on a quick boil. But when her career comes up, the conversation slows down as she reflects. She seems genuinely surprised at how her life’s path laid itself down. “I wanted to write the great American novel,” she says.

Instead, she’s developed a body of work predicated on helping girls navigate their world. Her first book, Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You, has been in print since 1985 and is in its fourth edition. Even her much-adored novels, the Melanie Martin series for young readers, provide valuable lessons as experienced by the title character.

Weston’s affair with the advice format began when she was 11. Her next-door neighbor and best friend shared with her a subscription to a teen magazine that featured a regular advice column, and Weston was hooked. “I’ve always been a sensible person,” she says. “I had common sense before I knew how uncommon that was.”

At 19, she snagged her first writing assignment with Seventeen magazine, which segued into writing quizzes and little essays like “Foreign Fling” and “Is There Life after Nineteen?” for various publications, including Cosmopolitan. Just a few years later, she landed her first contract to write a book for young women and girls, and later became the advice columnist for Girls’ Life.

Yet originally, Weston intended to focus on the more literary side of writing. She graduated from Yale with a degree in French/Spanish comparative literature. She immediately enrolled in Middlebury’s Spanish School and spent a year in Spain, where she met her husband, playwright Rob Ackerman ’80, on his junior year abroad, and their 30-year partnership—two writers, editing and supporting each other—began. “We were so young,” she marvels. Realizing that her daughters are about the same age now, she adds laughing, “Don’t try this at home, folks.”

When she received her first contract to write Girltalk, she was thrilled to have “a chance to tell younger girls everything I could think of.” Never having had a younger sister herself, she approached the project as if she were writing for her husband’s sister.

“She was 13 when I met her, and I imagined her heading off to boarding school. I had to be sure to tell her everything—from healthy eating to having fun but not being fast. I truly poured my heart into it.”

The book’s table of contents offers an entertaining peek at the straightforward yet humorous approach Weston uses to make serious subjects palatable. For example, in the first section called “Looking and Feeling Your Best,” chapters include “Is Your Period a Question Mark?” “Don’t Window Shop at the Bakery and Forty-nine Other Dos and Don’ts,” “Eating Disorders: Dying to Be Thin,” and “Ignore Your Teeth and They’ll Go Away.”

According to Weston, Girltalk was a first of its kind. The booksellers didn’t know where to shelve it. There weren’t self-help sections. Sometimes they put the book in the women’s section, sometimes on the counters. The fact that it has been translated into Chinese, Russian, Polish, Mandarin, Czech, Vietnamese, and other languages seems to validate what Weston believes, that “girls are girls the world over; the heart of a girl is the heart of a girl.”

A huge part of her career involves answering teen mail. She does not have assistants or receive remuneration. She simply believes it’s important. “The first letter I ever received was from a girl who had been raped by her father, and she had two little sisters, and she was pregnant. I swear this was the first letter I got. My eyes are teary as I talk about it now. I wanted to be a writer—I didn’t know I was veering into social work.”

Beyond helping scores of girls, Weston was able to use their mail to connect with her own daughters, Emme (a student at Middlebury, Class of 2013), and Lizzi, now a Yale graduate. Weston made a point of asking them to read and comment on her column and book drafts, which allowed them to acquire important information without being preached to.

“Friends would ask me if I went to ‘Dear Carol’ when I had a problem,” says Emme, “but I didn’t need to. I already knew what was up because I’d been doing Mom a ‘favor’ and reading her books and columns.”

Emme also remembers looking through her mother’s mail and offering her teen perspective, helping her get “her voice right . . . She’d have bags of mail, and we’d help. We’d make suggestions about language, like, ‘Mom nobody says hunk; that’s ’80s. Say hottie.’ Or, ‘Mom, don’t use the word soapbox; that sounds old.’”

The morning is winding down and Weston is about ready to head out for a walk with a friend, but there are two teen letters still to deal with. The first is from a girl who is distraught that her best friend has found a new best friend. Weston understands her anguish. “If you are having trouble with your best friend or your mom or your dad or your boyfriend, this is huge. Everything else gets dwarfed by these concerns.”

She pauses, thinking about her mail. “I’ve written back to a bazillion girls. If I counted I’d probably stop.”

The second letter provides the reason that she does not stop: “Hey Carol, your book gave me the power to change! thanks a lot, with lots of love, Debora from Indonesia.”


