Leadership through Athletics

The displays, designed by Muphy & Orr, include tributes to the Academy’s fight song, club sports, the Academy’s mascot Objee, and much more. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger.

The displays, designed by Muphy & Orr, include tributes to the Academy’s fight song, club sports, the Academy’s mascot Objee, and much more. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger.

 

Written by Tara King Clark
Director of Communications
USCGA Alumni Association

 

For as long as there has been a U.S. Coast Guard Academy (1876), there has been a focus on the physical development of cadets as a cornerstone of officer development. However, it wasn’t until the early 1920s that the first intercollegiate teams were formed. In 1927 an official mascot was selected and generations of alumni have been proud to call themselves the “Bears,” named for the famous Alaska rescue by the U.S. Revenue Service Cutter Bear in 1897. The Academy’s Athletic Hall of Fame was established in 1972 to recognize outstanding athletes. However, outside of the Hall of Fame, there was no place for the Academy to appropriately showcase its rich athletic history, unlike most other colleges that have comprehensive displays to highlight their athletic programs and accomplishments.

That all changed on Sept. 29, 2016, when the Otto Graham Hall of Athletic Excellence officially opened its doors in the renovated Billard Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. This space now tells the story of the Academy’s great teams, Hall of Fame athletes, and pioneers of men and women’s sports, through storyboards and technology-aided reviews of all Academy NCAA varsity, club and intramural sports.

“This Hall, funded by the USCGA Alumni Association, serves as an inspiration to alumni, the Corps, prospective cadets, parents and all who enter, emphasizing that ‘Leadership through Athletics’ is a cornerstone of Academy life,” said retired Capt. Andrea Marcille, president of the Academy’s Alumni Association.

The Otto Graham Hall of Athletic Excellence was gifted to the Academy by the Alumni Association on Sept. 26, 2016. This $2.3 million project includes a bronze bust of Graham, donated by the Class of 1964 and created by Connecticut artist Tony Falcone. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger.

The Otto Graham Hall of Athletic Excellence was gifted to the Academy by the Alumni Association on Sept. 26, 2016. This $2.3 million project includes a bronze bust of Graham, donated by the Class of 1964 and created by Connecticut artist Tony Falcone. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger.

Who was Otto Graham?

In 1959 Otto Graham accepted the Head Coach and Athletic Director position at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Just four years prior he had completed a successful football career as quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, leading them to the league championship 10 years straight and winning seven of them. As head football coach at the Academy, he led the 1963 Academy Bears to their first and only undefeated and untied regular season and a coveted trip to a National Bowl game. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1965, where his #14 jersey rests next to his Hickok Belt, awarded to the world’s top professional athlete. He was recruited as head coach and general manager for the Washington Redskins in 1966 and three years later returned to the Academy as athletic director, where he coached football for several years and retired in 1985 as a Coast Guard captain.

“He worked hard to make athletics fun and he firmly believed that athletic participation was a keystone to personal integrity, character and leadership,” said Bill Thompson, member of the Academy’s 1963 championship team and Otto Graham Hall Project Committee. “It’s fitting that this hall is named for him.”

Visitors view the many Coast Guard Academy athletes who have made their mark within the Otto Graham Athletics Hall of Fame Sept. 29, 2016, at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, in New London, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger.

Visitors view the many Coast Guard Academy athletes who have made their mark within the Otto Graham Athletics Hall of Fame Sept. 29, 2016, at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, in New London, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger.

About the Hall

Whether it’s the first undefeated football team, the women’s volleyball or men’s basketball team that advanced to the Elite Eight, or the 2016 National Champion women’s sailing team, the Academy’s tradition of athletic excellence is on display throughout the hall. The hall also includes artifacts such as a space flight suit worn by the Coast Guard’s first astronaut, Capt. Bruce Melnick (CGA ’72) and a golf club and shoes owned by the late Arnold Palmer, a former Coast Guardsman.

“This facility illustrates the Academy’s indelible commitment to athletic excellence, and its willingness to tell its story,” said Tim Fitzpatrick, Academy Director of Athletics. “By heralding the accomplishments and achievements of former cadet-athletes, the Otto Graham Hall of Athletic Excellence can serve as the future centerpiece of the Athletics Division, significantly assisting coaches in their efforts to recruit and attract the ‘best and the brightest’ cadet-athlete prospects.”

Otto Graham’s widow, Beverly, spends time with Coast Guard Academy’s mascot Objee during a ribbon cutting ceremony opening the new hall Sept. 26, 2016, in New London, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger.

Otto Graham’s widow, Beverly, spends time with Coast Guard Academy’s mascot Objee during a ribbon cutting ceremony opening the new hall Sept. 26, 2016, in New London, Conn. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nicole Barger.

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