Amherst Magazine

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Ostendarp
James E. Ostendarp

James E. Ostendarp

James E. Ostendarp, professor of physical education, emeritus and Amherst’s football coach from 1959 until his retirement in 1992, died on Thursday, Dec. 15, at the Soldier’s Home in Holyoke, Mass., in the company of his wife and children. He was 82 years old. The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, his family said.

Ostendarp was the winningest coach in Amherst’s history, with a record of 169 wins, 91 losses and five ties, but his former players recall him primarily for his wide-ranging interests and his devotion to his students. Sean Clancy ’78 is one of four Ostendarp student-athletes who went on to the NFL (the others are Doug Swift ’70, Jean Fugett ’72 and Freddie Scott ’74). He recalled that Ostendarp made a point of introducing his players to classical music and art, sometimes taking them to the Mead Art Museum during afternoon practice time. “He was the perfect kind of coach,” Clancy said, “because he was much more interested in who we were as people than who we were as players. I remember some of what he taught me about x’s and o’s,” Clancy added. “But I remember a great deal about what he taught me about life—about the importance of family, the importance of leadership, about appreciating differences and giving back to the community.”

The New York Times’ obituary described Ostendarp as a “standard bearer” for Amherst, noting that in 1985, when ESPN approached Amherst and Williams about broadcasting the 100th meeting between the two teams, Ostendarp famously replied, “We’re in the education business, not the entertainment business.” But despite his wide interests, his commitment to excellence and to competing well never waned: his teams won 13 Little Three championships and had two undefeated seasons (as well as nine seasons with only a single loss).

Born in Baltimore in 1923, Ostendarp knew in grade school that he wanted to make a life in football, but when he got to high school his coaches told him he was too small to play on the team. He proved himself playing semi-pro ball on Sundays; he was named to the high school team in his senior year and ultimately earned All-State honors. After high school Ostendarp received a scholarship to the University of Maryland, but he joined the 82nd Airborne as a paratrooper and saw action in Europe in World War II. After the war he went to Bucknell University, where he earned a B.S. degree in 1952. He then played professional football for two years with the New York Giants, while earning an M.A teaching degree at Columbia University in 1956. He then played for a year with the Montréal Alouettes.

Ostendarp coached at Bucknell, Cornell and Williams before joining the faculty at Amherst in 1959. After his retirement in 1992, a reporter asked whether he was interested in coaching at a bigger school. “Where,” he replied incredulously, “would you go after Amherst?”

Ostendarp took seriously the work that came with his faculty title, and was particularly pleased when alumni, friends and colleagues announced at a 1990 dinner in New York City that they had established the James E. Ostendarp Professorship to show their appreciation for his keen interest in all aspects of the Amherst experience and his commitment to the development of the Amherst student within the ideals of a liberal arts education. The Ostendarp family has requested that memorial tributes be directed to this professorship, which is awarded on a biennial basis to the faculty member who is deemed to exhibit both distinction in his or her experience, including intercollegiate athletics, and a sincere continuing interest in the Amherst student after his or her years at the college.

Clancy and several other alumni are working with the Athletics Department and the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs to organize an on-campus celebration of Ostendarp’s life, which will likely be held in conjunction with a fall football game. For more information, call (413) 542-2313.

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