Esprit de CORE

It’s a January morning in Middlebury, and a typical winter tableau is playing out across campus—students trudging through a landscape of white as the wind swirls up small eddies of snow.

Which is what makes the scene inside Atwater 100 seem that much more unexpected.

“No spoon included/Just unscrew the lid/Live a healthy life/Eat and do it right!”

Four Middlebury students are singing a jingle about drinkable yogurt.

Scrutinizing the performance is a panel of businesspeople and entrepreneurs, including venture capitalists Ernie Parizeau and Pieter Schiller along with Gert Schut, the owner of Millborne Farm in nearby Whiting.

Welcome to MiddCORE, the ultra-intensive, four-week, 9 to 5 (and beyond) course that has taken place every J-term since 2008. (CORE is an acronym for Creativity, Opportunity, Risk, and Entrepreneurship.) Open to 16 Middlebury students and 30 mentors who travel from across the country for this experience, this class also has a tagline: Confidence for the Road Ahead. In the syllabus, MiddCORE instructors promise “a revolutionary program, unlike anything ever offered at a liberal arts college.”

It sounds bombastic. But with student after student calling MiddCORE “transformational” and finding lasting success outside the class, it just might be true.

*

Shelley Carlberg ’11—part of the drinkable yogurt jingle team—decided to take MiddCORE this January without having a clue what she was getting into. (A friend of hers thought Carlberg was taking an all-day phys-ed class that promised better abs. “Really working on that core!” recalls Carlberg with a laugh.)

“I didn’t know what MiddCORE was about,” says Catherine Collins ’10. “But I had a friend who did and said, ‘Catherine, you’re going to love it. This is you.’ That ambiguity exists, but I was still drawn to it. If it’s going to be hard, it’s worth doing.”

And in some ways, the course is defined by what it is not. It is not, as evidenced by the long hours and 79-page syllabus, a typical J-term class, and it is not like any other course offered at a liberal arts college. It also is not a business boot camp, a “sad” misconception that cofounder Michael Claudon says was perpetuated by a recent article in the Addison County Independent titled “students get crash course in business.”

The more that MiddCORE evolves, the more it becomes a mash-up of many disciplines. But it did, in fact, begin with economics. Claudon explains that he was “shocked” to learn, in 2007, that a third of the student body was taking at least four economics classes. “There’s just no way a third of Middlebury is passionate about taking economics—it’s not one of the sexier disciplines,” recalls Claudon of his reaction. “They’ve got to be doing this for the wrong reasons.”

Claudon, a longtime Middlebury professor and academic entrepreneur, then surveyed one of his econ classes and discovered that 80 percent would be studying something else if they could find another way to become competitive post-college. “At that moment,” he says, “I decided to use winter term to create something that would begin to address this issue, because studying economics is not a meal ticket. My gut just tells me, follow your passion, and there’ll be a great life for you out there.”

The epiphany was serendipitous with the 2007 launch of Middlebury’s Project on Creativity and Innovation in the Liberal Arts, which, as President Ron Liebowitz explained in his announcement, would “focus primarily on providing opportunities [for students] to hone their creative skills and try their hand at problem solving outside of a strictly academic, graded environment.”

Claudon also partnered with Nicolas Boillot ’87 and Brent Sonnek-Schmelz ’98 to bring MiddCORE—loosely based on Tuck’s Business Bridge Program for recent arts and sciences graduates—into being. “It was three guys with three white canes,” Claudon says with a laugh, “trying to create something we had never seen before, so we couldn’t mimic.”

Beginning in August 2007, Claudon guesses he was spending 60 hours a week just on MiddCORE, reaching out to friends and alums who might serve as mentors, determining the skills that Middlebury students might need after graduation, and mixing and remixing the “secret sauce”—Claudon’s phrase— that would make it all palatable to students and mentors.

In January 2008, MiddCORE arrived on campus, and the outside reaction was, well, “confused,” says Elizabeth Robinson ’84, the director of the Project on Creativity and Innovation (under which MiddCORE sits). “I don’t think people really got it, because it was so different, because the students had to work so many hours, and because it was so intensive,” she recalls. “But the students figured out pretty quickly how special it was.”

