“Coach Raises Racket, Hippies Net Victory,” was just one of the headlines in June 1968 when Haverford found itself in the national spotlight over the question of hair. Driving the story was the resignation of tennis coach Norman Bramall, who had worked at the College for 41 years and quit over President John Coleman’s decision to end a ban on long hair and beards for varsity athletes. Previously, the rule was: “An athlete must be shorn and shaved to suit the needs of the coach.” According to a 1968 Haverford News article, a majority of Haverford athletes had drafted a petition calling for a change in the policy. And Coleman obliged, declaring: “Neat beards, or neat but long hair, could not automatically be used to exclude men from teams.”
That was too much for Bramall, a well-regarded coach who had been at the College since the late 1920s. After his resignation, he told reporters that he believed Haverford teams would not command respect if they took the field with longhaired, bearded players. His stance made him a hero in some quarters, and a number of editorials celebrated him for, as one writer put it, “refusing to be stampeded into submission by this weird new breed of hippies which infest many of our campuses today.”
Bramall’s own team had been roiled by the no-beards dictum. One member had opted to shave and cut his hair, but Bob Stern ’69 elected to sit out his junior season rather than shear his locks. “Coach Bramall was from the Bill Tilden era of tennis—when men wore long pants and dress shirts while playing,” says Stern, a retired dental surgeon who lives in Montauk, N.Y. “Longer hair—and any facial hair—were steps too far.”
“That being said, I still have great respect for Coach Bramall and his vital contributions to Haverford’s great tennis tradition, and I deeply regret how things went and ended,” says Stern, who used his time off from tennis to play with Haverford rock band Federal Duck. Efforts to find a compromise and persuade Bramall to stay came to naught. From this vantage point, it’s easy to see that all the angst wasn’t really about hair. It was about change. Says Stern, “Haverford was adjusting to the times.”
“History Lesson” is a regular series in Haverford magazine.