One Hundred and Counting

October 19, 2006

The 100th anniversary year of Georgetown basketball is now officially underway. Coincidentally, my good friend and former Hoya third baseman Tommy Elliott '71 recently brought to my attention a story in the Washington Post about centenarians living in the city of Washington. I can't believe I almost missed it. But I looked it up and there it was in black and white: the story of a Jesuit who has lived his life well, generously in service to others. I thanked Tom and promised to tell my own story about the very same gentle man from the newspaper, Fr. James Martin, S.J. Here it is:
2006.10.19.1936.YDB.JMartin 1936 Ye Domesday Book photo
On a beautiful sunny morning six autumns ago, I was coming off the campus hilltop once known as Fowler's Hill, where I had just finished a workout in Yates Field House. I paused on the road overlooking Harbin Field (as the Hoya Yard was then known). The lacrosse team was in the midst of a sunrise off-season practice. As I marveled at the talents of these players, my mind drifted back to an earlier time at Georgetown, in the 1970's and 80's, when I aspired first to play and then to coach this game at such an elevated level of competition. Back then, it was just a dream. Now, for those who had followed, the dream had come true.

As I leaned up against the chain-link fence, absorbed in the action on the field, a voice from behind me broke through to my consciousness, "How would you like to be out there yourself?" I turned to face an elderly gentleman, standing erect and fit.

"Why, uh, I don't know," I sputtered, amazed that this unassuming senior citizen had somehow penetrated my inner thoughts. Finally, I recovered enough to answer "No, been there -- done that." We watched the team together for another minute in silence.

But my curiosity was piqued and my attention shifted from the field to this mysterious stranger. "Are you visiting the campus?" I asked. "No, I live here," he replied, with a hint of a smile appearing on his face, "in the Jesuit community."
Now I was really intrigued. I first came to Georgetown as a student in 1968 and except for various segments totaling 3.5 years, have been on or about the campus since then. How was it that, in all that time, I had never come across this dignified reverend?

During our all-too-brief encounter, he related bits and pieces of his fascinating life that spanned the entire 20th century: teaching in the Philippines, serving as an Army chaplain during World War II, conducting retreats at the Jesuit retreat house in southern Maryland, and parish work in northern Virginia. One bit, however, struck real close to home. He was at Georgetown in the late 1930's serving as an assistant director of athletics.

2006.10.19.1940.YDB.GMurphyJKehoeJMartin The athletic triumvirate depicted in the 1940 yearbook: graduate manager of athletics (athletic director) Gabe Murphy '30, prefect of discipline (dean of students) Fr. John Kehoe, SJ, and assistant athletic director, Fr. James Martin, SJ

2006.10.19.1907.RyanGymExterior Original home of the Hoyas, Ryan Gymnasium, built in 1906
Awed by the serendipity of bumping into this living breathing history lesson, I queried, "You mean that you actually knew Al Blozis? What about basketball coaches Elmer Ripley and Fred Mesmer? And how about Fr. McDonough, Fr. Kehoe, and Gabe Murphy?" "I knew them all," he answered. "Gabe was the athletic director with whom I worked. Back then, because he was an alumnus, we called him the graduate manager of athletics."

"What about Ryan Gymnasium?" I asked. McDonough Gym was still a dozen years away from construction. "What was it like?"

"It was always a tight fit," he responded. "Of course, the basketball team only practiced there. Games were played downtown. We had an elevated running track in Ryan for indoor practice and conditioning. The problem was that if you tried to shoot from the corners of the court, the ball would never make it to the hoop. It would hit the bottom edge of the track. As a result, our boys would never practice that particular shot and it affected us in competition."

He continued, "So I made the decision to remove the indoor track from Ryan Gym. It wasn't popular with our track team, but our outside shooting did improve."

2006.10.19.1906.RyanGym Interior of Ryan Gym, circa 1907

2006.10.19.1940.Ryan.NoTrk Interior of Ryan Gym, post-1939

Forty-five minutes after his first question to me, I told Fr. James Martin, S.J. how thrilled I was to have the chance to meet him. And off he went, continuing his then-daily morning walk. He was 98 years old at the time, edging Fr. Joseph Durkin as the oldest Georgetown Jesuit by two years. An exceptional athlete his entire life, he was still performing weight resistance training as part of his regular exercise regimen.

Six years later at age 104, Fr. Martin - Georgetown's own centenarian, is the world's oldest living Jesuit.

Hoya, Hoya Saxa!

Hoya, Hoya Georgetown!

Hoya Martin! Hoya Martin! Hoya James Martin!


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