It isn’t every day that dozens of police cars, fire trucks and military tanks line up on SUNY New Paltz’s Alumni Field.
But the day of Oct. 10 was different. This particular Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Men’s soccer team NCAA Atlantic Coast Regional championship win. It was also a day where the life of Heinz Ahlmeyer, who had played on the 1965 Men’s soccer team, was commemorated for his ultimate sacrifice during the Vietnam War.
Ahlmeyer graduated in the spring of 1966. Less than a year later, he joined the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant. On the first day of his tour of duty — May 10, 1967 — his long-range patrol was put behind enemy lines, and Ahlmeyer was killed in action by the North Vietnamese Army.
According to Private first class (Pfc.) Steve Lopez, only three men of Heinz’s team could be extracted by helicopter. After 12 hours and four attempted rescues, the helicopter was forced to leave behind Ahlmeyer and three other fallen comrades. Lopez was one of the three survivors of the mission.
Fifteen members of the 1965 Men’s soccer team were in attendance and were honored in the middle of Alumni Field during halftime. There was also a Purple Heart ceremony recognizing two New Paltz students who had been wounded in action.
“It’s a challenge to be a combat soldier or airman or marine and then maybe a month after you’re on a battlefield, you’re on a college campus,” Coordinator of Veteran Services Jason Gilliland said. “This event helps integrate the veteran into the New Paltz community and campus and brings about awareness.”
Ahlmeyer’s classmates also put together an award to honor his name: The Heinz Ahlmeyer Award. This athletic award, which is presented every spring by the Department of Athletics, Wellness & Recreation, recognizes the sole student athlete whose “dedication, perseverance and service beyond self” is an inspiration to both his/her teammates and fellow students.
Former players from the 1965 Men’s soccer team, including right fullback Bill Doon, right fullback Keith Ashby, center fullback Gary Maasch, forward Rich Lotze and forward Gene Ventrigilia had nothing but noble things to say about Ahlmeyer.
Lotze said Ahlmeyer said Ahlmeyer was the definition of a man’s man.
“He had good character, he was a tough cookie, he worked hard and he played hard,” Lotze said. “He was the image that our coach wanted in a player.”
Current Hawks Head Coach Ventrigilia remembered Ahlmeyer as a dear friend. He felt honored by the event’s turnout as well as how hard his boys played against the Potsdam Bears.
“I think this game is very meaningful for the team because they know what it means to me,” Ventriglia said. “To honor [Ahlmeyer], they wanted to win the game. This game was very important and the team is very important to me. These are great kids and they play hard. You can’t ask for anything more.”
At the end of a competitive game, the New Paltz Hawks defeated the Bears 4-3 in State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) play.
During the first 30 minutes of gameplay, fourth-year forward Jason Gonzalez scored two goals to bring the Hawks up to a 2-0 advantage.
In the 55th minute, third-year forward Tyler Lundgren scored a goal from a cross-pass made by third-year midfielder Tucker Stern. This increased the Hawks’ lead to 3-0.
Bears fourth-year midfielder Johnny Zator scored a goal for Potsdam in the 59th minute to bring the score up to 3-1. Fourth-year co-Captain Ben Firlit scored off a rebound to raise the Bears’ score to 3-2.
Though the second half of the game was more of a struggle for the Hawks, they managed to score another goal in the 73rd minute as fourth-year midfielder Jake Falk shot point-blank off of a double assist from second-year midfielder and forward Khalil Scott Ludewig and second-year midfielder and forward Gino Scardino. This increased the Hawks’ advantage to 4-2.
Bears second-year defender Matthew Wagner was able to score one final goal for Potsdam, but the Hawks remained victorious by one goal when the final whistle blew.
Gonzalez led the Hawks’ offense with four shots and two goals, while Falk notched two shots and one goal and Scardino notched two shots and two assists. Second-year goalkeeper John Guzzo made four stops in goal for the Hawks’ defense.
Lundgren said that seeing the former soccer players watching from the sidelines motivated the team to play harder against the Bears.
“This pushed everybody to know that this game could be your last game, this play could be your last play, so we had to push ourselves and give it our all,” he said.
With an overall record of 10-6-1 and conference tally of 3-4-0, the Men’s soccer team goes up against Buffalo State in a SUNYAC conference game on Friday, Oct. 23 in Buffalo at 3 p.m.
All proceeds from the Heinz Ahlmeyer game have been donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on October 22, 2015.