A snapper in football terminology refers to the player who is assigned the duty of being the long snapper of the ball on punts and PATs, but at Williams College from 1954-68 there was a truly unique "Snapper."
Joe "Snapper" Altott, a 1953 graduate of Springfield College came to Williams as a trainer straight from Springfield College in 1954, after completing his Master's.
A staff sergeant in the Air Force, Altott, flew 35 combat missions as a B-29 combat gunner over Japan in World War II, shooting down 4 enemy fighters, earning the Air Medal along with 4 Bronze Stars and Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Altott was summoned to duty for the Korean War from the reserves and assigned to Fort Campbell in Kentucky (1950-51). "At the last minute I was re-assigned to a physical therapy unit at the base hospital," recalled Altott who turned 87 this September.
|Joe "Snapper" Altott|
"We had a large waiting room outside the physical therapy unit and sometimes the guys waiting to be treated would get a little rowdy so I was sent out to quiet them," remembered Altott. "A guy from Boston who worked in Supply saw me yelling at the guys three days in a row and he said as he passed, 'Boy, you're a real snapper!' and it stuck."
Altott turned down the chance to become the head trainer for the Boston Patriots [AFL] in 1960, only to join the pro ranks later on.
At Williams Altott was a trainer and assistant professor of physical education and was granted tenure, that is, until a letter arrived in the late 1960s. "The letter said tenure for the folks in physical education was ending, so when [head football coach] Frank Navarro took the Columbia job I went with him."
"Snapperisms" adorned the walls of Altott's treatment areas at Williams. "Frank Navarro (assistant and later head football coach for the Ephs) and I spent about 90% of our time trying to toughen up the Williams kids," Altott noted. "Williams kids were great kids from great families, but they needed to be tougher, so I put up all these signs, which I guess the kids called "snapperisms."
Many do not understand the close relationship that exists between a trainer and an athlete. Conversations trainers hear while treating athletes shed light on the inner workings of every team and team member. A good trainer can be an invaluable asset to a team healing the injured quickly, being a good listener, and being supportive.
"Joe was a great friend to all of the athletes – whether they played or not," Joel Reingold '64 a former Eph hockey goalie remembers. "He was always willing to give his opinion about anything and everything. One thing I will forever remember are the posters taped to the walls of the trainer's room with "snapperisms" written in big letters. To this day, I remember two of them: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going"; the second one is: "Today's clippings are used to wrap tomorrow's fish."
Altott's favorite snapperism was – "You can't make the club in the tub [whirlpool]."
Altott enjoyed working with all of the Eph teams, but had a special feeling for ice hockey, and his best friend on campus was head ice hockey coach Bill McCormick. It was Altott's love of hockey that made him leave the Ivy League and Columbia to become the head trainer of the Hartford Whalers in 1972.
In the early 1960s Altott and his friend Gene Long the trainer at Hamilton College worked on perfecting the ice hockey goalie mask that is so common today. Altott made a plaster of Paris mold of the goalie's face and then covered it with a Plexiglas substance to make it form fitting and durable.
"I went all over the world in my 10 years with the Whalers and I can't tell you the number of times I ran into people from Williams and Williamstown," noted Altott. "At mass one day on Cape Cod I turned around to shake hands with the fellow behind me and it was Fay Vincent '60."
A decade with the Whalers was followed by a six-year stint as the owner of Sandy's Sports Shop in Harwichport, Mass., on Cape Cod. Altott retired and moved to Fremont, New Hampshire in 1989 with his wife of 61 years, Irene. "I've had a great life," stated Altott recently in a phone conversation. "I've been blessed."
Altott is the longest continuous member of the both the Eastern Trainers Association and the National Association of Athletic Trainers (NATA] – 61 years.
One of the original developers of the Certification Exam, which is still used by the NATA, Altott also created the Oral Practical Exam working in tandem with Ed Pillings of West Point.
Over the years Altott received many honors and one of the most rewarding came from a colleague. "Ralph Townsend [Eph ski coach] was selected as an assistant ski coach for the US team at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, France and Ralph hired me as the team's trainer," stated Altott. "It was some experience I'll tell you. To represent this country and be with the greatest athletes in the world, I'll never forget that."
At the 1982 World Hockey Championships, Altott served as the U.S. team's trainer. The NATA Hall of Fame welcomed Altott in 1987 and in 2005 he received the Springfield College Distinguished Trainer Award
Altott's Williams days were highlighted by being featured in the 1966 Norman Rockwell painting – "The Recruit," later re-named "The Football Hero." Altott appears with Frank Navarro and Eph football player Denny Kelly in the painting commissioned by Look magazine (Sept. 20, 1966) -- [http://www.rockwelllicensing.com/sporting_life.html]. "My nose in the painting was "broken" to make me look like an old broken down pug boxer, because that was Rockwell's impression of a trainer in those days," Altott recalled.
Even today there's still only been one real "Snapper" at Williams.