Kyle Prescott is a Middlebury alumnus (class of ’49) who played both football and hockey at Middlebury under Duke Nelson. A Canadian, Prescott matriculated to Middlebury College from Montreal after the war. In addition to playing two varsity sports, Prescott played a number of intramural sports and avidly followed various other varsity sports, men’s basketball chief among them. When not competing himself, he served as the trainer, or water boy for the basketball team, occupying a seat on the end of the bench. Prescott was named to the men’s ice hockey All-Time All-Stars team in the 1951 Sesquicentennial edition of The Kaleidoscope, Middlebury’s student-produced yearbook. Prescott had two sons who attended Middlebury and is a Life Trustee at the College.
Damon Hatheway: I understand that you played both football and hockey at Middlebury but that you followed the basketball team quite closely during your time at Middlebury and that you followed the team after graduating during your work with the college.
Kyle Prescott: Only because I enjoy basketball and I enjoy watching the team play.
DH: How would you describe your relationship with Middlebury basketball when you were a student?
KP: When I was a student I was able to meet and know all the coaches so I talked with them when they exercized in the Field House. But mostly I was in close contact with Russ Reilly or Erin Quinn. The only guy I didn’t know well in the last couple of years was [Jeff] Brown. But I followed the team and I went to practically all of the games and in those days, not very many people went to the games.
DH: How did your relationship with the team and the program change after you graduated?
KP: Well it seems to me from reading the campus and getting the sports information through the Trustee’s office, through the President’s office, that they’re doing terrific. My guess is that they went out and started recruiting players, and when you recruit the right players, then you build a good team. When you don’t do anything about recruiting, I’m afraid, you fall by the wayside… In the last campus I read they’re 13-0.
DH: They play Williams this weekend on Saturday — it’s a matchup of two top-10 teams in the country.
KP: Well any game against Williams is always a tough game, regardless of the sport. Middlebury and Williams are very keen rivals and they usually produce very good games.
DH: What was the relationship back in the 40s between the teams, specifically the basketball team, but also athletics in general and the student body?
KP: Well I was really into athletics. I played intramural athletics, plus hockey was my sport in the winter of course. I had come from Canada and Duke Nelson was our coach, but only after the second year I was there. There was nothing after the first year because the first year the veterans were coming back from World War II. Intercollegiate athletics only began after my second year. But most athletes are interested in the other athletic teams and how they’re doing, and in many cases you’re buddies with the players! So it’s not hard to know what’s going on. But basketball in the 40s wasn’t quite at the level that hockey was. But since then it has grown terrifically, and I am sure that much of it is based on with recruiting.
DH: At that time, how did athletics fit within the overall academic mission of the school?
KP: Well you had to be able to pass your exams, but at the same time maintain your practice days and your game days. You just had to make sure you did the right things at the right times and work them all in together.
DH: Did it seem then as it does now, that it was quite a time crunch in terms of time management both work-wise and practice-wise?
KP: Well you had to work them together or you didn’t pass, and if you didn’t pass you can’t play. So I think most of us worked our butts off as far as the academics go, but we also made sure that we got adequate practice time so that we put on a good performance when we had to play intercollegiate games.
DH: You mentioned that World War II had an effect on returning [soldiers], [particularly] with the G.I. Bill … how did that affect your experience and the men’s basketball team more specifically?
KP: I’m a Canadian, and the war ended in Canada — as far as Canada was concerned — before the Americans called it quits. So that’s why it was so frustrating my first year: I had come from Montreal to go to Middlebury, expecting to play hockey and other sports, and they just didn’t have them because there were no athletes there. But that next fall the G.I.s came back and things were more normal and all the teams started their programs. Duke Nelson happened to be the coach of both the football team and the hockey team. Sam [Guarnaccia] was [one of] the coach[es] of the basketball team. I knew him because he also coached football during football season. He was a good coach, but recruiting in those days was not very organized and they didn’t have a chance to search the high schools and the other schools that fed us players. It just took Middlebury a little while to get going.
DH: [One] of the Kaleidoscopes — the Middlebury yearbook — said that during that time, coaches would have 60 kids trying out for the basketball team… Was that [the case] across the board with all athletics — that there were so many men on campus once the G.I. Bill was passed, that there were scores of people trying out for every sport?
