Interview with Cecil Forster

I’ve asked the same questions to everybody that I’ve spoken to about their experiences at Middlebury. And by speaking to a number of different people in different periods, I’m telling the story [of Middlebury basketball] through the words of the people that I’m interviewing.

Have you spoken to Tom Hart? Because he was a monster. In fact, maybe the place to start is there, for me. I’m from Brooklyn, New York, I had palyed high school basketball at Midwood High School and in the division I played in I played against Billy Cunningham, who went on to star with the [Philadelphia] 76ers, I played against a guy named Roger Brown, who became a star with the Indiana Pacers, I played against Connie Hawkins who played in the ABA and the NBA and I played against a number of other athletes who were superior athletes — guys who went on to play professional football and baseball. So my high school experience was extremely competitive. Middlebury was not my first objective in terms of where I went to college. I wanted to play at a “higher level,” but my father thought I was taking athletics too seriously and that I needed to focus more on education. I also started college when I was 16 and he felt that, from a physical standpoint, I needed to catch up. So at Middlebury College in the fall of 1960, I made the varsity football team as a freshman at 16, and they refused to put in the program that I was 16, and when the basketball season started, I went out for [the team] as a freshman, played on the varsity and started. And one of the first games we played was an alumni game, and who showed up for the alumni game, but Tom Hart who was 6’5’’ or 6’6’’, and [weighed about] 220 or 255 [pounds] and he was still in shape. I remember going up for a rebound against him and him knocking me down and I lost my wind, and I said, “this guy can play!”

So my experience at Middlebury started at this alumni basketball game and the alumni won and I was very disappointed.

Stub Mackey was one of the assistant football coaches and he was assigned to coach basketball. And while I think he had good intentions, Stub was not a basketball coach in terms of it being his first passion. And as a result I think we had a limited amount of coaching in terms of developing our skills further. So I was a freshman, I was 16, and I started all the games and we did not have a particularly good season. My sophomore year came, Stub was still the coach, we had a worse season, and I got discouraged. I was playing football, I was playing basketball and I was running track. After my sophomore year experience with the basketball program and Stub Mackey I didn’t play my junior year. I went out for football, but I decided not to play [basketball] because it was very frustrating and I didn’t feel we were in an environment where we were going to be effective or coached as well as I would have liked to have been coached, so I sat out my junior year. And my senior year — the fall of 1963 — once again I played football, and I realized this might be my last chance to play competitive basketball so I went out, started again, and we had some talent. Our record wasn’t that great, but Peter Karlsson was on that team, there was a guy named Billy Dyson who was a terrific point guard, a guy named Dick Ides was the other guard and then I believe the center was named Charlie Ladd.

Craig Stewart was the year ahead of me — he graduated in ’63. I played with him my freshman and sophomore years.

Billy Dyson — it was his fifth year at Middlebury I believe, for whatever reason —  he was a real good basketball player.

Dick Ides, 30 or 40 years after he graduated, he revealed to the world that he was gay. Not that it makes any difference — I was unaware of it then and it wouldn’t have made any difference.

So it was Billy Dyson, myself, Peter Karlsson, Charlie Ladd — who was the only height on our team, I think he was 6’6’’ or 6’7’’ — and the captain of the team was a guy named Dick Maine. Dick was the captain, and he took a step back, which was very big of him, and gave up his starting job so that Dick Ides could start in his place. So as the captain he did not start and I thought it was a tremendous demonstration of spirit and teamwork and what have you. And we were pretty competitive. We only won five or six games my senior year, but we were in most and it was the next year that Gerry Alaimo came aboard. I was sorry to have missed him.

When you look back on your career playing at Middlebury what are some of the games, or moments or accolades that stand out in your mind?

The game against Tom Hart, believe it or not, even though it was not a regular season game. Tom Hart led the nation in rebounding at Middlebury College and he was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks, so when you play against a pro like that you certainly remember it. That game against Tom Hart was probably as impactful to me as any other. And as I said, I had played against and with a number of athletes who played professionally. I remember my dad telling me, “You’re good son, but you’re not as good as they are.” And I didn’t believe him until time when on, and more importantly, even if I had been as good, athletics is a terrific way to learn lessons, but it’s just a short-lived period in your life and it’s not the main focus. That’s what my father was trying to teach me.

