J. Hal Wittner

A memoir to John Harold Wittner

The J. Hal Wittner Award is the top award given by the Capital District Chapter. The following summary is a highlight so we all remember who J. Hal Wittner was and why he is so honored as the namesake of our top award. The following was taken from multiple sources including the Robert Mead Blog, and searches through multiple Times Records of Troy newspaper archives and archives to the New York Times.

John Harold "Hal" Wittner attended Union College, graduating in 1920. He was a star of the gridiron and Captain of the Union Garnet baseball team both his junior and senior years. Soon after graduation, he became the head coach of baseball at Union from 1922-31. In 1929, he was appointed as an assistant football coach in charge of lineman (reference: NYT September 19, 1929). In 1946, he added assistant basketball coach to his list of responsibilities.

He had become Union's Director of Athletics in 1931 and remained in that position until 1954. When World War II broke out, the Navy established an officers' training program called V-12. J. Hal Wittner along with many other Union athletes volunteered to assist with the physical training aspects of the program.

The Nov. 1945 Troy Record indicate Hal was the referee for the traditional Election Day game between CBA and Albany High. This was a three man officiated game with Thomas Manning serving as umpire and Ed Donald as heads linesman. There are many box scores showing Hal's name and he often appeared to be the head official for big games.

For years Hal was both a basketball and football official, eventually serving as the assignor for both sports. He was called the "Dean of Basketball Officials" in a 1952 article from the Troy Record announcing his retirement from basketball officiating although it indicated he would stay on as the Section 2 rules interpreter, selection committee to determine which officials worked playoffs, and serve as an observer to pass along his knowledge to others.

A May 13, 1960 article in the Troy Times Record had an article titled "Testimonial Dinner to Honor Hal Wittner." The article says that Hal was "generally regarded as the district's premier basketball and football official." This article stated that Hal officiated Capital District gridiron games for more than 30 years, retiring in 1959.

Some noted words from Hal come from an article in the 1953 Kingston Daily Freeman where Hall tells a gathering of officials and coaches words that stand true today. These words were "If you're in this business just for the money, then you better get out now" and "If you don't want to hustle, then you should get out." The deliver given by Hal was described as "like a top sergeant, but in restrained and impeccable English, he gave the boys the facts of life."

In 1970, he received Union College's Alumni Council Gold Medal Award.

Hal passed away in May 1972, and that fall the earliest recorded recipient of the J. Hal Wittner Award was presented to another CDFOA legend, Dominic J. Denio. 

Originally written by Troy Weldy