During the Depression, when Walt Zable was a pass-catching end on the football team of the College of William and Mary, an athletic scholarship paid for his education.

On Saturday, Zable will return to the gridiron of his alma mater with a gift of $10 million. Half will go to fund future athletic scholarships.In effect, Walt Zable will endow a football team.

Endowments from wealthy alumni aren't uncommon, but they usually go for ``chairs' or professorships. A $5 million sports endowment has certainly enlivened homecoming at William and Mary, a small, historic, liberal arts institution in Williamsburg, Va.

Football fanaticism is an autumn rite at many American colleges, of course. But the William and Mary Tribe hardly inspires the alumni fervor of the Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, Texas Longhorns or Ohio State Buckeyes.

William and Mary's Cary Field - which will be renamed the Walter J. Zable Stadium on Saturday - seats only 15,000 spectators. That's the size of a high school field in Odessa, Texas, or Valdosta, Ga., or other such places where they take their football more seriously.

Zable admitted that he's only been back for a few games since he graduated in 1937. However, he said he's looking forward to watching the Tribe's encounter on Saturday with the Purple Paladins of Furman University.

``I have to thank sports immensely for my success,' said Zable, president of Cubic Corporation, an electronics firm headquartered in San Diego. ``Without sports I would not have an education. And without an education, God knows what would have happened to my career.'

But why would he give $10 million to William and Mary - $5 million to a football team he admits to following ``not too much in detail.'

``Because I went to school there,' he explained.

Sports are important at William and Mary, but not as important as academics, he said. The college plays Division I-AA football, a step below the major universities. Athletic scholarships are fewer and ``players have to make good grades,' said Zable.

The Zables' $5 million endowment will provide for William and Mary football players into perpetuity. Betty C. Zable, Walt's wife, graduated from William and Mary in 1940 and is a co-donor.

Zable, incidentally, was an honorable mention All-American end.

He founded the Cubic Corporation in 1951, and the organization has grown to have total sales of $332 million and a workforce of 4,500 people. Among other things, the firm designed and manufactured the computerized faircard systems that are used in the subways of Washington, D.C., and London.

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