As We March Along to Victory

By Nathaniel Badder

Inside Lacrosse Correspondent


Earlier this spring Rick Reilly, one of the nation's finest sportswriters, devoted his back-page column to college sports' greatest tradition. In the article, he detailed a touching ritual - several hours before kick- or tip-off, rookies on the Middlebury football and basketball teams pile into their cars to pick up Butch, a devoted fan who is sadly crippled by a horrifying disease.


After reading Reilly's piece I, a Middlebury lacrosse alumnus, selfishly wondered, "What does Butch do in the spring? And, why wasn't he at our lacrosse games?" But then it hit me as unexpectedly as a well-disguised cross-crease slide - we have our own tradition, rich in history and deep in meaning, that revolves around one charismatic and genuine man.


Some college freshmen might find it tedious to be responsible for ensuring that a team's 70-year-old field manager arrives on time and in appropriate attire to every function, but Panther rookies quickly learn that they are actually quite lucky. For it is in this role, as the Keeper of the Kohn, that first-year players are granted the opportunity to befriend a living legend. Though Peter Kohn has never played lacrosse,

- except for his annual scoring jaunts during Middlebury's Alumni Games

- his life has revolved around it for some 50 years.

In return for their efforts, these lucky freshmen get the chance to talk with Pete and learn about life, love and loyalty, as well as baseball trivia, middle names and train schedules.


You see, Peter has a handicap that affords him a gracious view on life to which few are privy- it is innocent and pure, uncorrupted by life's more gruesome side. It also grants him the remarkable ability to recall even the most distant baseball statistic. Ask him who were the starting pitchers in Game 1 of the 1952 World Series, and he will tell you, as he did to an awestruck bunch of Middlebury rookies in the stairwell of London's Westminster Abby in 1995 (incidentally, the Brooklyn Dodgers' Joe Black pitched a complete game to beat the New York Yankees' ace Allie Reynolds). He also has mesmerizing recollection of middle names and nicknames. From famous baseball players to infamous Keepers of the Kohn, from Harold Henry "Pee Wee" Reese to Richard Brandon Mollett (Middlebury '98), he can rattle them off without a moment's hesitation. Furthermore, he has a near photographic recall of train numbers and schedules. He may not have a driver's license, but if you need to take Amtrack to LA via Omaha, Pete can get you there.


Born Myron G. Kohn in Baltimore during the Great Depression, Peter's life in lacrosse got started by accident. While attending the Park School one of his favorite teachers invited him to get involved with athletics. Unsure exactly what managing a team entailed, Peter hesitated in the fall and did not accept the offer until the spring. With no baseball team at Park, Peter devoted his full attention to lacrosse. Little did he know that this was the beginning of an illustrious and celebrated career.


From Park, Peter took his talents to the club level to manage in Baltimore's University Team. He stayed with that team for 17 years before his big break in 1977. While at Rutgers overseeing the U.S. Team tryouts, he met then-Middlebury head coach Jim Grube, who invited Peter to come back to Vermont to work in the equipment room and with the men's lacrosse team.


For Peter, this was much more than a geographical shift. It was a chance for him to find himself, to discover his purpose in life and to shape his destiny. The job was not supposed to be permanent, but 26 years later Peter is still a fixture on the sidelines for almost every Middlebury lacrosse practice and game.


To some, scraping muddy cleats, filling empty water bottles, doling out fresh towels and shagging errant lacrosse balls might not seem like a great job. But for Peter, it's so much better than that. In his many years on the sideline, he has met countless coaches, players and fans, and it is these relationships that he truly cherishes. "The relationship that I had with athletic students was a beautiful thing," he says. "I was so lucky that could happen."


Ask any Middlebury lacrosse alumnus about Peter, and he will undoubtedly crack a knowing grin, shake his head for a minute and then spout off a laundry list of enviable characteristics: selfless, humble, committed, giving, disciplined, transcendent and devoted. In short, an inspiration. But the amazing thing is that you could ask almost any lacrosse player anywhere and chances are he would have a strikingly similar reaction. Peter's fans circle the globe and span generations. His friends transcend race and gender. His family, in the broadest sense, crosscuts all social classes.


