Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks For The Memories, Mr. Elwell

We all know former Gannon player, coach, and legendary athletic director Howard Elwell as "Bud," but I never called him that when talking with him. He was (and always will be) "Mr. Elwell" to me. Even though he and I developed a friendship over the years -- he'd wryly say "Jimmeeee" instead of "hello" when our paths crossed -- I had too much admiration and respect to call him anything but "Mr. Elwell." He passed away at age 76 on Tuesday due to complications from a heart operation a month earlier.

I want to express my condolences to his wife Nancy and the entire Elwell family. They have been fixtures at Gannon games over the past decade. I also want to share some Elwell stories that I'm very fond of:

* In February 1989, four months into my freshman season as a Gannon walk-on, I was in the lockerroom about 45 minutes before practice began lacing up my sneakers with my back to the door. Mr. Elwell walked in and asked me for some towels. I looked in the lockers around me and said, "I don't know where any are." He replied, "What do you mean? I just gave you about 20." Startled (and a little panicked) I turned to face Mr. Elwell and said, "Um, I didn't get any towels," to which he responded after looking me in the eyes, "Oh -- sorry. I thought you were Boone (team manager John Boone)." I knew I wasn't showing up on any opponent scouting report, but I thought at least the AD from my own school knew who I was!

* My first three years at Gannon I worked as the sports editor at the Gannon Knight student newspaper. Our annual April Fool's edition was 16 pages of made-up stories and fake names, and for one of those issues I had written (what I thought was) a doozy. In the late 80s, there was lots of talk of Gannon moving to Division I, so I took it to the absurd and wrote an April Fool's story about Gannon deciding to jump over Division I and right into the professional ranks. Also, earlier that year, Mr. Elwell had broken his leg chasing some miscreant teenager from his backyard. He'd made things worse -- and received jabs from many in the athletic department -- when he fell down the athletic department steps in the Hammermill one afternoon. Tying all that together in my story, I attributed this quote to athletic director "Thud Felwell": "It's always been my dream for Gannon to have professional teams. But then again, I have this recurring dream where I'm running naked through a pool of green Jell-O while being chased by Santa Claus, so maybe my dreams aren't applicable here." That was hilarious in my head, but when I saw it in print I thought, "Holy crap! I just insulted my athletic director ... and I don't think I've ever seen him smile!" That week I saw Mr. Felwell -- er, Elwell -- in the athletic offices and he called me over to his desk. "I saw your story," he said without a smile before pausing. "Pretty funny." From then on, whenever I visited the sports information office, I'd say hello to Mr. Elwell and we'd talk about journalism and glory days of Erie sports.

* When I was an upperclassman I ran into Mr. Elwell about a half hour before a practice. I was getting in some pre-practice jumpers at the Audi when he said, "Drug test today, Jimmy," which meant everyone had to pee in a cup before practice. "Ugh," I replied. "I just used the bathroom." I figured I'd have to drink a gallon of water before practice to produce a sample for the NCAA to enjoy. But Mr. Elwell came to my rescue. "Hell, you won't even drink a beer," he said. "Skip this one. I'll take care of it." I hope sharing this story doesn't bring NCAA sanctions against Gannon ...

* When the 1989-90 Gannon team made its run to the Elite 8 in Springfield, all home playoff games for the MCC (Mideast Collegiate Conference) tournament and NCAA were broadcast live on local TV. By the time the regional final came around, Mike Gallagher and Brian Duffy had already interviewed every decent player on the team, so they kind of had to do a story on me. Or Gumby. The thing I recall most about that piece came after right after the segment. Gallagher added during the live broadcast, "Gannon athletic director 'Bud' Elwell added that Jim Roddy is quote 'one of the classiest players in the history of the Gannon program.'"

As you know already, I was ecstatic just to be a minuscule part of the Gannon basketball program, so to hear that compliment on TV thrilled me to no end. Heck, 20 years later I'm still beaming about it. But the best part of all was that those words were from one of the finest gentlemen in the history of Gannon University, Mr. Elwell.

Feel free to share your comments on Mr. Elwell below or click here to leave a condolence for the Elwell family through the Brugger Funeral Homes website.


  1. There's not enough room, even on the world-wide internet, to fit all of the "Bud stories". Everyone who ever met him has at least one. Mine come later.

    First, sincere condolences to Howie, Audrey, Kevin, Kathy and Andy. They have all been fine human beings and a tribute to their parents. Also, condolences to Nancy and her kids, whose lives were also influenced by Bud.

    Now the stories....

    In the storied run to Springfield under Tom Chapman, Kutztown was ranked ahead of GU, but the power of Bud meant Gannon hosted the Regional. The Voice of the Marauders, the legenday By Kinser, was more incensed than most at the situation. When told he had to braodcast the games from the upper "booth", Kinser procedeed to rant against all things Gannon. After speaking with Bud, the tirade cooled. I asked Bud what he said to the crochety Kinser to make him settle down. Bud replied, "I told him he could always do the game from the cat walk."

    When I first met Nancy, she was writing about women's sports for the ETN. Upon introduction, she said, "You're the guy who always says 'Wow' on the radio. Why do you say that?" Without missing a beat, Bud said, "Because he's not allowed to say 'Holy S***' on the radio." Took me about 10 minutes to stop laughing.

    Last one. During a particularly tough personal time, Bud called me into his office and told me that whatever happened, if I needed anything, lewt him know. He also said that if I had to miss any time, not to worry. "Boze, the mic is always yours", he said. Much like his remark regarding Jim, I felt a sense of pride that this esteemed man respected my work.

    Godspeed, Bud.

  2. My sincere apologies for omitting Bud's daughter Amy from my previous post.

  3. Condolences to the Elwell family.

    One more story ... back in the day when stats were finalized in the athletic office, I always looked forward to Mr. Elwell's walking up the stairs to the athletic office, because he would always have a one-liner about the game. For example, in about 1990, the Gannon women routed the Lake Erie College Storm by about 50. As Mr. Elwell walked into the office, he said with a straight face, "That wasn't a storm. That was a stationary front."

    One more thing that I still think about as I read a stats sheet. Mr. Elwell always had an idea in his mind that a field goal percentage of 21% is "chance." That is, if a team simply dribbled past half court, ran no offense, and just chucked up the first shot they would get, it would shoot 21%. He would look at the stat sheet and, if a team's percentage was 25%, it would be "four points better than chance." I'll always remember that.