Hall of Fame

Melvin C. Embree
Track & Field

Graduation Year


Induction Year


Hall of Fame

Harvard Athletic Achievements

Mel’s list of awards and accomplishments is long and distinguished. While at Harvard, he won 42 of 44 meets in the high jump; along the way, he received All-Ivy accolades eight times, All-IC4A recognition six times, and All-American status twice. He was a Co-Outstanding Heps Indoor Performer in 1975 and the Outstanding Performer of the Harvard/Yale meet in 1975 and 1976. He set two Heps indoor records and two Heps outdoor records, all from 1975-76; outside of Harvard, he was an alternate of the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, and his single greatest moment was arguably his victory over Olympic champion Dwight Stones in the 1975 Millrose Games. Mel was named one of the Outstanding Young Men in America in 1984.

Hall of Fame

Remembering Harvard Athletics

We had traveled to West Point for an indoor dual meet against Army. Both teams were undefeated, they at 10-0, we at 7-0. The confidence of the Cadets was high, as evidenced by the message on a bulletin board in one of the locker rooms that we passed through. At this distance, I don’t actually recall seeing it directly and can only paraphrase the message as it reached my ears, “Beware the hippies from Harvard; they can be tough if we let them into the meet.” Hippies (it was early 1976)?! LET us into the meet?

After the first five events, the score was something like Harvard 42, Army 3. The Army coaches essentially stopped the meet and held a team meeting in the middle of the home straight. While we stayed warm, the Cadets received quite a dressing-down. This I do specifically recall. In no uncertain terms, the Cadets were collectively informed that they did not deserve to wear the uniform of the U.S. Army. I remember thinking the appeal mawkish and melodramatic, but the Cadets responded. With two events remaining, the mile relay and two-mile relay, we had to win one of the races to win the meet. Our best chance was in the mile relay; the Cadets’ two-mile relay time coming into the meet was far superior to our own.

The mile relay was pretty close, but the first man across the finish line had an “H” on his chest. We had only begun to celebrate when we received the word that our team had been disqualified (wrongfully, I still believe), for cutting off an Army runner! I was distraught. As one of the team’s captains, it was one of my personal goals that the team go through the indoor and outdoor seasons of my senior year undefeated.

I was railing about unfair officiating and home cooking, when Wayne Curtis, another senior who was running third leg on the two-mile relay, came up to me and told me to relax – the team was ready to win the final event.

Everyone who was not running the relay ringed the inside of the track and chanted the nickname of the leadoff runner in unison: “Beast, Beast, Beast.” At the gun, the Harvard man took off as though the world record were within reach. The Cadet runner followed closely, clearly confident of his ability to pass prior to the end of his leg. But the pass never came. The scenario was repeated on the second leg and then the third. The Crimson strategy was clear. The Cadets might win, but only if they had superior heart.

The Harvard anchor again took the race out too quickly, hotly pursued. Finally, with approximately 200 meters to go, Harvard’s anchorman surged and opened up a gap on the Army runner, a gap that not only held, but widened to the tape! The entire team jogged an exuberant victory lap.

As it turned out, we did indeed go undefeated in dual meets (again defeating Army in our final outdoor competition), and despite all of the individual honors of that year, the thing I cherish most about that time is that in the most individualistic of sports, we were truly a team. As students and athletes, we shared a process of growing and learning that was sometimes painful, but at the end we found that by trying to do well as individuals, we could triumph as a group. And that seems a pretty fair metaphor for a life that, in a sense, began with a wide-eyed entry into the Yard.

I am thrilled, honored, and humbled by my inclusion in the Harvard Varsity Club Hall of Fame.