The Ties That Bind: 70 Years of Football, Baseball, & the Boston Bruins United at Williams College

Dr. Wayne Wilkins '41 (l.) and Darren Hartwell '13
Dr. Wayne Wilkins '41 (l.) and Darren Hartwell '13

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – On Friday, December 16 two standout Eph football and baseball players met and talked about their third common bond – the Boston Bruins.

Meeting for the first time were current standout WR and OF Darren Hartwell '13 (North Reading, MA) and Dr. Wayne Wilkins '41. Wilkins (known as Earle while practicing in Boston, but now "Wilk" to his many friends in Williamstown) had seen Hartwell perform for the Ephs in football and baseball and is a dedicated Eph football fan and a member of the Williams Sideline QB Club.

The Bruins connection comes in part from Wilkins' past association with the NHL team as their team doctor from the summer of 1969 until the spring of 1984. Hartwell will be covering the Bruins in January when he joins the ESPNBoston staff for a Winter Study independent study project.

Hartwell began his sports writing career last year at Williams when he signed on to cover the Ephs' men's ice hockey team. Last summer Hartwell interned with ESPNBoston writers Gordon Edes and Joe McDonald in Fenway Park covering the Red Sox. Twenty-four bylines later Edes and McDonald offered Hartwell the opportunity to return to Fenway next summer.

Hartwell decided in the fall that it might be fun to broaden his sports writing resume and seek an independent study during Winter Study under the auspices of Joe McDonald in TD Bank Garden covering the Bruins.

Wilkins who went on to Harvard Medical School and then to Massachusetts General Hospital after playing baseball and football for the Ephs joined the Bruins staff at just the right time as he was there when Bobby Orr brought the Stanley Cup back to Boston (1970) after a long drought.

Wilkins got the job with the Bruins when John Knowles the Director of Massachusetts General Hospital (and former Harvard goalie) asked him if he would be interested. Knowles who owned a piece of the Bruins at the time knew of Wilkins' involvement as the team doctor for the soccer, ice hockey, and lacrosse teams at Harvard. Wilkins said he would do it if he could hire an associate, as he did not want to be away from his wife and family all winter. Wilkins stay on the job lasted for 15 years and the man he asked to assist him, Dr. Ashby Moncure stayed for 32 years.

Wilkins got to see and know one of the all-time greats in the NHL compete in Bobby Orr. "There are three things I remember about Bobby Orr that stood out," Wilkins offered. "One, he was unbelievable as a player. He could shoot, skate, pass, rag the puck and defend with anyone. Two, I knew when I saw his knee and what had been done to it in the days before arthroscopy, he would not have a long career. Three, he was a fantastic person, a great humanitarian and he never once complained about his knee. He was the greatest hockey player."

Wilkins recalled that he received a call in his early days with the Bruins from a doctor at the Boston Children's Hospital who wondered if Wayne could get Bobby Orr to come visit a 12-year old boy who had developed a sarcoma in his leg and had to have the leg amputated, ending his ice hockey career. The boy wanted to meet his idol Bobby Orr.

Wilkins told the doctor that he was new with the Burins, but he would ask Bobby. Orr agreed to do it under one condition – no publicity. "I told Bobby I had one condition too and he kind of looked surprised until I said I wanted to go with him

After three hours in the ward where Orr visited with every young patient, boy and girl, athlete and non-athlete [Wilkins pointed out that girls were not playing sports at that time] all of the kids had responded very positively to Orr's visit. One of the veteran nurses commented to Wilkins, "I've only seen this kind of reception once before – when Ted Williams came to visit."

"You know where I was when Bobby scored the goal to win the Cup," Wilkins asked. "I was on the bench, because it was my younger son Wayne's birthday and he sat in my seat next to my wife Suki. "I said to coach Harry Sinden I did not know where he was going to be able to find me if he needed me during the game because I gave up my seat to my son. Harry told me to sit right on the bench. It was quite a thrill."

When his junior year rolled around, Wilkins was forced to the bench in football because he was carrying the three required lab courses of a pre-med student and he could not get down to practice until shortly after 5:00 PM each day. "You'd think that not playing much as a junior would have been a let-down, but what it did is give me a greater appreciation for the kind of teamwork that goes into playing football," Wilkins said. Wilkins became a key member of the Eph football team again as a senior, concluding his career with a 19-6 win at Amherst.

Wilkins played for the legendary Charley Caldwell at Williams before Caldwell went on to a great career at Princeton and into the College Football Hall of Fame. "My senior year Charley made me the two-back (blocking back) instead of a guard," Wilkins noted. "Charley told me that now that I was two steps closer to the man I was supposed to block he hoped I would get there in time."

Wilkins raised Hartwell's eyebrows when he related that when he was playing football for the Ephs players played both ways and you could only sub in and out once a quarter. Further, Wilkins noted that when the substitute came into the offensive huddle the umpire would enter the team's huddle to make sure that the arriving player did not bring in a play for the offense to run. "Of course Charley (who coached football, basketball and baseball at Williams) had some hand signals for us, but the sub could not speak or we would be penalized."

Hartwell, who twice has been named All-NESCAC as a receiver and a return specialist, will be hoping to duplicate Wilkins' career-ending conquest of Amherst as the Ephs will finish the 2012 season at Amherst. Hartwell owns the Eph single season TD pass catch record (10) and tied the NESCAC record for punt return yardage this fall with 321 yards.

Wilkins pointed out to Hartwell that he thoroughly enjoyed the showdown game with Trinity, Hartwell's sophomore year when Hartwell lit up the Trinity defense with two 80 plus-yard TD catches. Reminded that the catches came on consecutive Eph plays Wilkins related, "because of my legs I cannot go up high in the bleachers any more and on those two catches Darren ran right at me and I was amazed at how he just ran by them two times in a row."

Hartwell's smile indicated he also remembered his breakout game. Overlooked by those present was that Hartwell later that same game caught a third TD pass to tie the Eph single game TD pass catch mark, a mark he would again tie in a win over Middlebury later in the season. 

Wilkins also unearthed a future Williams football trivia question when he asked Hartwell if he had worn number one all three years with the Ephs. "I wore 83 my first year, but I only played in JV games so when #1 became available I went back to my high school number."

Learning that Harwell is a history major Wilkins commented, "I majored in chemistry as I thought it would help me as a doctor, but about all I learned was that NaCl (salt) is bad for you. I think I might have enjoyed majoring in history more."

While Hartwell will be covering the Stanley Cup defending champion Bruins he will not be the only one in TD Bank Garden with a connection to Williams. New England Sports Network (NESN) rink side reporter, "SportsDesk" reporter, and contributor to NESN.com, Naoko Funayama is a former women's club ice hockey player at Williams.

Additionally, the current head trainer for the Bruins Don DelNegro joined the Bruins staff from a five-year tenure as the Director of Sports Medicine at Williams. DelNegro, a native of nearby North Adams, MA, is now in his 18th season with the Bruins.

After lunch and before heading their separate ways Wilkins said, "Darren, make sure you say hi to Don DelNegro for me, he's my last remaining connection to the Bruins."

"I will be sure to do that," said Hartwell shaking Wilkins' hand and wishing him a happy holiday season. A little further up the street Hartwell commented, "Wayne is an amazing man. I hope I'm as active [Wilkins still golfs] and energetic as he is at 92."