So what stands out in my mind actually was the camaraderie. As I look back now and follow the current Middlebury team, I’m happy that Middlebury basketball has become more successful. The Middlebury sports tradition going back years and years has been extraordinary and, while the basketball program while I was there was not world class, we had Olympic skiers, All-American hockey players, All-American soccer players, All-American lacrosse players. So there was a tremendous sense of pride in playing for Middlebury because we had excellent athletes, many of whom could have played any place.

The long answer to your question — I don’t remember any games that were so impactful, nothing stands out. I remember scoring easily in some games and having success in some and not so much success in others, but I will say that Tom Hart experience is probably the one that has etched itself in my mind, even though that was my first game as a 16-year-old.

What are some of the anecdotes that you can share on and off the court with some of your teammates?

I remember we went on a road trip and myself and Billy Dyson decided that we were going to have a few beers — I’m not quite sure if it was the night after the game or the day before the game and we were sitting at the bar having a couple of beers and we looked down and there was Stub. I don’t know if he saw us, but we certainly decided to leave. [Laughs]. That was one funny story.

My freshman year — the fall of 1960 — we played in a tournament in St. Lawrence in up-state New York and we stayed in a motel for the two or three nights that we were playing. The captain of the basketball team in 1960-’61 was Ted Mooney and Ted met some woman while we were playing in this tournament and she was staying with him at this motel while we were playing. And so the day came when the tournament was over and we get on the bus to drive back to Middlebury and Ted gets on the bus and all of a sudden this woman comes running out of his motel room yelling, “Ted! Ted! Where are you going?” [Laughs]

I was young from a chronological standpoint although I certainly was competitive. No one ever said, “Gee you’re 16? You can’t play.” They were surprised when I would tell them I was so young. I just loved to play. I’m one of those guys who loves sports. And as I mentioned earlier, my father recognized this disproportionate interest that I had in athletics and felt that I needed to put it in perspective, and thank God he did. He said that he would not pay for my application fee [for a lot of schools]. He told me that I could apply to Hamilton, Bowdoin, Middlebury and schools like that. And the reason why I went to Middlebury, in January of my senior year of high school, we drove up to Middlebury for an interview and it was the weekend of Winter Carnival, and I saw a great attitude of people having fun. And it was co-ed. Back in 1960 a lot of those schools like Williams and Amherst were all men. I went to Middlebury because it was co-ed and it seemed like there were people there who liked to have a good time. The fraternity function back in the early ‘60s was very powerful and was the hub of most of the social activity. I was in a fraternity called Sig Ep., which was called the Animal House. And if you’ve ever seen the movie Animal House there was almost nothing that happens in that movie that didn’t happen in our fraternity. And I’m 100 percent serious. We had a great, great time, and you don’t realize how good of a time you’re having until you leave.

How do you think playing sports at Middlebury, and particularly playing basketball prepared you for life after Middlebury.

It sounds kind of corny to say that you don’t like to lose, but I do not like to lose. And we lost our share of games as a Middlebury basketball player. It humbled me; it made me realize, as good as I thought I was, that losing was part of my life experience. Not only did I have to deal with it, but I had to put it in perspective. And it didn’t make me less of a person, in fact it probably reinforced my self-esteem because I knew I was a good ballplayer and it was just one of those things that happened. It probably made me a better person — being in a program where we were not terribly successful and made me understand that you have to find ways to take something out of the situation. And my senior year, while we didn’t win a lot of games, I remember with pride playing with Peter Karlsson and Billy Dyson and Dick Ides. It was almost like being a prizefighter: the other guy knew he was in a fight.

The tradition of athletics at Middlebury has been consistent and excellent. When my friends who played at Notre Dame or Iowa or other big-time schools say, “You went to Middlebury?” I don’t flinch at all because I know I did good.

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