July 26, 2018

Memories of Holt Hill

Reunion prompts fond recollections of ski team & beloved coach
by Richard See ’78

On Sunday of Reunion weekend, Warren Patterson, Gary Levine, and I—all Class of 1978 and lovers of Andover’s ski team—searched poison ivy-infested Holt Hill looking for the remains of the old alpine ski jump. No longer used by Andover, the location was made famous (infamous?) by the 1970s “Mother Phillips” photo of bodies artfully positioned on the landing.

Today, that spot is a tree-strewn mess and it’s difficult to imagine what it once had been. After finding the location, we stopped to remember the glory days of our 16-year-old selves. At that age, we had no sense of fear or risk and had no problem throwing ourselves down that ramp, hurling our bodies into the stratosphere. A wipeout actually was a badge of honor, and if you broke a ski from the force of your landing, you received a “good effort” from Coach Best.

The bonds of friendship that were formed at Andover­—and on the ski team—have lasted a lifetime and were reignited at our 40th Reunion.

One of my happiest memories was the run out to Boston Hill. Running through beautiful forest trails, the scent of the woods filled our lungs. For me, it was Andover’s version of the beach run from “Chariots of Fire.” 

The bonds of friendship that were formed at Andover­—and on the ski team—have lasted a lifetime and were reignited at our 40th Reunion, especially on Holt Hill that Sunday in June. Not wanting to let go, we decided to create a“Holt Hill” Facebook page: “the place dedicated to people who had those magical experiences on PA’s alpine jumping team, ski team, or track with epic cross-country runs and a coach who made it happen.” The page was quickly populated with photos from our reunion walk, images of Coach Best in his math classroom, old ski photos, and notes on race results—including the height and weight of the competitors compiled by Coach Best.

At age 16 we had no sense of fear or risk and had no problem throwing ourselves down that ramp, hurling our bodies into the stratosphere. A wipeout actually was a badge of honor, and if you broke a ski from the force of your landing, you received a “good effort” from Coach Best.

Within 48 hours, more than 23 people had joined the Facebook group, including former Olympic medalist from Norway Kjell Sobak ’76, Jennifer Bensley ’78 from Greece, Anders Crofoot ’79 from New Zealand, and others.  

Although Coach Best does not have a Facebook account, his son Bill Best’78 drove to the rest home where his father lives with his beloved wife, Helen, who used to cook the ski team pancakes at 5:30 a.m. before races, to share the Facebook images with them.

A number of the ski team members from our era—including Tom French ’77 and Colin McNay ’78 to name a few—went on to ski at Dartmouth College. Excited by the new Facebook page and wanting to share more with their old coach, Richard Bissell ’78 and some others took time during their recent Dartmouth reunion to conduct a live Skype session with Mr. and Mrs. Best to share just how much this couple meant to each of us.  A few minutes into the discussion, Coach Best wiped tears from his eyes and the stories ensued. Although her memory has faded due to dementia, Mrs. Best’s eyes sharpened and clarity returned when those breakfast pancakes were mentioned.

Another Skype session in early July had participation from the aforementioned alumni, along with myself,Bob Burnham ’76, Bruce MacWilliams ’77, Lucy Schulte Danziger ’78, Eliza Deery ’79, and Ed Hill ’79. A grand total of 16 alumni were involved. (Phil Hueber ’75 and Susan Barnett ’78 were standing by, but could not participate due to Skype’s limitations.) 

Since many of the team members have aging parents with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer's, or dementia, they know the importance of giving someone something to look forward to. We ended the session knowing that we had given something back to our beloved coach for all the tireless hours of time he put into organizing our races, training us, feeding us, inspiring us, and shaping our characters. 

God Bless you, Mr. and Mrs. Best, for giving so fully of yourselves. 

 

If anyone would like to join the Holt Hill Facebook page and be part of the fun, please email richard.see@gmail.com.

Skiing Down Memory Lane

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George Best in his math classroom

Coach Best and his wife, Helen, best known for the delicious pancakes she made for the ski team

The entrance to Holt Hill

Richard See and Warren Patterson (both 1978 alumni) reliving their glory days on Holt Hill

Categories: Alumni, Athletics, Magazine, Magazine Online

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