Athletics

Pratt Field: An Ever-Glorious History

By Matthew Hart
Photography by Rob Mattson

The men of Amherst College who attended the dedication of Pratt Field likely walked or rode in carriages to the event. It was May 22, 1891 when they gathered on the site of the old Blake Woods to usher in a new era of the college’s history, culminating a movement begun 31 years earlier when Barrett Gymnasium was completed and the nation’s first Department of Physical Culture established. Now, a $6,000 grandstand and quarter-mile cinder track surrounded a pristine baseball diamond and football field as Amherst recommitted itself to the “athletic spirit of the college."

Amherst’s president on that day was Merrill E. Gates, the nation’s: Benjamin Harrison. Enrollment would soon reach a historic high of 434 and yearly tuition $110. Times were changing, said the donor responsible for the occasion, Frederick B. Pratt ’87, who proclaimed, “here as elsewhere an era of physical culture is at hand.”

After the ceremony, the baseball teams of Dartmouth and Amherst began that new age, taking to the diamond and playing five scoreless innings before the Amherst bats awoke in the sixth en route to a 10-1 victory and a triumphant beginning to the story of Pratt Field.

Now, 121 years later, Amherst and Williams close the chapter begun that late May morning. Pratt Field has borne witness to fires, wars, and countless wins – as it prepares to undergo an unprecedented facelift, we look back at some of the more memorable moments that have occurred on these venerated grounds.

Nov. 20, 1891: Playing for the first time on the new gridiron, Amherst and Williams tie, 0-0, in the original Mud Bowl, the championship game of the recently-formed New England Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The game’s referee, a Mr. Robinson from Yale, calls the defense and punting of Al Stearns ’94 “the best he had ever seen on any field.“

Spring 1897: Amherst’s track and field team defeats Williams and Dartmouth in the second annual tri-collegiate meet, winning the championship of the old triangular league. Two years later, the Little Three forms with Dartmouth leaving and Wesleyan joining.

Spring 1909: Pitcher Lawrence McClure ’10 throws his third no-hitter of the year as Amherst baseball beats Williams, 2-0. Adding excitement, the legendary class goddess Sabrina circles the bases between the fourth and fifth inning. In 1911, baseball moves its home games to the new Hitchcock Memorial Field complex.

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Nov. 20, 1920: Amherst football enters its season-ending showdown as huge underdogs to a Williams squad led by legendary back Benny Boynton. In a heroic team effort headed by Captain Glenn F. Card ’21, the Lord Jeffs prevail, 14-7.

Oct. 24, 1925: Under its first full-time head coach, DeOrmand “Tuss” McLaughry, a powerful Amherst team beats Wesleyan at Pratt, 73-6. Severe rain and wind keep the offense in check in the season finale at Williams, but the Lord Jeffs triumph in McLaughry’s final game at the helm, 13-7.

Nov. 12, 1938: Amherst shuts out Williams, 41-0, closing the season with its third consecutive win over the Ephs and capping a run in which the Jeffs take five of seven from their rivals and four in a row at Pratt.

Nov. 14, 1942: Amherst tops Williams, 12-6, in the last football game played before World War II shuts down the rivalry for three seasons.

Oct. 24, 1953: Amherst and Wesleyan play to a 20-20 tie, the Lord Jeffs’ only blemish during an undefeated 7-0-1 campaign that includes Amherst’s third of four consecutive victories over Williams.

May 15, 1957: Two weeks after defeating Williams at home, Amherst’s track and field team wins its final meet of the season, topping Boston College, 99-36, on the old cinder track at Pratt. The Jeffs finish the season a perfect 8-0 in dual meets.

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Nov. 14, 1964: Amherst finally achieves football perfection, beating Williams, 20-7, to put an exclamation point on its first 8-0 season.

Nov. 16, 1968: Amherst defeats Williams, 24-17, to win the Little Three title and cap a 7-1 season. It is the final game for legendary running back Bill Foye ’69, who will go on to hold the career rushing yards record for nearly three decades and still owns the mark for rushing touchdowns (36). The win continues Amherst’s dominance of the sixties: beginning with the hiring of legendary head coach Jim Ostendarp, the Jeffs would go 10-2 against Williams from 1959-70.

