Monday, June 8, 2020

OAC Class Of 2000 Reunion

One of the two best practical jokes that TigerBlog has ever been a part of was back in high school, when his friend Chris decided he wasn't going to register for the Selective Service, something that was required when you turned 18.

There was no draft or anything. Just a requirement to put your name on the list for an accounting of how many potential draftees there could be if needed.

Chris, though, was going to be a quasi-revolutionary - until he received a fake letter from the Army (written by TigerBlog) saying that if he didn't register by 14 days from the date of the letter, he'd be subject to arrest, fines and imprisonment. Then TB dated the letter 14 days earlier and left it out for Chris to find on his counter.

Needless to say, within the a few seconds of reading it, Chris panicked and sped to the post office to get his name on the list.

That was a good one.

The other one came in the Office of Athletic Communications. It was in the fall of 1999, and the Princeton women's basketball team was scheduled to go to a tournament called the Paradise Classic in Honolulu the week before Christmas.

The women's basketball contact at the time was a woman named Jenn Garrett, who came to Princeton from South Carolina. Jenn was very excited about the upcoming trip - until she heard it had been cancelled and a different tournament had been scheduled in its place for the same week in December. This was shortly before Princeton was supposed to go to Hawaii.

The last-minute replacement tournament? The Cleveland State Snowball Classic.

If Jenn was skeptical about this, it vanished when she received a fax from Cleveland State asking for quick facts for Princeton women's basketball. This set Jenn off on a rant in the back room of the Office of Athletic Communications, back when it was still on the Jadwin balcony.

Jenn's Southern accent, usually so polite and charming, instead was overtaken by a barrage of expletives directed at anyone and everyone. Then, once she was good and angry, the truth was brought up - she was the victim of a practical joke, perpetuated by her OAC colleagues and the women's basketball staff, with a little help from Cleveland State sports information.

It was great. Once she realized she'd been had, she smiled her big Jenn smile, pointed her finger at everyone in the room and announced "I'm gonna get y'all, and y'all, and y'all."

Then it was off to Hawaii.

Now, more than 20 years later, that moment remains one of the highlights of TB's tenure at Princeton. In fact, that whole two-year stretch in which Jenn worked there, along with her fellow interns Craig Sachson and Matt Ciciarelli, TB, then-Associate AD Kurt Kehl and then-publications director Mike Zulla, remains one long continuous highlight.

The OAC world was different then. The structure consisted of two-year internships that were extremely low paying but did come with free housing, which meant that the interns worked together and lived together. The apartment was in the old Hibben-Magie complex, more specifically in 5T Magie.

It was a two-year stretch of training, learning and developing skills for recent college grads, and the OAC record of placing them into full-time jobs at other schools after they left Princeton was impeccable.

Those two years - the 1998-99 and 1999-2000 school years - saw the advent of and changed the way athletic communications at Princeton worked. Those three interns had personalities that meshed immediately; they combined the high-quality work they did with an ability to make each day fun - and that made for a great two years.

If the name Craig Sachson is familiar, that's because it's the same Craig Sachson who left for Cornell for two years and then returned to Princeton for 17 more.

It was last week that TB received a text message from Kurt Kehl saying there was going to be a reunion Zoom of that OAC group, organized by Zulla. TB didn't get the invitation directly from Zulla,  but Kurt did forward the message, which asked if anyone had TB's contact information. This amused TB, since he is the only one of the group who still had the same contact info, but hey, at least he got the invite.

And so the group - plus Chuck Yrigoyen, who formerly worked at both Princeton and the Ivy League office before becoming the commissioner of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference - reconnected Friday. Chuck always had an innate way of making the day a bit better anytime he walked into Jadwin.

It's hard to believe that neither he nor any of the others other than Sachson have spent much time there in a long time.

The Zoom invite said it would last 45 minutes. It ended up going just short of three hours.

To say it was great to see everyone goes, well, without saying. It was exactly what you would have expected, a combination of "what are you doing now" and "how are the kids" with "do you remember when ..."

It was a very long laugh-fest, including the memories of the practical joke on Jenn. In many ways, it was like stepping right back into the days when the group all worked together.

In many ways, it was also like what it's like when former Princeton teammates get together. This was a group of people who worked hard together on the same goals, a mix of very individualized personalities from very different backgrounds who unite under the common banner of Princeton University.

They grew together professionally and personally (Ciciarelli, for instance, fixed Sachson up with his now-wife on a blind date), and they've gone in very, very different directions since their time together at Princeton ended. In fact, TB is the only one still working in college athletic communications, and he and Chuck are the only two still in college athletics.

They will always, though, have their Princeton time together, and they will always cherish what that time meant and still means to them.

The call Friday night was just further proof of that.

It was great to see them.

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