Apr 01 2017

A Team Chaplain Who Stands Tall With Everyone

She has been the men’s basketball team chaplain at Loyola University for almost 25 years. Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt now is the latest member of Loyola’s sports hall of fame.

Sister Jean is a campus celebrity. She keeps an office in the student center where her door always is open for students and faculty. She lives in a dorm with 400 under-graduate students. Sister Jean recently enjoyed her own bobblehead day, and she was honored for her contributions to the team and the school.

Sister Jean attends every home game for the men’s team. She dons the school gear and also wears the trademark Loyola colors on her feet—maroon Nike tennis shoes with gold laces. “Sister” is stitched onto the back of her left shoe and “Jean” is stitched on the back of the right shoe.

At the games, students and alumni always stop to say hello and chat. Referees come over and hug her. She cheers at the good moments during each game and winces noticeably at the bad plays.

From San Francisco, Sister Jean played six-on-six girls’ basketball in high school. She became a nun at age 18. She then taught elementary school and volunteered as a coach in Los Angeles public schools. She coached just about every girls team—basketball, volleyball, softball, ping-pong and the yo-yo. She also made sure that her teams played against the boys during practice to “toughen” her girls.

At Loyola, Sister Jean leads the men’s basketball team in a prayer before each home game. Actually, her contribution is a combination of prayer, scouting report and motivational speech. Sister Jean sums it up as simply talking about the game and then playing it. After games, she emails each player to point out the positives and the areas of the game that need more work.

The basketball nun also communicates regularly with the coach. When Coach Porter Moser (Sister Jean’s fifth Loyola coach) came on board during 2011, she provided him with a scouting report of all his players.

The Loyola basketball players—and everyone associated with the university—all look up to her, though she is just five feet tall. She also is 97 years young.

As Sister Jean has shown, you never are age or height challenged to run with the big dogs!

Mar 16 2017

It’s All In The Family – Well, Almost

Colleen, Rieley and Kelsey play high school basketball and share a last name – Walsh. Since they bond so well on and off the court, you would think that they were sisters, or, at least related in some way. Instead, they are just three girls who happen to share a team, passion for life and a surname.

Colleen and Rieley are seniors with similar features. They are brunettes and soft-spoken. They like bacon, egg and cheese bagel sandwiches (one goes for the sesame seed and the other likes plain) with hash browns. Kelsey, meanwhile, is a sophomore with a bubbly personality that accents her blond hair.  She prefers a toasted sesame seed bagel with butter.

Despite their culinary and other differences, the girls have formed a tight-knit relationship outside of basketball. They just happened to click.

Colleen and Rieley were CYO basketball teammates during third grade. They have been classmates since middle school. They added Kelsey to the “family” when she joined the varsity team last season.

When Colleen and Rieley were younger, people often would mistake them for sisters, or cousins. Sometimes, they played along for a bit of fun. Now, with Kelsey added to the mix, all three can play a few head games with people. Their coach loves them but warns others that the girls can be “nuts and psycho,” yet, down deep, she knows they are best friends and, yes, in a way, they also are “sisters.”

They are fun, fun to be around and they really connect with each other, which proves that you don’t have to be “blood” to be good teammates, good friends, or even family.

Feb 02 2016

Rebuilding A College Program — Twice

Four years ago, Denise Bierly had her most trying season as the coach of the Eastern Connecticut State women’s basketball team. The university dismissed five players for team rules violations, including four players who contributed 80 percent of the offense.

That season, the team consisted of only eight players, with one pulled from the softball team. Some of the ladies played every second of every game as the team won just eight games. Two wins came against much stronger schools. Coach Bierly felt that those victories were the most satisfying wins for the devastated team and that it opened the doors to future success.

Last season, the players who were holding the team together just a few years earlier as freshmen advanced to the Division III Sweet 16. The coach even recorded her 400th career win.

Bierly had arrived at the school about 17 years earlier. She never had been a head coach. She took over a program that had been highly successful for 20 years until it stumbled badly under an interim coach. But, slowly, she pulled the team from its lows, eventually getting the squad to the Final Four before losing an emotional game by a basket.

Even more difficult than that loss was the subsequent decision to dismiss the five key players. Bierly was as transparent as possible about the matter with recruits and their families. She told them the program had recovered once and that it would do so again with everyone’s support.

Through all this, Coach Bierly feels she has grown immensely in her role as a coach, mentor and friend. She said her fuse was short earlier in her career. Now, she has learned to handle her players with kid gloves. One current player admits that Coach Bierly is tough, but that she is fair. The ultimate tribute – “She’s made me a better leader.”

Oct 03 2015

NBA Player Returns With Lessons For LI Youth

Tobias Harris plays for the NBA Orlando Magic. Last season he averaged 17 points per game. Tobias plays with the world’s elite professional basketball players, but he has not forgotten his Long Island roots.

Tobias played for Half Hollow Hills High School West, joining the team as an eighth grade student. He then transferred to Long Island Lutheran Middle and High School in Brookville before returning to the Dix Hills school for his senior year. Tobias then played one season for the University of Tennessee before declaring for the 2011 NBA draft.