Everyone has a funny tale about Pete, an anecdote that is a surefire laugher at a cocktail party. There was the time Peter loped onto the field at Union College to ask the referees to speed up the game because he felt the sub-arctic temperatures put the players' best interests at risk - never mind the frozen snot-sicle dangling from his nose and white tube socks covering his hands in a futile effort to retain heat. There was the time Pete picked a wallet up off a filthy barroom floor and got chased out of the place by an irate man who thought Peter had stolen it. And of course, there are the countless gatherings at which Peter almost fell off a stage/ table/chair while belting out a rousing rendition of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" into a lacrosse stick or a banana in front of a captivated crowd. At the heart of each of these tales is, well, a heart - a giant one and one that meets and greets all people with dignity and respect, one that asks so little but gives so much.


Most Middlebury students lead tremendously privileged lives, but it could just be that meeting Peter is the greatest privilege of all. Despite his physical handicap, Peter is more mentally grounded than most of us can dream of. He has his priorities set simply yet correctly. "When we're all caught up in day-to-day events and how serious our lives are, Pete sort of makes a statement that is profound in its simplicity," says Middlebury head coach Erin Quinn. "He has a certain perspective on things, on what's important, a concept of life that is helpful to all of us."


To wit, one of Peter's favorite comments is, "Don't take anything for granted." This is a life lesson learned on the lacrosse field and taught by the unlikeliest of professors.


Middlebury has given Peter so much. It has given him a job and his first real taste of responsibility. It has given him a lifetime of memories and pictures - wherever he goes, a bevy disposable cameras and photo albums are invariably in tow. It has even bestowed upon him championship rings and watches. But most importantly, it has given him a chance to live out and fulfill his dreams. "We all have skills," he says, "but unless you get into a position where you can use it, where you can call your own shots, you're not going to be able to do it. At Middlebury, I was, and I was able to bring it out."


And, in return, he has given so much back, so much more than cool drinks and pieces of Juicy Fruit. So deep is the college's debt of gratitude that last year it named its new turf field in his honor. But in his customarily humble fashion, he eschewed the spotlight and asked that the stands be dedicated to his mother. Although the plaque beneath the stands is directed toward her, it could just as easily be applied to Pete. It reads simply, "For her unselfish devotion to her children."


The struggle for acceptance is one that we all grapple with, and in this, Peter is no different. What does separate him from so many of us, however, is that he has found his place. He has lived a rich and satisfying life and enjoyed a long and productive career that has surpassed even his own wildest imagination. "I've had such a wonderful career, a terrific career," he says, "There’s nothing more for me. My dreams have come true."


When he says this, it's hard to disagree. He has worked more North-South All-Star games than most of us have fingers and toes. He has traveled all over the world and represented his country countless times at the World Games. He was recently inducted into the New England Lacrosse Hall of Fame.


Despite all of this, Peter has been threatening to hang up his keys for good for many years now. But every spring, as regularly as Puxatawny Phil, Cal Ripken Jr., and Memorial Day traffic in Ocean City, MD, he has arrived, locker room key hanging from his neck, Middlebury baseball cap balanced precariously on his head, and a long-lost lacrosse ball in his hand. Refreshed and revitalized after another off-season in Cape May, NJ, he has greeted each new player with a warm grin and confident head nod, fully cognizant of the great things that lie ahead.


The truth is that there just is not much more for him to do, and this may well be his last year. But even retirement cannot stop Peter from doing what he loves. "If I retire next year," he says, "I will have the same obligations - to give to others, to share with others."


Recently the college and its lacrosse programs hosted a party to celebrate Peter's retirement. But this unassuming man wanted so desperately to be by the side of his dear friend Betty Crilley, who had recently fallen ill, that he tried to decline the invitation. to his own retirement party! This was no ordinary party, mind you. It was to culminate a magical career that spanned three decades, to surround him by over 200 friends and fans and to feature the premier of The Fifth Quarter, a documentary devoted to his life. But he was happy to give all of this up to be with Betty.


Kohn stories could easily fill a book and probably spill over into a second volume. David Donahue's just seems perfect. In 1991, Middlebury's starting goalie Matt Slauterback was killed tragically in a car accident. The season went on, much in his honor, and culminated in the ECAC Championship game. "I'll never forget watching Pete and Matt's dad, arms around each other on the sideline, as we played," Donahue says. "Lots of tears, Kohn in the middle of it all, helping us to grieve, to remember, to celebrate and to move forward."


As he moves forward, though, we must ask him one final time, "What time is it, Peter?" It's time to stop taking things for granted. It's time to keep giving. And, of course, it's time to beat Williams!


Many of the quotations and pictures used in this article were borrowed from The Fifth Quarter. For more information on this legend, or to order a copy of the video, email


Nathaniel S. Badder

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