Gray (standing, fourth from right) and Bill Dwyer (far left) attend an alumni hockey game in 2018, having started the club in the ‘80s.

How a quest for imaginary hockey players led me to The News-Letter

I cannot remember a time in my life without newspapers. My parents always had them in the house, and my sisters and I would try to find the hidden Nina’s in Al Hirschfeld’s inimitable drawings. My first job, or at least my first real job where I did not work for my parents, was at Frate’s News Store in my hometown. I had to get there at 5 a.m. every Sunday to assemble the New York Times; back then, the paper was shipped in sections to be collated by kids like me at each store. This was three hours of intense shuffling, hands covered in ink, $5 in my pocket and a new pack of gum for the bike ride home.

When I arrived in Baltimore as a freshman at Hopkins in August 1983, I naturally transitioned to the local source of campus politics, sports and culture and the oldest college weekly in the greater Charles Village area, The News-Letter. Every Friday, I always looked forward to grabbing the latest edition on my way to the dining hall, trying to figure out what was going on and what made the heart of this new place beat.

Growing up in Connecticut, I was, to an extent, a hockey player. And yet, when I thought about trying out for the college club, I was a bit deflated that while Johnny Hop laxed, he did not skate. And then after the disappointment of no ice, The News-Letter published an article full of promise that an energetic bunch of Hopkins men — and women — were forming a new team. Players with names like Chan and Chowdhury were planning practices and games, looking for players.

I was in!

But how to find Chan and Chowdhury? I searched out the News-Letter writer, and they were abashed by my interest in trying to find these folks. It was a joke, said the writer, that no college south of the Mason-Dixon line plays hockey, and obviously no one with names like that would play hockey, and certainly girls don’t play hockey. Don’t you get it? It’s a joke!

Two years later, during my junior year, Bill Dwyer (Class of ‘86) and I formed the Hopkins Ice Hockey Club. No hard feelings, I gladly wrote up brief and uncreative summaries of our games against Western Maryland College, Navy B, Georgetown and the fighting docs of Bethesda Naval Hospital.

But there must have been something to those essays. Anne Skaja, a friend from the Hopkins Sailing Club and dedicated News-Letter editor, brought me into the fold. You’re a poli-sci major? Can you review a biography of Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black? Sure! A thousand words on an Anne Tyler novel? Why not?

And there began — and not long after ended — my brief transition from consumption to production of the news. Every week or so I would get a call from Anne or my other editor, Liz Harrigan, letting me know that a new batch of books had come in and needed to be reviewed. I’d swing by my favorite historic structure on campus: the beautiful little castle of lime green granite that had served as William Wyman’s gatehouse two centuries prior and now served as the Gatehouse of news to our campus. I’d watch in a mix of wonder and horror as half a dozen undergrads somehow managed to hold down 25 credits and still bang out a newspaper each week, living on Pizza Boli’s, Mountain Dew and Milwaukee’s Best.

And the Hockey Club? I still go to reunion games, playing against the men, and women and players with names from every continent, who suit up for Johnny Hop.

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