Cadet Charles Richards, now in his second year at the U.S. Military Academy, is the tallest athlete ever to represent any of the nation's service schools. He has been measured, according to regulations, "without shoes or stockings...to the nearest quarter of an inch." In his case, this totals 6 feet 8¼ inches.
This may not be the most significant event in the Army's history, but it is mighty important to two men at the other Academies—Navy basketball Coach Ben Carnevale and Air Force Coach Bob Spear. To them the arrival of Charles Richards means that Army is the first to capitalize on regulations that now allow the Academies to enroll young men who are over 6 feet 6 inches tall.
Until 1956, in fact, Army and Navy accepted no one over 6 feet 4. Anyone taller, it was thought, lacked the coordination necessary to pass the demanding physical education requirements. In addition, there were too many military assignments in which a tall man simply did not fit. Then a study of naval vessels and equipment convinced Navy that it could raise its maximum to 6 feet 6, and a study of Navy's move convinced Army it better do the same. Right away. The Air Force held the line at 6 feet 4 until 1959, since a taller man could not squeeze into the cockpit of a jet. Those cockpits are as snug as ever, but in 1960 the Air Force relaxed the rule requiring all graduates to become pilots. The height limit went to 6 feet 6 and, just a few weeks ago, to 6 feet 8. Actually, Army and Navy still have a 6-foot-6 limit, but they grant waivers to taller applicants who can pass the strict educational and physical requirements. No one is barred just because he can dunk a basketball on tiptoe.
At West Point, Coach George Hunter expects the best season in Army history. He hopes to make it really successful by beating Navy, the standard by which any Army sports season is judged (Navy has whipped the Cadets 12 times in their last 15 games). Hunter has six potentially good forwards, four of them 6 feet 5 or better, and two fine guards. One is Stu Sherard, a prolific scorer and the nation's best free-throw shooter last year, the other a tricky dribbler and driver named Al DeJardin. And Richards, of course. "We finally have a center who can handle the ball and score," says Hunter. "In the past we had to make the offense fit the players. Now we're getting players who fit the offense." Richards will make what Hunter calls "sophomore mistakes," but will not make many of them twice. An alert, mature 210-pounder, he showed no signs of tension last week before his debut against a strong Princeton team. He has narrow shoulders and long, wiry arms and should stand up well under the pounding he will take from other big men. He also has more experience than most sophomores.
"Basketball has always been my ambition," he says. "I remember in sixth grade I made the junior high team and then they wouldn't let me play because I wasn't in seventh grade. I went home and cried." He starred for three years at high school in Poland, N.Y. and two more at Manlius military prep school. Hunter watched Richards during those last two seasons. "The thing that impressed me most," Hunter recalls, "was his stamina, for a big man. In his senior year Manlius beat our plebes in a close game. Richards played 40 solid minutes, and he finished just as strong as when he started." At West Point, Richards has played soccer and skips rope every day to sharpen his reflexes and improve his speed of hand and foot. He is also an ingenious and original thinker, a definite asset on a basketball court. "The pace is very heavy at West Point," he says, "and there's hardly ever time for a date." Since there are no coeds at Army, Richards has solved the problem by careful reading of newspapers and magazines. "You see a nice-looking girl in the paper and you drop her a line, congratulating her on whatever it was that got her in the paper, and maybe asking right then for a date. Most girls are at least curious to see The Point. I dated one of the Toni twins that way."
On his date at Princeton last Saturday night, Richards was a success, though Army lost. He scored the first basket of the game and forced it into overtime with another. He had 16 points, all told. Princeton, one of the East's best teams, had trouble winning, 72-68, and won only because of the spectacular long shots of Guard Pete Campbell, who scored 28 points. The game's only sophomore starter, Richards was most impressive for his poise as the two teams seesawed within four points of each other throughout the last half. Despite shouts of "Hey, you're too tall for the Army," "Draft dodger," and other pungent observations from the Tiger stands, he coolly sank four perfect free throws along with his hook shots. Army is nobody's patsy anymore.