Time Out: July 11, 2012
By John Bernhardt
To know him is to like him. Many mornings, coffee cup in hand, he holds court at Hess or another morning gathering spot greeting by name almost everyone who walks through the door. A friendly, open, smiling countenance invites laughter, and he is comfortable poking fun at himself to ignite good times. More than anything, everyone recognizes that he is genuine, the real deal.
Margaretville resident Glen Reither is a human sparkler, one of those rare people with the optimism, energy, positive outlook, and interpersonal skills that will give your day a boost. Spending time with “Coach” almost guarantees good-natured, spontaneous fun.
Much of Coach Reither’s outlook was shaped during his four-year stay at Ithaca College, a post high school sojourn that hardly resembles the college experience of today’s high school graduates. In fact, Ithaca College wasn’t even on Reither’s radar when he graduated from Catskill Central School in the spring of 1953.
“I had no idea what the process was to get in college back then,” said Reither, perfect irony for a man who would finish an academic career teaching and coaching at SUNY Deli for several decades.
“I had some buddies who were going to Cortland, and I wanted to teach P.E., so I tagged along with them fully expecting I would be allowed to stay. That’s how naïve I was,” laughed Reither.
But, Reither’s misguided Cortland excursion paid dividends of another kind when one of his buddies suggested “Coach” borrow his Mercury, drive to Ithaca College and see if he would have better luck there. Making another mistaken stop at the top of Ithaca’s hill at Cornell University, Reither was redirected downtown and finally arrived at Ithaca College.
At Ithaca, Reither utilized an ease talking with people, a skill that has served him well his entire life. Arriving unannounced and unexpected, Reither caught the ear of Dean Hill, a patient educator, who took the time to listen to the young lad’s story.
Dean Hill introduced Reither to the athletic director and together they devised a plan where Reither would bolster his academic record by taking additional high school classes and then enroll at Ithaca the following fall. That plan found Reither in Bergenfield, NJ taking prerequisite courses with soldiers who had finished their military service and were earning high school diplomas.
When Reither arrived at Ithaca in the fall of 1954, he attended a school very different from the Ithaca College of today and experienced a college world that barely resembles the world where current graduates now study.
Reither attended the downtown Ithaca campus, a campus located in vacated municipal or business spaces throughout the city. Academic classes were held in Quonset buildings, those dome-shaped expansive structures often used as commercial or military structures or other rented spaces throughout the city. Two abandoned local theaters were transformed into gymnasiums. Space at municipal parks, playing fields, golf courses, tennis courts and even basketball gymnasiums was rented.
“There was no bus service taking athletes from spot to spot back then,” laughed Reither. “ It was a rare kid that had a private car. We got in shape running from one location to another just getting to classes and practices throughout the city.”
The only dorm living space was reserved for female students at that time. Male students were expected to find living accommodations in private homes throughout the village. Some of the Ithaca guys lived above the fire department and served as local firemen in exchange for a roof over their heads. Only female students could eat in the Ithaca College cafeteria.
Reither was eager to give college athletics a try. Playing at Catskill in high school, Reither came to understand he was not the most athletic guy on a team, but he figured other intangibles gave him the edge; conditioning and things like hustle, determination and drive. A daily summer regimen found Reither rising at 4 a.m. to make milk deliveries to boarding houses in the Catskill area and a five- to six-mile run had Reither in tip-top shape when he arrived in Ithaca.
At a pre-season soccer training camp, Reither surprised the coaches, easily outrunning the senior guys who were targeted as the stars of the team. When the varsity soccer roster was announced, Reither’s name was posted. Even more telling was his spot on the starting lineup.
“Freshmen were not allowed to play varsity sports in college at that time,” explained Reither. But if a college’s enrollment was really small, that requirement could be waived. That was the case at Ithaca.”
Reither tried his hand at basketball his freshman year, too. Seventy-five guys tried out for the freshman team, a team headed by Ithaca’s football coach. In just two days, the cut list came out and Reither’s name was on it.
“I went back and spoke to the coach,” Reither remembered. “I told him he had not given me enough time to prove my value on the team.”
Reither chuckled when remembering Coach Smokey Joe Hamilton’s reaction.
“Son, are you saying I was unfair,” snapped the steely-eyed football coach.
“No, you weren’t being unfair, you just didn’t get to see me enough,” countered the young Reither. “I’m coming back tomorrow to play and every day after until you bodily throw me out of the gym,” promised the determined freshman.
Reither did and Smokey Joe let him stay as Reither made the team. In fact, Coach Hamilton liked Reither’s aggressive, take-no-prisoner style of play and became a mentor of sorts during Reither’s stay in Ithaca.
Spring meant baseball, one of Reither’s favorite sporting pursuits. The Ithaca baseball team, called the “Philly Farm Team” was a national power under legendary coach Bucky Freeman. Reither made the freshman team as a catcher. His baseball season was cut short when a pitcher, instructed to throw fastballs in the cold upstate New York weather, mixed up his catcher throwing a curveball instead. When the ball broke and dipped down late catching Reither by surprise, the young catcher reacted instinctively reaching out to bare hand the ball. That split second decision was costly as the dipping baseball broke two of his fingers.
The injury opened a new sporting adventure for Reither. The track and field coach, who had seen Reither run on the soccer field, approached the injured baseball player with a proposal to make him a long-distance runner. Reither, who had never run track before and was skeptical, became a one- and two-mile runner and ran for the track team over the rest of his career at Ithaca.
And, Reither had skill on the tennis courts, too. At some matches the tennis team didn’t have enough guys to fill all the available slots. If Reither was free, he’d compete, especially when the tennis team traveled with the track and field squad. Reither remembers one day in Cortland when he ran the mile race for the track team, ran to the tennis court where he squared off as Ithaca’s number two man in single’s competition, then ran back to the track to finish his day running the two-mile race.
Time restraints and the need to earn money limited Reither’s college sports activities to fall and spring after his freshman year. He waited tables in the women’s cafeteria and doubled up with some custodial duties.
“My college years weren’t the streamlined experienced many people realize, but they were the greatest four years I ever lived. The chance to travel and see more of the world, meeting so many interesting people and having the chance to try your hand at so many things were irreplaceable. We didn’t have the best facilities but in some ways we were better prepared because we had to improvise,” explained Reither.
“Of all the things that ever happened to me, the best was meeting a little girl from Erin, New York. We met at a summer camp. We had to take a three-week field biology course and all that stuff. We became good friends. My junior year, we started dating. In my senior year I married her, in January, during a driving snowstorm. That little girl is his wife, Jackie.”
Glen and Jackie both came to Margaretville to teach physical education and health during the 1958-59 school year. Glen left after seven years to teach and coach at SUNY Delhi where he stayed for the remainder of his professional career.