Back on the Island this past summer, he hosted the Tobias Harris Basketball and Life Skills Workshop. The clinic taught young athletes about basketball while also providing invaluable life skills.

Though only 23, Tobias already is looking ahead and he is concerned about the future for the next generation of boys and girls. He indicated that these kids are ready to be molded to take advantage of opportunities and to plan for their journey to success. Too many kids, according to Tobias, are not fulfilling their potential. His clinic helped point them in the right direction.

The boys and girls came from Westbury, New Cassel, Jericho and Freeport. The middle and high school athletes spent their time at the five-day clinic running basketball drills to improve their skills, experiencing the excitement of competition and learning more about game strategy.

But, the clinic offered much more than basketball. Tobias said that every kid has a gift just to be able to play and that he wants to show all kids that they can achieve anything they really want in school and in life. He gave the boys and girls some straight talk that success is more than becoming a professional athlete, since the percentage of that occurring is super low. He told the kids that they have a huge variety of life options in and out of sports.

The clinic required mandatory attendance at sessions about career assessment, good health and nutrition, and character development. In these sessions, Tobias stressed that the primary goals for the kids were to be good students and good people, to be respectful and to hang with the right crowd.

May 16 2015

It Was A Three-Peat Season For Ossining

At the completion of the current high school basketball season, the Ossining High School girls team in northern Westchester County stood tall by winning the state championship. Again!

This season was the culmination of a three-peat performance, with state championships for 2012-2013, 2013-2014 and now 2014-2015. Ossining is just the second Class AA team in New York to win three consecutive state titles.

Various players (and even the coach) set some fantastic personal records and won great individual awards during this last season. A junior scored her 1,000th high school point during the final state championship game. A teammate became one of the tournament’s all-time single game scorers and received the tournament MVP award. During the season, the coach recorded his 400th win.

While all these individual accomplishments were noted, the group actually prefers to talk about the success of the entire team.

Ossining maintained a deep bench. Contributions came from the highly skilled starting five and all the substitutes. Each bench player easily stepped in for a starting player in foul trouble or when a player had to leave a game with an injury. Last year’s state title, the second one, was won without any seniors on the squad.

Off the court, these girls also are winners. The team’s players maintained higher than a 90 grade point average for the entire season.

Will Ossining girls basketball break the state record and grab a fourth title next year? We will just have to keep a close eye on them when they start up again in the fall.

Jim

May 02 2015

Together At Hofstra’s HOF

On a wonderful Sunday last month, family, friends and business colleagues shared with me one of the most gratifying recognitions as an athlete, an executive and as a sports benefactor. I was honored to be inducted into the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame.

My inclusion was for my on-field contributions to the Hofstra lacrosse team during 1979 and 1980. The honor also recognized my reconnection with the sport and with the school that I love as an ardent supporter of Hofstra’s education and athletics programs.

But enough about me, as you know who I am and what I have accomplished as an athlete and in business. I want to share with you a few details about several men and women who entered the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame with me. This is not so much about their sports accomplishments but about their life accomplishments.

Linda Brymer was a four-year and three-sport—basketball, volleyball, softball—athlete (1974-1978). Linda then joined the Nassau County Police Department and became a physical training and defensive tactic instructor at the academy for more than 3,000 officers. During all this time, athletics continued to be a huge part of her life’s challenges and successes. Now she is pursuing her latest passion of surfing.

Ian “Rocky” Butler played football (1997-2001). He enjoyed a professional career in the Canadian Football League. After leaving pro sports, he returned to Hofstra to earn his master’s degree in physical education. Today, he is a physical education teacher and multi-sport coach at Long Beach.

Robin Kammerer Conversano played field hockey and lacrosse (1989-1993). She attended Weill Cornell Medical College to pursue a physician’s assistant degree. For the last 15 years, Robin has been practicing at an orthopedic surgery office that specializes in sports medicine.

Eric Schmiesing wrestled for Hofstra (1996-2001). Since then, he has been dedicated to fostering, promoting and encouraging the sport. His other passion is the finance industry. After graduation, he became a local crude oil trader on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Now, he works in private equity.

These four colleagues of mine in the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame, along with the other new inductees and those who played on the two teams (1968 men’s soccer and 1995 women’s volleyball) now enshrined in the hall, invested hard work, commitment and passion into their sports. After graduation, each of them continued to harness these same attributes as they journeyed on various paths to find additional success in their careers and in life.

Linda, Rocky, Robin, Eric and the others all excelled at Hofstra in the classroom and in their chosen sports. They learned from their teachers, coaches and teammates, and they have become fabulous contributors to our society. We have sports and Hofstra in common, and I am proud to enter the Hofstra Athletics Hall of Fame with them.

Jim

Jun 02 2014

Unorthodox Style Can Be Effective

Not much about Abby Squirrell’s game stands out to a spectator. A six-foot one-inch junior forward for Ossining High School’s basketball team in Westchester County, she is a solid rebounder and puts points on the board.