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” says Ashley Bell ’09, one of the original 18 students. “I expected to go to class, listen to a few lectures, probably write a few papers, maybe have a discussion or two. Instead, I found a team of alumni, faculty, staff, and students who were experimenting to bring business to the liberal arts, and vice versa.”


Hoop Dreams

The magical ride that was the men’s basketball season ended at around 10:00 on a warm spring night in Salem, Virginia, 670 miles away from where it started on November 19 at a tip-off tournament in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

The season ended with an unfamiliar feeling this year, one of sadness, which is not to be confused with disappointment. No, no reasonable person could claim they were disappointed that things had not worked out differently when Nolan Thompson’s three-point try fell just short, with :05 reading on the giant Salem Civic Center scoreboard in the Division III national semifinals, because to be disappointed would be to feel that the team had somehow failed to live up to a promise, to expectations. This is not that story, and this is not that team.

This team went 28-2, obliterating school records for wins, for season winning percentage, for success in the postseason, for smiles and cheers and hugs and, yes, tears, but until that night in Salem, those had been tears of joy all year long.

How can you disappoint when you barnstorm the regular season with a 22-1 record, when you play the type of defense—one that requires talent, yes, but would not be possible without heart and effort—that leads opponents to declare this Panther squad to be the most tenacious defensive team they have ever seen, when you cut down the nets in Williamstown after capturing the NESCAC tournament championship, when you do it again in Rochester, New York, after knocking off Western Connecticut State, Rochester, and St. Mary’s to advance to the Final Four?

How can you disappoint when individuals achieve personal bests (Ryan Sharry ’12: first-team All NESCAC, second-team All American; Andrew Locke ’11: NESCAC defensive player of the year, academic All American; Jeff Brown: NESCAC and regional coach of the year)? How can you disappoint when, to a person, every one of those individuals will say that those accolades don’t matter, that what matters is the team, that what matters is the man, the teammate next to him? How can you disappoint when this sentiment rings true?

No, there’s no disappointment associated with the men’s basketball team this year. Only a twinge of sadness that, as long as we’re being honest, would have surfaced in Salem, win or lose. It’s a feeling born of knowing that the ride has come to an end—that it will be a year before we see Thompson or Luis Alvarez ’13 play their smothering defense again; that pinpoint passes from Jake Wolfin ’13 or Joey Kizel ’14 will not find an open Sharry until next November; that the quartet of Locke, Ryan Wholey ’11, Jamal Davis ’11, and Andrew Plumley ’11 will never wear the blue and white again.

But that sadness? Well, it doesn’t last long, not really. It dissipates when a grandmother, who was watching the team for the very first time in Salem says to her four-year-old grandson, “That’s a pretty great team.”

It ends when he replies, “I know, we won way more than we lost. But you know what? We’re great when we lose, too.”


The Anomaly

 

Andrew Locke ’11 has gotten used to standing out, to being an exception. He certainly stood out in Hoboken, New Jersey, on a November afternoon in 2007 when he first pulled on a blue basketball jersey, the word “Middlebury” emblazoned across the chest, and loped onto the court, standing six feet ten inches tall, arms and legs and elbows and knees somehow connected to a paper-thin torso that, all together, wouldn’t have weighed 200 pounds if it were soaking wet and logged with 10 pounds of water. He played 18 minutes in a 46-point demolition of the Merchant Marine Academy. In a sign of things to come, he blocked five shots, about one every three minutes or so. During the next four years, he’d block 372 more.

As a neuroscience-economics double major, he’s an exception (“there was a girl a couple of years ago who did this”), and he was the exception when he chose to spend the fall semester of his junior year abroad, not in Europe or South America, but in Cape Town, South Africa, where, as a very tall, white American, he was not just a curiosity, but a novelty.

What about downing those five protein shakes a day and countless plates of scrambled eggs, putting in those extended hours in the weight room? Not many 18-, 19-, 20-year-olds spend their summers this way. (“Guys like me have a hard time putting on weight,” he says with a shrug and a hint of a smile.) But then again, not many college kids are determined, hellbent, really, to add 40–50 pounds of stock and muscle so that they will be strong enough to carry a team, a program, and take it places it has never been.

And so it goes.

“There is no one [else] like Andrew Locke at the Division III level,” says the coach of a rival school. “You don’t see kids like him [in Division III]. And I’m not just talking about his height, but his athleticism, his instincts, his timing. When he’s on the court, he changes the game. Period.”