May 3, 1969: Amherst’s track and field team beats Williams at home, 107-40, to win the Little Three crown en route to a perfect 7-0 season. It’s the penultimate meet in the career of John Pistel ’69, still the school’s record-holder in the long jump (23’10”).

Nov. 18 1972: Amherst football enters its final game of the season 7-0, but Williams denies the Jeffs’ shot at perfection with a 21-12 win. Wide receiver and future NFL star Freddie Scott ’74 finishes his junior season with 12 touchdown catches, still Amherst’s single-season record, before going on to set the current career marks for receiving yards (2,336), receptions (143) and touchdowns (27).

Apr. 19, 1979: Amherst’s track and field team hosts Holy Cross, Smith, and William Smith in the first recorded women’s athletic event at Pratt Field. The college admitted its first female students in 1975.

Nov. 10, 1984: In the 99th football meeting between Amherst and Williams, the Jeffs beat the Ephs, 23-6, to complete the second 8-0 season in school history. The win marks the fourth of six consecutive triumphs over Williams.

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Apr. 27-28, 1996: Amherst hosts the NESCAC Track and Field Championships in the last official meet at Pratt. The eight-lane Neuhoff-Lumley track replaced the old cinder surface in 1989, but with the facility no longer meeting conference regulations, Amherst is barred from hosting championship meets.

Nov. 9, 1996: A year after the rivals battle to 0-0 tie at Weston Field in the 20th-century edition of the Mud Bowl, Amherst enters its final contest 7-0, favored to beat 5-2 Williams and secure its first win over the Ephs since 1986. In the final game of head coach Jack Siedlecki’s tenure, the visitors spoil a perfect season, completing a 19-13 upset on Mike McAdam’s touchdown run with 30 seconds remaining. Josh Mason ’97 rushes for 145 yards in his final game in Purple and White, upping his then-record career total to 2,916 yards.

Nov. 11, 2000: Amherst finally gets over the hump, defeating Williams at Pratt, 20-12, and ending the Ephs’ 13-game unbeaten streak over the Jeffs. Brian Doust ’01 seals the redemptive victory, intercepting his third pass of the day on the Ephs’ final drive as Amherst finishes 7-1 to clinch the outright Little Three title and deny Williams a share of the crown for the first time in 14 years.

Nov. 13, 2004: Tailback Fletcher Ladd ’05 rushes for 179 yards in his final collegiate game as Amherst earns its third straight home win over Williams, 13-10. Trailing 10-6, Justin Macione ’07 catches a 39-yard pass from Marsh Moseley ’05 with 11:46 to play and the Amherst defense holds as Ladd ends his storied career with a record 3,817 rushing yards.

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Nov. 7, 2009: On Family Weekend, Amherst defeats NESCAC powerhouse Trinity for the first time in eight years, winning 23-12 and positioning the Jeffs to complete their third 8-0 season with a 26-21 win at Williams the following week.

Nov. 13, 2010: In the 125th all-time meeting between Amherst and Williams, the Ephs pull away for a 31-16 victory after the teams enter halftime tied, 10-10. Quarterback Alex Vetras ’11 throws for 226 yards and a score in his final collegiate game, ending a remarkable career as the program’s all-time leader in passing yards (5,367) and touchdowns (43).

Nov. 5, 2011: Another thrilling win over Trinity positions Amherst for its second 8-0 season in three years. With both squads entering the game undefeated, the Jeffs top the Bantams, 35-28, as Landrus Lewis ’13 halts a furious Trinity comeback with an interception late in the fourth quarter. Eric Bunker ’12 ties the school record with his 11th rushing touchdown of the year, before breaking the mark in Amherst’s 31-18 triumph at Weston Field a week later.

Quotes from Pratt Field dedication ceremony and early athletics history taken from Walter Tower’s “A Glance at Amherst Athletics” (1935) and Frost Library’s “Amherst College: A Chronology.”