Photo by Charlie Quigg '09

Former players, friends and members of the Ostendarp family joined the Lord Jeffs in memory and celebration.

Remembering The Darp: A Weekend for the Ages

By Rebecca Binder '02, Special to the Sports Information Department

October 16, 2006

AMHERST, MA – Over 300 registered guests returned to Amherst College this weekend to remember the life and celebrate the legacy of legendary Amherst football coach James Elmore Ostendarp. Ostendarp racked up a 168-91-5 record at Amherst – good enough to cement his name in the NCAA Division III record book; but the coach’s players consistently trained their focus and memories on how “the Darp” made sure that they also fulfilled their potential beyond Amherst’s Pratt Field.

The weekend’s program, sponsored by the Office of Alumni & Parent Programs, kicked off on a beautiful Friday afternoon, when registrants checked in and were invited to watch an open football practice. While the football team ran drills under head coach E.J. Mills’ watch, alumni gathered under the scoreboard in the far end zone to reminisce and enjoy a tranquil, informal return to Pratt Field, and to Amherst.

A bright, sunny Saturday morning gave way to a Johnson Chapel filled to capacity, as the Ostendarp family, alumni, friends, and invited speakers joined together for an 11 a.m. memorial service. The Rev. Thomas Massaro, S.J. ’83 gave an invocation, before college president Anthony W. Marx spoke. Marx called Ostendarp “an Amherst legend.” Marx quoted former college president Peter Pouncey, Ostendarp’s contemporary, and said that Ostendarp “conveys that liberal arts ideal that goes past the classroom and college years to shape aspirations for life.”

 “He was, and would be now, proud of the lives his players have and continue to live,” Marx said. “The kind of men you’ve grown into is fulfillment of his decades of work at the college – the most powerful memorial any educator can hope to have.” During his speech, Marx announced that the college would rename the renovated lobby of Morrow dormitory in Ostendarp’s honor.

Lee Levison ’77, headmaster of Collegiate School in New York City, remembered Ostendarp’s notion of equality. “Some people in this room are the first generation of their family to go to college; others are the second or third generation to attend Amherst,” he observed. “The Darp showed us how to be a team, and he had the same expectations for all of us.” Jide Zeitlin ’85, Board of Trustees Chair and private investor for the Keffi Group, Ltd., recalled watching Ostendarp react to his son Jan ’83 – who played football for the Jeffs – return a punt 92 yards for a touchdown against Williams College. “He was,” Zeitlin told the crowd to hearty laughter and applause, “blissfully out of control.”

“Athletics wasn’t so much about athletics in the sense of what your record was, or how fast you could run or how much you could bench,” Zeitlin continued. “For the Darp, it was about discipline, people, and friendship; about losing with grace and not for lack of effort; and about treating those around you with dignity.” David Hixon ’75, head coach of the men’s basketball program, recounted Ostendarp’s “immense love for Amherst.” “He helped give me that love,” Hixon said, “but he never told me why I should have it. He’d put me in a position where I could find that out for myself. That’s how he taught us.”

Renowned conseravtionist and writer Dave Morine ’66 spoke last, and brought several in the audience to tears. Morine recounted the 1962 season, which saw the Jeffs suffer a surprising loss to Trinity College, making a win over Williams all the more crucial. The Friday before the Williams game, Ostendarp spoke at chapel services. Much to the chapel audience’s surprise, Ostendarp did not talk about beating Williams or the upcoming game’s importance to the season. Instead, Morine remembered, Ostendarp spoke about the 12 seniors on the team, recalling their hometowns, their lives at Amherst, and their plans for the future. “He was speaking to us not as Coach Ostendarp, but as Professor Ostendarp,” Morine said. “He was telling us to be comfortable with yourself, no matter where you’re from; to figure out what to do with your life, and then do it.”

After Ostendarp finished speaking, the entire chapel attendance spontaneously stood up and sang Lord Jeffery Amherst. “The next day, we won, 7-0,” Morine recalled. “People swarmed the field, and the Darp was in the middle of it. And he was so happy that his 12 seniors had passed their final exam.”

After Morine spoke, the entire chapel attendance stood up, again, and sang Lord Jeffery Amherst before heading to Pratt Field for a tailgate picnic and a prime seat for Amherst’s 38-3 drubbing of Colby College. When the final whistle blew, the guests sang Lord Jeffrey Amherst yet again - this time, on Pratt Field, amidst a celebratory mob of current football players, as one unified chorus.

Following the game, the contingent moved to Alumni Gymnasium for a post-game buffet dinner. Current football players joined the alumni for dinner, featuring a performance by the Amherst College Zumbyes. E.J. Mills, Amherst’s current head football coach, capped the weekend off by presenting the day’s game ball to Ostendarp’s wife Shirley. “Today’s a special day,” Mills told Ostendarp. “Today the kids went out and played for you and Jim. It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of Amherst College football, and we’re still trying to teach the same lessons today.” Shirley Ostendarp called the day “extraordinary, for me and my family.”

Current Jeffs also found the day an extraordinary one. “This was a great tribute,” said senior offensive lineman Ryan Smith. “Coach Ostendarp was a staple of Amherst football, and this is a great way for the players to see the tradition that we’re becoming a part of. We didn’t know the Darp, but we knew we were playing for something special today.”

The Jeffs head to Wesleyan University Saturday for a showdown with the Cardinals, before returning home to face off with Tufts University on Oct. 28. Amherst will travel south to challenge Trinity on Nov. 4, before hosting its annual brawl with Williams on Nov. 11.