LEWISTON, MAINE -- You might not recognize the face of Al Harvie '65 when he walks onto Garcelon Field at halftime today to receive the Bates Honorary Letter Award. But if you're a fan of Bates athletics — and have a reverence for our rich sports history, as he does — you've probably heard his voice.
Harvie has been the area's go-to sports public-address announcer since the 1960s, especially for Bates cross country and track, as well as for meets at Bowdoin.
"Al is an icon," says Kim Wettlaufer '80, an All-American distance runner at Bates who has lived and worked in Lewiston since graduation.
"Through the generations, as a coach, athlete, teacher, mentor, and announcer, Al is as connected to Bates and Bates athletics as anyone, ever," adds Wettlaufer, who was honored by Bates in 2012 for his Lewiston community service and leadership.
"Nobody else really comes close."
In 2014, three years after Harvie retired as a high school biology teacher, he also retired from high school coaching, prompting the Lewiston Sun Journal to note that it was the first time since 1953 that Harvie had not been associated with a Maine school or college as an athlete, teacher, or coach.
An outstanding track hurdler in high school and college, Harvie has never really left the playing field. He began his PA announcing, for football games, as a student. After graduation, he added radio announcing of local sports for WPNO-AM in Auburn. (Its sister station, WTOS-FM, is remember by alumni of a certain era as the edgy, free-form rock station in the 1970s and 1980s). His PA announcing continued all along, most recently at the Bates-hosted NESCAC cross country championships coming up on Oct. 28 at nearby Pineland Farms. (He also works Colby and USM meets, too.)
In recent years, Harvie joined Jeff Sturgis '69 — whose own Bates family extends three generations — in the Garcelon press box to call the livestream broadcasts of Bates football, concluding that stint in 2016. "Al had been the football PA announcer at Bates when he announced the first football game I ever played in, as a freshman in 1965," says Sturgis, who calls Harvie's knowledge of Bobcat sports "second to none. It was my good fortune to have shared the booth with him for these past few years."
Besides teaching, mostly at Edward Little High School in Auburn, Harvie also coached high school track and skiing, and served as an assistant Bates track coach under the legedary Walt Slovenski from 1979 to 1989. He's a member of both the Auburn-Lewiston and Maine halls of fame.
Whether it's Bowdoin facing Bates in today's game, or the city of Lewiston facing off with Auburn over this or that, Harvie tends to see connections, not differences.
In his student days, "we were taught to hate Bowdoin," he recalls. Bowdoin track coach Frank Sabasteanski and Bates' Slovenski fiercely protected their runners. "They'd have shouting matches."
But far more unites the two colleges, he knows, and whether he's working a Bowdoin or Bates contest, Harvie uses his vast Maine sports knowledge to support all the athletes.
"We are very thankful for his tremendous sense of tradition."
"I get to know all the runners" from both colleges, says Harvie. (When he's announcing a Bowdoin meet, where the coach is Peter Slovenski, the son of Harvie's coach Walt Slovenski, he likes to tell Bowdoin athletes that "I cheer for Bates, but it wouldn't bother me if you win!")
It's important to give back to the current generation, Harvie adds. "I get paid for my announcing, but I always give every penny back to Bates. And I'm not a rich man."
"Al is loyal to Bates, but his many connections in Maine give him a great appreciation for all the competitors," says Al Fereshetian, head coach of the men's cross country and track and field programs at Bates.
The way Harvie invokes the exploits of past sports greats when he talks with students "makes Bates come alive for our athletes today," Fereshetian says. "We are very thankful for his tremendous sense of tradition."
A student-athlete's reality, Fereshetian explains, "tends to be only what is in front of them. Al's able to congratulate an athlete in their accomplishment today while helping them see its place in history. Because his voice is outside their immediate frame of reference, he makes their accomplishment feel even more significant."
As a student, Harvie won the 110-meter high hurdles four straight seasons in the Maine State Meet. His Bates record in that event stood for 39 years, broken by Adam Macbeth '06 in 2004.
Proud of Macbeth's effort, the competitor in Harvie still remains. He says with a smile, "I told him, 'I ran on dirt. You ran on rubber!"
Harvie recalls how, in one hurdles race at Bates, the first four finishers were grads of South Portland High School. Harvie and his brother Keith '67 were first and third; Peter Good, of Bowdoin, was second; and Gary Chamberlain '67 was fourth.
Harvie runs through the Bates landscape, and it seems every other sentence mentions a name or two that spans and connects Bates history.
Like this one: "My head coach at South Portland was Nate Johnson, and he later was Kim Wettlaufer's adviser at the Kent School in Connecticut." So that's partly how Wettlaufer came to Bates, through a Harvie connection.
And there's a bit of Forrest Gump in the way Harvie appears here and there in Lewiston history. In 1965, when Muhammad Ali fought Sony Liston here, Harvie and his brother were among eight tracksters hired by United Press International to run film from UPI photographers to a darkroom during the fight. (They never had to run a step: Ali won the fight in 2 minutes.)
In 2008, he played a key role in a literal connection between Lewiston and Auburn, running a one-person campaign to rename of the South Bridge in honor of native Lewiston son Bernard Lown, a recipient of a Bates honorary degree in 1983 who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 as co-founder, with Russian physician Yevgeniy Chazov, of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
"It's a nice metaphor that they formed a bridge of peace," Harvie said.
In 1992, he and his brother Keith joined efforts to merge the college's two alumni honor societies, the all-male College Club, of which they were members, and the all-female Bates Key to create the College Key.
His approach is to "look for the best, and throw away the rest," he likes to say.
Harvie came to Bates from South Portland, where one of his assistant football coaches was Jack Flynn '60 (later a great So-Po head coach). "My head coach was Bill Cunnane '50, who played in the Glass Bowl for Bates. The athletics director was Hank Lavallee '33."
When he left Bates, Harvie was once again supported by Bates people.
He was hired by Kents Hill School in Readfield, where Bob Chumbook '55 was headmaster and Bates admission dean Milt Lindholm '35 was on the board. "Chumbook was on campus looking for coaches, and [football coach Bob] Hatch, Slovenski, and Lindholm recommended me."
Today's Honorary Letter Award, which recognizes "service and loyalty to Bates College, and the athletic program in particular, which extends beyond normal expectations," is a "big deal to me," Harvie says.
"It makes me emotional to be honored. I walk the campus and see names of people I knew personally on buildings and facilities: the chapel is named for my classmate Peter Gomes. The baseball field for Chick [Leahey '52], the Admission building for Milt [Lindholm '35]. The track at Merrill for Walt."
"I've been involved with Bates people my whole life."