Case in point—when his career ended in the national semifinals, Andrew Locke’s marks on the Middlebury record books became indelible. Most blocks in a game: 13. Most blocks in a season: the top three entries (114, 113, and 94) are Locke’s. Most blocks in a career: 377. That figure will never be sniffed. And what about all the shots he altered, intimidated? Not even days of watching tape could quantify the number of shots people didn’t take at all.

“Having him back there [on defense] allowed us to do some things,” chuckles Middlebury head coach Jeff Brown. “It allowed us to be very aggressive defensively.”

Yes it did: Middlebury led the nation in field-goal-percentage defense this year, and the Panthers rode that defense all the way to Virginia and the DIII Final Four, picking up its second NESCAC title and setting a school record for wins in a season along the way.

*

A world away from Pepin Gymnasium, with its gleaming hardwood floors, thumping sound system, and retractable baskets with breakaway rims is a dusty, garbage-strewn soccer “field” in the largely impoverished Cape Town suburban township of Gugulethu.

If you had stumbled upon this place on an October day in 2009, you would have seen an insanely tall, white man and a contingent of black African children spending the entire day, morning and afternoon, clearing the area of glass.

While studying at the University of Cape Town, Andrew Locke volunteered in Gugulethu, where he taught and coached children and adolescents the game of basketball. On this day, though, the kids wanted to play soccer, so Locke and his group departed for the field. Upon arrival, the stunned American discovered its hazardous condition, made more dangerous by the fact that most of the kids were barefoot. “So, we spent the day picking up glass,” Locke says. “And then later we played. Obviously, it was a good thing to clean up the field and to give the kids a place to play, but I hope it also instilled a sense of pride, a sense of responsibility to take care of what was theirs.”

Sitting at a table in the Davis Library’s Wilson Café on an April afternoon, Locke becomes animated when telling this story. “How do you best motivate people? That’s what I’m most interested in.”

This mindset was evident on the basketball court this year, of course (Locke was one of three senior captains on an extremely close-knit team), and, as he explains it, there’s a seamless connection with his experience in South Africa and his work in neuroscience and economics.

“Human behavior is endlessly fascinating to me,” says Locke. “This [double major] gives me a really broad view of how and why people do what they do. It helps me understand what people want to do, why they want to do it, and what their constraints might be.”

With this in mind and graduation just a month away, Locke is considering a return to Africa, where he hopes to become involved with development work in communities that have a great need for it. He’s in the middle of the application process for a Peace Corps opportunity in Mozambique and mentions two other countries in Africa  (Ghana and South Africa) as places where he may end up.

But first, there’s a much more conventional option, for the likes of Locke anyway. He’s looking into the possibility of playing basketball professionally in Europe, preferably in Spain. He loves the game too much not to look into it, he says, though he admits that he wonders—and worries about—how putting on another uniform and playing with people who are not his best friends would compare to this year, this magical season.

*

Let’s be Andrew Locke for a moment, shall we? Let’s observe human behavior. See that photo at the top of this page, that image of a smiling Locke in the Davis Library? The one that was taken when there were still games to be played? Today the smile’s not quite as large when talk turns to the season, the one that ended with the school record of 28-2. “It’s silly, I know, but right now, talking about how well we did, how we accomplished things that had never been done here before . . . it doesn’t console me. We were supposed to win that game [a 59-57 loss to eventual national champion St. Thomas], and then we were supposed to win the next one.”

Now, before you take these words as a sign of a malcontent, listen harder; take a moment more to observe.

“I’m at a loss for words, really,” he says when asked to explain why this year’s team was so cohesive, so close. “We deeply wanted to win games; we wanted to win for each other. Everyone, every one of us felt this way, and, because of that, we just felt like we couldn’t lose. This won’t make sense, but if we had known that we were going to lose [our last game] . . . we would have figured out a way to make sure that didn’t happen.”

The hardest part, he adds, was seeing pictures of people who had packed into the Grille to watch a webcast of the game. “Up until then, we had been able to give them so much to be happy about. And then we let them down.”

Maybe with some time and distance, the pain will recede and the joy will remain, and what remains can be instilled in others—another team, a village, a people?

“Yeah,” he says. “You’re right. That’s a great way to think about it.”