Thursday, September 9, 2010

Revisiting Henry Callahan

Today I got an email from Jay Callahan, the surviving brother of Henry Callahan, informing me that Henry's killer, Robert Wieghard, is up for parole again on November 10th. For those interested in dismissing his parole request for another five years (maximum), please send letters to:

Colorado Parole Board

Attention: Chairman

1600 West 24th Street

Pueblo, CO 81003

Reference: WIEGHARD, ROBERT A. DOC# 45728

In addition to this request, I wanted to revisit Henry Callahan for the sole reason I wrote my initial story in the first place, to remember him. All of us know what a Callahan is, what the Callahan award is, and what the Callahan rules are, but fewer of us know the story of where this name comes from. For those unfamiliar, please read the following story. Then if you're motivated enough to send the Colorado Parole Board a letter, Jay would greatly appreciate it.

What do most folks think when they see something like this? Callahan right? Ok great, but where does that name come from? Who was "Callahan" and why is a catch block D in the endzone named after him? Why are the rules named after him? Why is the college ultimate MVP award named after him? Two years ago, I didn't know and I think most folks out there still don't.

First and foremost his name was Henry Pfau Callahan. He was born on December 11th, 1957, in Waukegan, Illinois. His mother and father were Joan and Harold Callahan. Henry was the youngest of 4 boys (Joe, Pete, Jay, and Henry) and he also had 1 older sister (Melissa) and 3 younger ones (Charlotte, Shelagh, and Amy). He attended Lake Forest Academy, in Lake Forest, Illinois for high school and graduated in 1975. Henry was a standout athlete in high school and loved basketball, long distance running, and golf. In addition to being very athletic, Henry was also extremely independent. His mother, Joan, lovingly referred to Henry as always being a "free spirit". Rather than attend the University of Illinois, as most of his family had, he headed westward and attended the University of Oregon, in Eugene. As a student at U of O, Henry studied Finance and was drawn to sports of all kinds. His competitive nature can easily be seen with his relationship to his older brother James. On a visit to Eugene, James lovingly goaded his brother that Henry had never beaten him in golf. In response, the never-quit Henry dragged his older brother to the course, day in and day out until Henry was finally victorious.

It is not exactly known how Henry was turned on to ultimate. Maybe he was shown disc golf and then ultimate and the idea of running AND playing frisbee appealed to him. With skills in basketball, golf and long distance running, it is no wonder he liked disc. It takes skill, patience, talent, endurance and athleticism, things Henry had stockpiled in his closet. In any event, at this point in the late 70's there was only 1 other college ultimate team in the Northwest, Washington State University. This was insufficient for Henry and he took it upon himself to start the first Ultimate Club at the University of Oregon. He pitched the idea to the club sports office at UO and on October 5th, 1978, the first Oregon Ultimate club was born and the team was given $300. The next task was to come up with a team name and Henry and his disc friends quickly settled on the "Low Flying Ducks". A name which Oregon loosely held onto until 2001 when they went from the Ducks to a name better suited for an elite but sophisticated group, the "Eugene Gentlemen's Organization" or EGO. In addition to this, Henry also made some pretty powerful friends and convinced a young entrepreneur in Phil Knight to donate $10,000 to this new team as a sponsor. EGO still wears this sponsor's logo today, you might recognize it as a NIKE swoosh.

It was after this formation of Oregon Ultimate that Henry really began to impact ultimate. He knew the potential for this game and he wanted to see it come to fruition. He had a vision of an intensely athletic, albeit spirited game that should be played in parks and college campuses throughout the country. He began to lobby the UPA to change the rules of the game to favor more athletic and fair play. At this point in time, things like a stall count were non-existent, or loosely followed at best and Henry wanted to accelerate the game and make it more challenging yet more fun. Another thing that was fantastic about Henry was his commitment to "spirit of the game", perhaps when SOTG wasn't even that well known. He was notorious for playing extremely intensely, yet he never contested fouls. His belief in the game was that "karma will play out here". Nearly 30 years later, I am sure that most ultimate players will agree that when it comes to poor calls, most of the time, the universe tends to unfold as it should.

In addition to lobbying the UPA, Henry also worked tirelessly to improve not only his own game (with daily 7 mile runs and more sprints than his team mates would have liked) but he also wanted to expand the sport around him. He started and taught ultimate PE courses at UO and these still exist today. He is also credited with starting the Darkstar Alliance, which has been an ultimate organization that has lasted for many years and is responsible for putting on tournaments in Eugene as well as competing in both open and coed club tournaments. One of my favorite things that I have read about Henry is that he thought that "the nature of the game brings out the cooperation in people". Even 30 years ago, folks competed against one another but they still wanted to "have a good time and meet new friends". Henry always encouraged his teammates as well as his opponents to go out for beers after games and really be friends as well as competitors. This camaraderie still exists today and most of the friends I have in the ultimate community have come from playing intense physical contests between opponents and then celebrating our mutual love for the game afterwards. I am not sure where this trend was begat but I am glad Henry perpetuated it.

