About 15 years ago, Dick Dewing '53 was helping the UNH 'Cat Club get ready for a golf tournament. A discussion ensued about how to kick things off — literally — with a bang. When someone mentioned a shotgun, Dewing said, “How about a cannon?”
It was a natural response: Dewing is an artillery officer with the First New Market Militia, a Revolutionary War reenactment group from New Hampshire. And what’s a colonial reenactment without a cannon?
For Dewing — and likely many UNH football fans — that question has become: What’s a Wildcats touchdown without the cannon’s roar? As a member of the militia, which has gone into local schools to teach students about 18th century life, marched in parades and greeted tall ships coming into New Hampshire’s port, Dewing knew where he could find one.
“I started asking around — ‘do you know where I can buy a cannon’?” the UNH football Hall of Famer says. Dewing was on the 1950 team that was untied and undefeated. “I figured someone in the militia would know.”
He was right; one of the captains owned two and offered one for sale.
At the time, Dewing had been working the chains at Cowell Stadium for several years. Measuring first downs and the location of the football after each play was a coveted role, but he gave it up in 2003 to put together a cannon crew. Since then that team — made up of Dewing and three fellow militia members, all dressed in full regalia — has been on the sidelines for every home game, regardless of the weather.
“Some days it’s pretty wicked. It might be raining or there’s snow on the ground,” says Dewing, who is 89. “I don’t heat up like I used to. I’m starting to look for continuation when I’m gone.”
For now, though, he’s got the cannon in his garage and, with help, gets it into a truck and down to the field two hours before kickoff, a maneuver that on a few occasions has not gone smoothly. “Once we got behind the band as they were walking down and we had to hustle like the dickens to get there on time,” Dewing says.
The black powder cannon fires a blank shot; there’s no ammo, no cannonball, it just makes noise. A lot of noise. Dewing pays for the powder out of his own pocket; it runs about $17 a pound and four rounds can be fired with one pound.
The cannon is fired at the beginning of the game after the band plays the “1812 Overture” and then again after each touchdown, but only after Dewing and his team see it clearly on the videoboard.
“Every now and then there’s a mistake. You have to read the crowd,” Dewing says. “There’s a lot of validity in the crowd noise."
Speaking of Wildcat Stadium...
Did you know Wildcat Stadium is a zero-waste facility?
Dewing and his wife, Mary '53, met at UNH and married the week after they graduated. His commission in the Air Force followed, and he went on to train as a pilot. When there wasn’t yet a flying assignment for him, he attended aircraft maintenance school. In 1967, Dewing moved his family to Durham before being sent to Vietnam. His last post was at Pease Air Force Base in nearby Newington. He retired in 1973.
Since retiring, Dewing has served on the MUB advisory board, was secretary of the UNH 100 Club and subsequent Wildcat Athletic Council (although, he says, Mary typed up all of his notes). He still serves on the ROTC alumni chapter advisory board and is a member of the 'Cat Club.
“Athletics is a good addition to the education process, but it’s just that — an addition. It’s all about the education,” Dewing says. “It’s not only about good sportsmanship or whether a student is a good player but whether he’s done his homework.”
The UNH football program had 33 student-athletes named to the 2016-17 Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner's Football Academic Honor Roll — a score worthy of a cannon roar.