KP: I suppose. I’m surprised there were 60 — there certainly weren’t 60 trying out for the hockey team, and I’ll bet there were not 60 trying out for the men’s basketball team, but I wasn’t that close to basketball, I was at my own practices so I don’t know everything that went on there. But it just takes a little time to develop — it takes time to develop your name, it takes time for high schools to catch on to Middlebury — where they are, what kind of programs they have — and I simply think it has taken the basketball team a little longer to get established. A lot depends on the coach. Duke Nelson [for example] was very widely known at Middlebury, and his two sports were football and hockey and then when we got a golf course, he became the golf coach!
DH: What are some of the lasting memories of the basketball team from the 40s? Who were some of the great players [and what are some] of the great anecdotes that stand out in your mind?
KP: I honestly can’t remember names very well, but I certainly can remember the many nights that I went to a basketball game, because I tried to see all of them. It was hard sometimes when you were supposed to study and you had to knock off the studying to go see one of your friends play. And there weren’t a lot of people watching, I can tell you that! I was amongst the few that were there. But things change. My two sons went to Middlebury and I would go down and watch them play, and then I became a trustee and I was there a lot and whenever I was there I would I would either watch basketball or hockey or whatever was going on. I certainly enjoyed basketball while I was in college and I enjoyed watching basketball when I came to Middlebury [after].
DH: The 1951 Kaleidoscope did a special 150th Anniversary edition in which it named a couple of all-star teams. One of the [players] on the basketball team was Thomas Whalen, who graduated in 1948. What kind of player was he?
KP: I graduated in 1949 so I knew Tom well. He was a good player, he was one of our stars. He wasn’t especially tall, but he could handle himself on the court and did very well — always one of our better players, Tommy Whalen!
DH: Where did the team play in those days, in the late 40’s?
KP: [Laughs]. Our home “court” was the high school court. We didn’t have the extension on the new athletics facilities — they were only built the year I graduated, in 1949. So when I told you I’ve been watching basketball games at Middlebury, the games that I’ve watched at Middlebury [have happened only] since I graduated. During my days at Middlebury, all our games were at the high school gym.
Oh I remember, I was one of the trainers — water boys, whatever you call them — I was always on the bench of the basketball team. So that’s how I got to know the basketball guys well. It was hard for me to stay away from any game that was being played.
DH: I was actually at a high school basketball game yesterday at Middlebury Union High School.
KP: Oh really? But don’t forget, in that day, Middlebury Union High School had nothing to do with the old high school, which is now the Municipal Town Hall. There was a public high school there. All of that was merged — the College took over the elementary school and used that as classrooms and almost adjacent to that is another set of buildings — their the Municipal town hall, the Municipal Court is there and that’s where the big gymnasium is. Well in the old days that was part of the school system, and that was where Middlebury played its basketball games.
DH: How did the teams in those days make their schedules?
KP: We had to be back at school at the beginning of the week [so] a road trip would usually involve one game, or if we went to Maine it would involve two games.
DH: Did the [teams] ever travel over break times or vacations?
KP: No, not really. Once in a while we would come back to the college and practice, but I don’t think it was encouraged.
DH: When teams did go on road trips where would they stay?
KP: We stayed in hotels, if hotels were available. And when we’d go to Maine we’d play Bowdoin and Colby, maybe, we’d stay in a small hotel. When we’d go to Williams we’d stay at the Williams Inn. But that was not very important to the players at the time. In our time, we were just glad to get there, get the game over and hope for a win.
DH: Having followed Middlebury athletics over such an extended period of time, what’s the biggest difference between Middlebury athletics in the 1940s and athletics today?
KP: Oh, the teams are so much better these days and in most cases winning — except the hockey team. The trouble is every school is recruiting now and they’re a lot more even than the used to be, which makes it more difficult for Middlebury to win [the] NESCAC, for example. But they’re doing very well — I think it’s more difficult — and we certainly have terrific facilities. Kids who come to Middlebury are very fortunate.
DH: Final question: if there’s one last feeling or image in your mind from watching Middlebury basketball, what would it be?
KP: I was always interested in Middlebury basketball and watching the team, but they never won enough games while I was there — it was always a losing season. I’m so thrilled to see them doing so well now. And I’m sure that a good part of it is the recruiting that the coaching staff does.
DH: Wonderful, thank you.
KP: Good luck to Middlebury basketball, I’ll keep watching them win!