But, when Abby stands at the free-throw line, everyone in the stands notices her. She uses only one hand for her routine—bouncing the ball, putting it in position and then taking the shot. She certainly has one of the most unorthodox foul shooting techniques anywhere in the game. She also is second on the team in free-throw percentage, making seven out of 10 shots.

Abby’s coach explains that the basketball is supposed to be shot with one hand. The other hand serves as the guide. She just took it one step farther. It works for her and as they say, “no harm, no foul.”

But, what would happen, if during a huge regular season or playoff game, the margin of victory came down to an Abby Squirrell foul shot? A lot of people—teammates, the coach, the fans—would cringe, right?

The coach does not give it any thought. She is the team’s second-best foul shooter. They want her at the line.

Just as with sports, a person always can try something a little different, or unorthodox, in business. Others first may look on with puzzlement. But if successful, they will soon mimic or adapt it.

Do you have an idea or tactic that is a little unorthodox? Give it a try. You never know where it may lead.

Oh, and one more thing—I knew I liked Abby when I first heard about her foul shooting. She also happens to be one of her school’s best lacrosse players!

Jim

Oct 01 2013

A Life Of Evaluating Talent

The typewritten newsletter dated March 22, 1966 contains scouting reports on high school basketball players. This issue thanks subscribers for their loyalty during the first year of publication during which demand doubled to 60 college coaches.

The issue is hidden inside a thick three-ring binder that is buried in the cluttered Manhattan apartment of Howie Garfinkel. Howie’s life is basketball—as a scout, a coach, a creator of a summer camp and a director of clinics.

About 70 years ago, this son of a garment worker, was a modest high school player. He could shoot a two-handed set shot but he didn’t have the moves. He admits that he didn’t work at his game. But his passion for basketball moved him in another direction. He became a compiler of information about players, and he sent this information to college coaches. He also was the originator of what has become a staple of basketball development and recruiting—the summer camp with guest coaches and showcase games.

During the mid-1960s, Howie published a magazine (High School Basketball Illustrated) that profiled players and teams in New York and northern New Jersey. An assistant coach at The Citadel obtained a copy and suggested to Howie that he open his own scouting service. He did, eventually, and he also opened the Five-Star Basketball Camp. For the second year of the camp, he hired a young Bobby Knight at $50 per day as his top instructor. The camp was pure basketball—teaching, coaching, playing and no nonsense—and it drew top schoolboy talent from around the country.

Eight years ago, Howie sold his stake in the camp. But he remains in the game he always has loved. Last year, he organized his sixth annual Clinic to End All Clinics where Division I coaches discussed strategy with coaches from other colleges and high schools. He is co-founder of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame and he evaluates city players for the selection advisory committee of the McDonald’s All-American Game.

From an early age, Howie Garfinkel set a course for his life and happily followed it. He still types his player evaluations on an IBM typewriter. He uses his phone but will not go near the internet. He also still has his binders and the well-organized scouting reports that made him a household name in basketball long before e-mail and ESPN.

Sometimes, it is best to evaluate talent in sports (and business) the old fashioned way.

Jim

Jul 03 2013

A Pioneer Still On His Game

Did you ever hear of Ossie Schectman? He’s 93 now, and he lives in a senior living community in Rockland County. He has a quick smile and is a favorite of the staff.

Ossie was a collegiate All-American basketball point guard on two NIT championship teams at Long Island University. He also is in the National Basketball Association record books, having scored, on November 1, 1946, the first basket in NBA history.

Okay, so he isn’t as familiar a name as Michael Jordon or LeBron James. But, he should be, or at least he should be remembered and highly regarded by those who have come to play after him.

Ossie was “a tireless worker who drove fiercely, passed smoothly and set up the plays,” wrote Arthur Daley of The New York Times when he described Schectman’s role in a victory over DePaul at Madison Square Garden before a crowd of 18,318. Daley continued: “With the hard driving Ossie Schectman blazing a trail the Blackbirds unleashed a sizzling rally that sent them ahead…LoBello was the high scorer with 12, but Dolly King with 11 and Schectman were the real stars.”

Ossie received similar kudos for leading LIU over Loyola during 1939 and Ohio University during 1941 in NIT championship games. He was a baseball player, too, and he had a tryout with the New York Giants. Since the NBA didn’t exist at the time, he first played for the Philadelphia Sphas (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) and for a semipro baseball team on Long Island. None of this, though, led to lasting fame and fortune. With a wife and child to support, his primary source of income came from working in New York’s Garment District.

But, after World War II, he did get to play for the Knicks when they were in the Basketball Association of America (pre-NBA) and he finished third one season in the league in assists. As already noted, he scored the NBA’s first points.

While none of his hard work led to a lot of money, he isn’t bitter. He still loves the game and recalls that he had a great life that just happened to include sports.

It’s great to be involved in sports during our youth and young adult days. The structure, discipline and competition teach us a lot about life. A chosen few are destined for fame and fortune. Many others do quite well in the professional, collegiate, or high school game as coaches, instructors, or in management. Even more like me find other ways to remain in the game while channeling our sports experiences into successful business careers.

When all is done, let’s hope that we all can be like Ossie and reflect on a great life that just happened to include sports.

Jim