Local Track Star Challenges The World
Jul 16, 2015Posted by james

One fan calls him “The Flash.” It is easy to understand the nickname.

Rai Benjamin attended Mount Vernon High School. This past school year, he recorded the top times in the country for 300-meter and 400-meter sprints. He also was a top 55-meter sprinter.

With this success, Rai was coveted by such schools as Michigan. He settled on a full track scholarship from UCLA. Rai indicated that his choice had a bit to do with turning his back on living, and running, in the cold. Rai prefers the warm weather. His parents are from Antiqua. His mother has a couple of master’s degrees and holds a passion for books. His father played professional cricket for the West Indies.

When he was a high school freshman, Rai was a wide receiver and free safety on the school’s junior varsity football team. He joined track after the football season to help him improve his football speed. He became such a successful sprinter that he never returned to the football field.

Rai realized that track offered him more opportunities than football. During that same freshman year, he competed for the school in a California meet. He also ran for Antiqua at the World Youth Championships in the Ukraine and then he competed in an Antiqua national meet.

These trips motivated him. He saw beyond Mount Vernon and realized that track could open doors for him around the world. He does, however, pay homage to his school.

“If I’d been at some other school, I don’t know I’d have been as successful,” he said when he was named the Westchester/Putnam indoor track athlete of the year. He acknowledged that he joined a team that consisted of talented athletes and smart coaches.

One of those coaches indicated that Rai has a lot of natural talent but also cited the young man’s “great work habit” and ability to set and reach goals as the main reasons for his success. So, keep your eyes open for Rai Benjamin at upcoming college track meets and possibly the Olympic Games. If you don’t, he likely will pass by you in a flash.

- Jim

Exciting Spring Sports News
Jul 01, 2015Posted by james

We’re now into summer, but before we travel too far into these crazy, hazy and lazy days, I wanted to share with you some exciting news that occurred during May that involved me and benefitted the high school student-athletes of Long Island.

On May 28, I was honored to receive “personal naming rights” to the new stadium that will be constructed for St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington. While I didn’t play for St. Anthony’s, I was raised nearby and frequently played various sports in the parks and fields located in the shadows of the school. I always admired the education and athletic tradition that St. Anthony’s offered to its students, and it is this commitment that convinced me to contribute the lead gift for the construction of the new sports facility.

I also do have connections to the school through family and friends. My niece, Genevieve Pannell, and my nephew, Paul Dowd, are graduates. Another niece of mine, Julia Dowd, has just completed her first year at the school. As for friends, when I played basketball and tennis in nearby Wolf Hill Park my frequent companions were Kevin Hahn and John Hahn, Sr., the father and grandfather of Matt Hahn, a former St. Anthony’s football superstar. It was the Hahn family that introduced me to the insurance industry. These many years later, based on the success of The Whitmore Group, I now have traveled full circle and can lend my support to this great school.

Just two days earlier, at the Section VIII Nassau County high school boys’ lacrosse championship matches held at Hofstra University, I presented to Nassau’s leading players the second annual Leadership Awards named in my honor.

I was proud to meet and acknowledge the following outstanding athletes:

  • Cold Spring Harbor High School senior goalie Will Doyle, who maintained his starting position despite competition from three other capable goalies during the preseason.
  • Lynbrook High School senior defender Eddie Bouhall, who has committed to Lehigh University.
  • Manhasset High School senior midfielder James Thomas, who also received a school scholarship as the most dedicated player on the boy’s lacrosse team.
  • Massapequa High School senior defender Griffin Barnathan, who was expected to have an impact season (and did) after serving as a role player last year.
    Mineola High School senior midfielder James Gerstner, who recently signed a letter of intent to play lacrosse at SUNY Stony Brook.
  • Syosset High School senior defender Richard Prestegaard, who separately received a $200,000 scholarship from the U.S. Army ROTC for his attendance at Boston College this fall.

Each student reflected the tenacity, honesty, commitment and positive attitude required in Nassau lacrosse. Each player also possessed the ability to inspire others on and off the field.

Congratulations!

Legacies Easily Can Take A Huge Hit
Jun 16, 2015Posted by james

Tom Brady is a four-time Super Bowl champion. He is a three-time Super Bowl MVP. He is a two-time NFL MVP. He is one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game. He also is a liar and a cheat.

That’s what will be written about him and said about him until the end of time. Similar references permanently have attached themselves to Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Alex Rodriguez and others. They all have denied wrongdoing. They all have agents, supporters and fans who back them. None of it will matter.

In our age of the internet, blogs, YouTube, Twitter and more, the liar and cheater tags already are synonymous with their names. The stigma never will be removed.

When I hear about the large number of recent sports scandals, I often think about poor Shoeless Joe Jackson. He stands pretty much alone among athletes involved in any of the older scandals, remaining infamously connected with and the prominent face of baseball’s 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Though the evidence against Jackson is slim at best, his association with the tainted World Series has, for almost 100 years, outweighed his record as an excellent ballplayer.

During his playing days, Jackson only had to deal with the articles about the scandal that appeared in newspapers, and he still found it difficult to restore his reputation during his lifetime. Athletes involved with the dark side of today’s games face daily viral bombardment. They never will clear their names. Their legacies are beyond recovery.

When we were kids, many of us played fantasy games in the backyard. We created our own rules and we changed them at will so we could dream about hitting that World Series home run or scoring the winning goal. That was okay. What isn’t acceptable is “Deflategate,” the use of performance enhancement drugs and the skirting of the rules that has infiltrated some of our youth leagues across the country.

