Fiat a Championship Ring for Warren Sutton ’61, ’17 HD

We don’t know if our men’s basketball team of 1959-60 would have advanced to the NCAA play-offs, but there is a strong likelihood it would have had the team not lost Warren Sutton ’61, one of its finest basketball players of that era, mid-season.

Warren left Alfred in the fall of 1959 without a degree or a chance to garner a championship ring. Now he has both, thanks to the persistence of a classmate, professor Gary Ostrower ’61, who recently celebrated his 50th year of teaching history at our University; the willingness of our Board and administration to make amends; and our men’s basketball team from this past season, who wanted to share their championship honor with Warren.

Coach Russ Phillips and his team, who won Alfred’s first-ever Empire 8 championship and made it to the second round of the Division III NCAA tournament this year, chose to give Warren one of their rings.

President Zupan, Russ Phillips, Paul Vecchio, Warren Sutton & Gary Ostrower
President Mark Zupan, Men’s Basketball Coach Russ Phillips, Athletic Director Paul Vecchio, Warren Sutton and Gary Ostrower

“We were excited to recognize Warren with the ring,” said Russ, who met Sutton a few years ago, and was impressed by his “class and humility. He is exactly whom we want representing our program. We stayed in touch since then and knew he was following us closely this season so we agreed to include him in our success.”

Warren, who is retired from his job as a computer analyst for the city of Kitchener in Ontario, Canada (and couldn’t be more thrilled by the Toronto Raptors capturing this year’s NBA crown!), has known since March there was a ring with his name on it. What Warren did not expect, however, was that the ring would be presented to him at this year’s Alfred University Reunion, before many of his former classmates.

“I feel that the team in my last year would have qualified” (for the NCAA play-offs), Sutton said. “We were very good. But we’ll never know.”

That’s because Warren and his coach, Pete Smith, both left the University that year. An African-American, Warren was dating the Caucasian daughter of the University treasurer. Her father and other administration officials pressured Coach Smith to persuade Warren to end the relationship. Warren, fearing the loss of his scholarship, withdrew.

Just before I became president of Alfred University in 2016, Gary Ostrower told me of the injustice done to Warren. With the approval of the Board of Trustees, we awarded Warren a Doctor of Humane Letters degree, honoris causa, in May 2017. It was one of the most moving Commencement moments in our University’s history as an audience of more than 2,000 people rose to their feet to honor Warren.

Since reconnecting with Alfred University, Warren has become an avid fan of Saxon basketball, streaming live games. “This year was a great team effort,” said Sutton, adding, “Unfortunately, they met a hot team in the second round that had been in the finals the previous year. We’ve lost some key players, but our younger players gained a lot of experience this year. They’ll go deep again next year.”

Please join in me in congratulating Warren Sutton on his championship ring. Please also join me in commending and thanking Coach Russ Phillips and the members of our men’s basketball team for making such a memorable and classy gesture by sharing the ring with Warren that they had so aptly earned through their superior play this past season.