After graduating from Oregon in 1980, Henry returned to his roots in Illinois but only as a pit stop. Henry was a free spirit and wanted a change of scenery. After a brief stint in Waukegan, Illinois, he headed back west towards California. In January of 1982, he stopped to visit his older brother James, in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to more golf matches between these two, Henry fell in love with Boulder. The urban yet small town feel and beautiful scenery probably rivaled Eugene and Henry found his calling. He decided to stay in Colorado and he took a job at Bennigan's Tavern. This was not his most lucrative option, seeing that he was offered a job at a more "upscale" restaurant (The Greenbriar). However, Henry was very light hearted and figured Bennigan's would "be more fun". Given his charismatic yet friendly nature, Henry quickly moved up the ranks and became Headwaiter. Not long afterwards, he had his sights set on entering Bennigan's manager training program.

However, fate would have other plans. On June 23rd, 1982, a heroin addict and career criminal, Robert Wieghard, robbed Bennigan's. Robert had been convicted for multiple crimes that included armed robbery, possession of narcotics, larceny, fraud, and breaking and entering. Henry, being the rock and headwaiter of Bennigan's, dealt with the criminal as he demanded money from the cash register. Robert got his money and without reason or cause decided to take the life of a man infinitely more evolved and honorable than himself. Henry was murdered while seated with his hands in the air. At arms length, Robert ended Henry's life with a solitary gunshot to the head. After committing this horrible atrocity, Robert left the restaurant only to be later arrested, tried and convicted. His criminal mind would not end there as he attempted to bribe a Jefferson County Jail inmate to travel to Michigan and kill the eyewitness waitress in the case for $3,500. Luckily, this never happened and Robert was sentenced to life in prison and was up for parole in 20 years.

One of the many sad things about this story was that at the time, sentences for crimes like this were relatively mild. If this crime had been comitted 3 years later the sentence would have been doubled. The family wanted the death penalty but the prosecutor (Alex Hunter) was "wimpy" and wouldn't push for it. He would later go on to air ball the JonBenét Ramsey murder case 15 years later. Robert came up for parole in 2005 at which time I first learned of this story when I read this post by Charles Kerr on RSD. In retrospect, I find it sad that there were only 9 responses. Hopefully Charles got the support he was looking for. In any event, Robert was denied parole which he is up for again in 2010. Recently he has applied for "community corrections halfway house placement" which would allow him to re-enter society on a limited basis. The Callahan family staunchly opposed this and he was denied but he can re-apply every 6 months.

In the wake of Sean Taylor's murder, I realized that I did not know anything about Henry Callahan. I did not even know his first name. I knew that he was murdered, but aside from that I was ignorant. After asking a few friends if they knew anything about Henry, they sheepishly replied "not a thing". His legacy should and will live on. In 1983 at the World Flying Disc Championships in Santa Cruz, California six Oregon players stepped out on to the line. Henry would join them, however, and his remains were laid down in an urn on the field as the 7th player. These 6 Oregon players gave it there all and when they scored that first point they lovingly cheered "That one's for Henry".

The UPA has not forgotten Henry and in 1996 they named the college MVP award after him. Keith Monahan (Oregon State) and Val Kelly (UPenn) won the award that year and I am sure they both held their awards high in remembrance of Henry and all he has given to the sport. I am sure he would have been proud in 2003 when two Oregon players (Ben Wiggins and Chelsea Dengler) won the award. I like to think the sport has become what Henry would have wanted. Today there are over 500 college ultimate teams that travel all over the country to compete in a game that "Henry lived for". They embody not only the hard-core dedication to athleticism that Henry held near and dear to his heart, but also the spirit of the game, the friendship, the respect between players. I may not be the athlete that Henry or many other ultimate players are but I like to think I hold the mutual respect and love for my fellow ultimate players. The subculture that ultimate has developed over the last 40 years is amazing and spectacular in its own right. However, without people like Henry Callahan, the sport would not have grown to the strength and respect it has today. We are all in Henry's debt and hopefully his story and legacy will live on as our sport develops worldwide.

On a lighter note, Henry's niece Katie Callahan (who he never got to meet) plays soccer for the University of Tampa. Recently, they made the final four in the Div II NCAA college soccer tournament and beat Grand Valley St 2-1 in over time. This allowed Tampa to advance to the finals for the first time in the school's history. Katie and the rest of the Tampa Spartans played Franklin Pierce on Saturday December 1st and managed to win the NCAA Div II finals in a shootout earning the school's first DiV II women's soccer national championship. For more information click here

I would like to thank James (Jay) Callahan (Henry's brother) for his help on this article. He has been absolutely fantastic in giving me his own personal thoughts on such a difficult subject as well as share documents relevant to this story. Jay also helped me find some of Henry's old team mates (Steve Mace and Pete Crosby) who have been invaluable sources, both factually and emotionally.

Check out this article from 2003 for more information about Henry.

Lastly, today would have been Henry's 50th birthday. Please remember his story. Tell it to your rookies. Spread the word about Henry because as the years progress his memory can potentially fade. This is not the first article regarding his life and I hope it is not the last. I just wanted to remind everyone out there who a great man in ultimate was.

match diesel

PS sorry Chicken, nothing but love. At least you are playing in the finals at club nationals and Honda is just married and fat.


Sludge said...

Great write-up!

Unknown said...

Thank you for writing this article. I will definitely send a letter to Colorado.

crayfish said...

Henry was a good friend of mine and I still miss him dearly after all these years! Fortunately his murderer will now stay behind bars for another long stint! Great article and I am so happy to hear how his legacy lives on! I love ya bud! Cray