At New Rochelle High School, where he was on the football, basketball and track teams, Mr. Arnelle stood out as “the guy, a quiet force of nature who was widely admired,” George Hirsch, a former classmate who is the chairman of New York Road Runners, the organization that runs the New York City Marathon, said in a phone interview.
Yet, Mr. Arnelle told The New Yorker, he was not as self-possessed as he seemed. As a sophomore, he recalled, he had come unprepared to a Spanish class and stumbled when asked questions by his teacher. After he left the classroom, feeling humiliated, his teacher, who needed crutches to walk, grabbed him and pushed him against the wall.
By his account, she told him that he had humiliated himself by not preparing adequately and said: “You have the ability to master any subject in the same way you have mastered that silly game you play — basketball or football or whatever they call it. I will help you.”
He was recruited by the Penn State football coach Rip Engle and played wide receiver for the Nittany Lions. He had greater impact on the basketball court, leading Penn State to the N.C.A.A. Final Four in 1954 (the team lost in the semifinals to La Salle University), and he was named most valuable player of the tournament’s east regional.
Over four seasons, Mr. Arnelle averaged 21 points and 12.1 rebounds a game.
In 1954, he was elected student body president with 74.5 percent of the votes cast. He graduated the next year with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
He continued his athletic career with a focus on basketball. Rather than play football for the Los Angeles Rams, who chose him in the 10th round of the N.F.L. draft in 1955, he played for the Harlem Globetrotters on an overseas tour, then joined the Fort Wayne (now Detroit) Pistons, who had taken him in the second round of the N.B.A. draft. He averaged 4.7 points in 31 games in his only season in the league.
After serving in the Air Force, Mr. Arnelle graduated from the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., in 1962. A job as a lawyer with the Labor Department in Washington led to a meeting with R. Sargent Shriver, the director of the Peace Corps, who assigned him to serve in Turkey, then to India.