The overtime goal in March 1962 was the last instant I played hockey for Peter Bragdon. In hockey, the first to score in overtime ends the game.
Before anyone worried about participation trophies and hurt feelings, this was called “sudden death.” Neither golden goal nor sudden victory quite captures the finality.
It did not occur to me that I would never again play for Coach Bragdon. Nor did it occur to me that he would teach me history and spark an interest in government and how we choose those whom we have to obey.
We rarely think of elected officials as “those we have to obey” because the rules we favor tend to be those that apply to other people, though of course they don’t.
About a year and a half after the goal, Coach Bragdon became history teacher Bragdon. I was in the VI Form (12th grade), and American history was the requirement.
He taught the course with a textbook written by his father, who had been a famous teacher at Exeter. Pete and Dottie Bragdon have since retired to his father’s old house.
Of course, we progressed from Plymouth Rock and Jamestown to about the New Deal. If there was anything about World War II, I have no recollection, but two things did stand out.
On November 22, 1963 (56 years to the day before sitting at my computer and writing this anecdote), I was walking to hockey practice in the early afternoon with my stick and skates over my shoulder.
I learned that President Kennedy had been shot. Later we would learn that he is been killed. No Internet, not even color TV so news traveled slowly. Same-day awareness was thought to be pretty good until instant awareness became available.
At our class the next day, Bragdon departed from his coverage of the revolution or, by then maybe the War of 1812, to teach us about our new president, Lyndon Johnson.
I doubt any of us had the slightest notion of what he might be like. I know I didn’t, but Bragdon had stayed up all night trying to figure out what to tell a class of clueless 17-year-olds about the assassination of the Boston Catholic Democrat — we could understand the Boston part — and the ascent to the presidency of a Southern Baptist Texan, three groups about which we knew nothing.
There were no grief counselors or people to worry about how we felt so, if Bragdon had any idea that was even a role, I suppose he filled it. I don’t remember what he said but I don’t think he predicted LBJ’s civil rights success or how much our generation would come to hate him by the time he announced that he would not run for the presidency on March 31, 1968. Vietnam was a college thing not a boarding school thing.
The history equivalent of the overtime goal was the final exam. It was a single essay in which we were asked to select eight oarsmen and a coxswain for two rowing shells from among all the presidents we had studied.
Even those, like me, who did not row as a spring sport knew enough about it to get by with a sufficient understanding of the skills required for the position of each oarsman.
The coxswain faces front and yells at everyone to tell them what to do. Since he has no oar, it is best that he be small and authoritative. The stroke faces him at the rear of the shell and sets the pace for the others. Strength and power are required in the middle seats and, for some reason, the bowman is always tall and lanky.
Our assignment was to fill one shell with the best presidents and the other with the worst, then explain our reasoning and provide a commentary on a race between the two. All this was to be based on the history we had learned and the extrapolation of presidential qualities to the required rowing skills for each position in the shell.
My picks were pedestrian. George Washington at stroke of the best boat Abraham Lincoln in the bow. William Howard Taft, at 300+ pounds, as coxswain of the worst boat. Nothing in any way special.
Most of the way through the essay, I was probably headed for a solid B or maybe a B+.
Among the dozen or so students in the class, my exam was the only one in which the worst presidents won the race.
Just before the finish, George Washington stood up in the boat.
The solid B turned into an A, and a career in academia gave way to the prospect of a life lived through a different lens.
It was likely that class that led to a lifelong interest in politics and government and to the eight years of writing about both for LibertyPell.
Not many on today’s political stage would have made the better boat for any of the dozen soon-to-graduate boarding school seniors in the Spring of 1964.