Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Turning 80 and 40

In the movie "On Golden Pond," Henry Fonda plays a retired professor named Norman Thayer Jr. from, of all places, the University of Pennsylvania (there's a scene where a story about him from the Daily Pennsylvanian can be seen framed on the wall).

TigerBlog grudgingly saw the movie in New York City when it opened in 1981, and he's had a love-hate thing going with it ever since. On the one hand, 1) it wasn't his first choice of what to see that day and 2) he's never been a big fan of Jane Fonda, who plays Norman's daughter in the movie as well; on the other hand, he can respect how well made the movie is.

In fact, "On Golden Pond" won four Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Fonda and Best Actress for Katharine Hepburn (who had not only never worked together before but had never even met). And the shots of Golden Pond itself - which was actually a lake in New Hampshire - are spectacular.

Early in the movie, Norman is celebrating a milestone birthday, and which leads to the following exchange:
"What's it feel like to be 80?"
"Twice as bad as it did to be 40."

TigerBlog hopes the opposite is true for a newly minted octogenarian, Princeton's own John McPhee. On a campus crawling with fascinating people, there aren't many who can give Mr. McPhee a run for his money.

A Pulitzer Prize-winning author of 28 books, McPhee also teaches a writing course here each spring semester. His connection to Princeton goes back as far as he does, as his father Harry was the Princeton athletics doctor - and the U.S. Olympic team doctor - for decades, and John is a product of the Princeton public schools, with a postgrad year at Deerfield mixed in. He then attended Princeton and graduated in 1953.

His writing career began at Time magazine, and his big career break came when "The New Yorker" published his piece on Bill Bradley's senior year entitled "A Sense of Where You Are," which referred to Bradley's ability to adjust his shot depending on where he was on the court. The magazine piece was eventually expanded into McPhee's first book.

Since then, he has written 27 more non-fiction books and countless pieces for the magazine. His books have been on a wide variety of subjects, and TigerBlog has read ones about the history of growing oranges in Florida, the evolution of family practice medicine in Maine, the New Jersey Pine Barrons, a plane without wings, a conservationist who shares the name John McPhee and how that caused problems for him and others.

His most recent book is "Silk Parachutes," a compilation of short pieces, mostly from the magazine. Among the stories is "Spin Left, Shoot Right," McPhee's story about the sport of lacrosse.

McPhee is an academic athletic fellow for the men's lacrosse team, and he was TB's roommate on the team's trip to Spain and Ireland in 2008. Since then, TB has gotten to know McPhee fairly well, and he ranks him in the top five of interesting people he's ever met.

McPhee was a longtime tennis opponent of Pete Carril's, and the two played basketball together at lunchtime for years as well. These days, McPhee gets his exercise on a bicycle, and he and TB ride indoors together when the weather doesn't let him get outside.

During those times on the stationary bike, McPhee tells one story after another - all of which amaze TB. Translate those to his books and magazine stories, and it's easy to see why he's one of the great American non-fiction writers of all time.

So happy birthday to Mr. McPhee.

And how old was John McPhee the last time Princeton didn't have a team or individual win a national championship for an academic year?

Not 70.

Not 60.

Not 50.

Yup, 40. Princeton's streak is now at 40 years and counting after Todd Harrity won the men's squash individual national championship this past weekend at Dartmouth. With some national contenders for both teams and individuals in the spring, perhaps Harrity will not be the only winner this year.

But he'll be at least one, and that will keep the streak alive.

Yes, not every year has produced a team NCAA champion. And yes, Princeton has a huge advantage towards winning a national championship each year, given its strength in sports like rowing and squash.

But so do a few other schools, and they don't have a streak that nearly compares to Princeton's.

So congrats to all of Princeton's national champions of the last 40 years:

2011 - Todd Harrity (squash)
2010 – men’s lightweight rowing
2009 – men’s lightweight rowing, women’s squash
2008 – women’s squash
2007 – women’s squash
2006 – women’s open rowing (1st varsity 8), Yasser El Halaby (squash),
2005 – Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2004 – Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2003 – women’s lightweight rowing, women’s lacrosse, Yasser El Halaby (squash)
2002 – women’s lightweight rowing, women’s lacrosse, Tora Harris (indoor and outdoor high jump)
2001 – women’s lightweight rowing, men’s lacrosse, Soren Thompson (epee fencing), David Yik (men’s squash
2000 – women’s lightweight rowing, Eva Petchnigg (foil fencing), Julia Beaver (women’s squash), Peter Yik (men’s squash
1999 – women’s squash, women’s lightweight rowing, Julia Beaver (women’s squash), Peter Yik (men’s squash)
1998 – men’s lacrosse, men’s heavweight rowing, men’s lightweight rowing, women’s squash
1997 – men’s lacrosse, Katherine Johnson (women’s squash)
1996 – men’s lacrosse, men’s lightweight rowing, men’s heavyweight rowing, Max Pekarev (saber fencing)
1995 – women’s open rowing
1994 – men’s lacrosse, women’s lacrosse, men’s lightweight rowing, women’s open rowing, Harald Winkmann (epee fencing)
1993 – men’s squash, women’s open rowing
1992 – men’s lacrosse
1991 – women’s squash
1990 – women’s open rowing, men’s swimming 200-yard medley relay (Mike Ross, Ty Nelson, Leroy Kim, Erik Osborn)
1989 – men’s lightweight rowing , women’s squash, Demer Holleran (women’s squash), Jeff Stanley (men’s squash), men’s swimming 200-yard medley relay (Mike Ross, Ty Nelson, Rich Korhammer, Rob Musslewhite)
1988 – men’s lightweight rowing, Jeff Stanley (men’s squash)
1987 – Demer Holleran (women’s squash)
1986 – men’s lightweight rowing, Demer Holleran (women’s squash)
1985 – men’s heavyweight rowing
1984 – women’s squash
1983 – women’s squash
1982 – men’s squash
1981 – women’s squash, John Nimik (men’s squash)
1980 – women’s squash
1979 – women’s squash
1978 - women’s squash
1977 – men’s squash
1976 – women’s squash, Nancy Gengler (women’s squash)
1975 – women’s squash, men’s squash, Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash)
1974 – women’s squash, men’s squash, Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash)
1973 – women’s squash, Cathy Corcione (100 butterfly, 100 free), 200-yard freestyle relay (Cathy Corcione, Jane Fremon, Barb Franks, Carol Brown)
1972 – Wendy Zaharko (women’s squash), Charlie Campbell (200-yard backstroke)

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