reporter contents :: albright college
t's called “the cage.” A metal-mesh gate and a wooden counter worn smooth from sliding red and white uniforms across it.
The room behind the window is surprisingly small. There are a couple of old wooden tables. On one, a small plastic unit with drawers filled with silver eye hooks and screws. On the counter is a cardboard box heaped with an assortment of balls, and a battered red and white golf bag leans in the corner. Sepia photographs of handsome young baseball players from 1893 and 1920 hang on the wall.
Beneath the hum of activity is the interminable hum of the washer and dryer that handle 85-pound loads of laundry, all day every day.
Tucked away in a corner is the computer, a new addition not entirely welcomed by equipment manager Maurice Stahl, who has been in the cage keeping track of athletics equipment on paper longer than computers have been at Albright.
Maurice is tall, handsome and courtly, with a mane of white hair and a chiseled profile. Now 80, he was hardly a youngster when he came to Albright in 1977, and has been equipment manager since 1983 when the LifeSports Center was built.
“ What do I do? Every bloomin’ thing.”
Every bloomin’ thing just about covers it, often seven days a week and always for as long as it takes. Wash, dry, fold and sort uniforms. It’s a lot of laundry.
“ When I came we had 45 men for football, now it’s as high as 130.”
In days gone by, players would stack up three deep at the cage to get jerseys, pants, socks. “Players would holler out what size they want and I’d throw it to ‘em.” Now the numbered jerseys, pants, socks are put in the appropriate player’s lockers.
Maurice also keeps track of equipment, brings out the bleachers, sets up the audio, mops the floors. “I used to wet mop the floors,” Maurice says, although in recent years the job has been done by a machine he refers to as the “Zambooey.”
Sewing, mostly tears to football jerseys, used to be a tag-team affair, going from the players to Maurice to one of the facilities crew who lived across the street from the seamstress. Finally, because uniforms didn’t always make it back on time, Maurice began to do it himself by hand. “I just kept doing it and it held up just as good.”
Sally Stetler calls him “MacGyver,” after the endlessly inventive TV hero. “He can fix anything with a paper clip,” says Stetler, director of student activities and former athletics director.
The portrait of Maurice is not quite complete without the companion picture of his wife, Shirley. Short, sturdy and in perpetual motion, she is the perfect foil to her husband. While a custodian at Bollman Center, Shirley helped Maurice daily. Even after being assigned to Albright Court, she has gone back every day to help Maurice after her shift.
As the College grew, the job became more intense. “To work 12, 14, 16 hours was nothing. Shirley and I worked 22 hours and then worked the next day. I used to work an awful lot of Sundays.”
He shrugs off any sympathy. “That’s what it takes. When Dr. Renken was here, nobody went home until everything was clean. Hallways, everything had to be clean even if it took until 2:30 in the morning.”
But around the cage is an aura that the facts about laundry and basketballs cannot possibly express. If places soak up the emotions of the people who inhabit them, then the emotional barometer in the cage is set on high.
For both Stahl’s, it has always been “about the kids.” For the kids, it’s about Maurice and Shirley.
“ I love it around here with the kids. That’s the main thing. They keep you young. When they come back, they look for us. They stop in, send letters. It’s funny how you get attached.”
Stetler says he has been “a friend, supporter, surrogate parent for the kids and a lot of the coaches. When the students come back it’s always, ‘Is Maurice here?’”
“ Maurice kind of substituted for my Dad when I was at college,” says basketball Hall of Famer Allison Koch Wallace ’89, who echoes the sentiments of hundreds of “the kids.”
“I was a gym rat,” says Wallace. “He gave me hugs, let me hang out in the cage. He let me check out the boys from the cage,” she says with a laugh. “He is a great listener, always smiling. He was like my Dad when my Dad couldn’t be there.”
For Annmarie Mount Stigale ’89, “the cage was my home away from home. There was always something to eat in the fridge. Every day I was over there.”
Stigale spent countless hours perched on the counter peeling the wrappers off soap. “He needed wrappers taken off the soaps for the teams who took showers. Otherwise the wrappers would end up on the floor. It was one of the things I did to help him. Maurice and Shirley basically adopted us. We’d do anything to be with them. Meal times, breaks, we were there.”
Gary Kasmer ’93, now basketball coach at Philadelphia University, says he became good friends with both the Stahl’s when he first met them as a freshman basketball player. “They took a lot of people under their wing. The thing I always admire, is that it was always all about the kids. They were always there for anybody who needed something, a little pat on the back. Honestly, they were the most important to me of anybody at Albright.”
They are, he says fondly, “unsung heroes.”
Over the past summer, Maurice cut back to half time and began to talk seriously about retirement. His official retirement date was September 30, although he has made it clear that he wouldn’t mind a little something to keep him busy and to keep him where he likes to be, around “the kids.”
Editor's Note: It didn't take Maurice long to find something to keep him busy. As we went to press, he joined the facilities crew at Albright and started working the night shift along with his wife, Shirley.
reporter contents :: albright college