For the rest of us, we easily can find ways to lie and cheat in our jobs and in the companies we manage. If we choose that path, our integrities and our legacies certainly will suffer at some unforeseen time. Whether we are involved with sports or business, we all have choices to make, and I’ll leave you with one piece of advice to ponder—think seriously before you decide upon any course of action and make sure the result will not inflict damage to your reputation and legacy. It is not worth embarrassing yourself, your colleagues and, most important, your family until the end of time.

- Jim

Diving His Way To The Top
Jun 01, 2015Posted by james

High school senior Evan Moretti saw his diving career come full circle this year. Two days before last February’s Section 1 championships, he won a dive meet and set a new record to break Donnie Callera’s mark that had stood for 11 years. It took Moretti just two more days to break his own record.

Besides the record, we found a deeper connection between Moretti and Callera. Both divers set their personal records while attending and competing for Scarsdale High School. Digging deeper, we found that if it wasn’t for Callera, Moretti may not have become such an accomplished diver.

Callera was Moretti’s first diving coach. At the age of 10, Moretti attended a clinic coached by Callera. The coach invited the student to join the local municipal pool team and Moretti continued to dive “for the fun of it.”

As he entered high school, Moretti was curious to see where better competition and a greater focus on training would lead him. With the encouragement of Coach Callera, Moretti began a fantastic voyage.

Moretti competed with the varsity team during each year of high school, leading the team to four undefeated seasons. This past season, the team won the Conference 2 League 1 championship and a first-ever Section 1 title.

Moretti’s personal bests included the record and second-place finishes at both the state and federation championships. He also was named the Westchester/Putnam boys swimming/diving athlete of the season.

Much more still is to be recorded in the diving career of Evan Moretti. That will continue this September when he competes at Duke University.

Jim

It Was A Three-Peat Season For Ossining
May 16, 2015Posted by james

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

Together At Hofstra’s HOF
May 02, 2015Posted by james

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

The Tools Of Success Include Teamwork
Apr 02, 2015Posted by james

Many of us remember receiving our first, or even second, baseball glove. It got packed daily with our school books. It had a place of reverence in our bedrooms. For some of us, it was our most cherished possession.

Whether a child who plays Saturday little league, a teenager who is playing high school or college baseball, or a 20-something who is paid to play, each of us has had a distinct way to break in and maintain a baseball glove. Some players place their gloves in freezers while others fold it before sticking it under the mattress, or even under one of the legs of the bed. Other methods to break in a mitt to ensure that it literally fits like a glove include dunking it in water, placing it in the microwave, lathering it with shaving cream, soaking it with oil, beating it with a mallet, or placing a ball or two in it and then binding with twine.

For a baseball player, nothing is more personal than tailoring a glove to fit the hand. The process can take a few days, a few weeks, or even an entire season so that the glove is ready to use next year. It must feel right and it must hold its shape. The pocket must easily grasp and secure the ball while allowing the player, quickly and easily, to pull that ball from the glove.

The same attention to personal equipment also is common in the other sports. Quarterbacks like the footballs to be probably inflated, but let’s not go down that road. Hockey players fuss over their sticks, making sure the curves are at the right angles and the lengths suit their skating abilities. Lacrosse players, too, have specific requirements for their sticks. I should know!

At the office, many of us have adapted these sports equipment routines that have been with us since we first picked up a ball. Instead of a glove, or a stick, we now ensure that our computers are set up in a certain way, that our voice mail messages are professional and engaging, and that our smartphones contain everything we need to get through the day.

While all this attention to equipment is important, even more critical, whether on the field or in business, is the focus on teamwork. Without a team of talented people striving for the same goal, it really doesn’t matter how well any equipment serves our individual talents. Without teamwork, individual success will be much more difficult to achieve. Team, or company, success will be just about impossible.

Jim

A Big Splash At 60
Mar 15, 2015Posted by james

Pool water is in his blood and soul. It has been since he was a kid on Long Island.

Roger Kahn was an all-state swimmer for Hewlett High School and he broke records at Penn State. From there, he has never stopped swimming. When he turned 45, he won a Masters national championship in the 50-meter freestyle.

During 2013, Roger was named an All-American in the 200 medley relay for his age group. The relay team was ranked number one in the U.S. and number three in the world. Roger’s part in the relay also was ranked one and three, respectively.

Just last year, as he moved closer to 60, he competed in the 50-meter freestyle and the 50-meter butterfly, along with a couple of relays, during the U.S. Masters Swimming Summer National Championship. Now, as he prepares for this year’s event, he has graduated from the 55-59 age group to join the 60-64 class.

He considers the change as just one advantage to getting a little older. He feels that the younger a swimmer is in an age group, the better the chance of winning a medal. He said the faster guys are the younger guys.

Roger, who owns a business in Garden City, is married with two children. Yet, with all the work and family issues to manage, he still adheres to his training schedule. He takes a training dip for an hour four times each week. He does a half-hour of dry-land exercises three days each week. Years of dedication helps him compete successfully against swimmers who can afford to spend more time in the pool.

One of the best tributes of Roger came from a friend who is the director at the pool where the swimmer trains: “Not only does he maintain a level of excellence…he’s been a great model for other people to stay dedicated.”

According to Roger, the focus required first to achieve success as a young student-athlete and then as a business executive helps provide balance in life. He said it all helps a person learn how to juggle responsibilities, balance priorities and concentrate on the most important things.

Jim

A Running Example For His Students
Mar 03, 2015Posted by james

He was all over the news last fall. New York City media covered his 100-mile run and the story even made headlines along with TV, radio and social media conversation across the country.

Dan O’Keefe is the principal of Cardinal Spellman High School in The Bronx. Before cheering students, parents, faculty, coaches, alumni and neighbors, he accomplished his goal of running 100 miles to raise funds for the school’s student sports and activities programs. He finished with time to spare, crossing the tape at 5:49 a.m. on a Saturday to complete the run in less than 24 hours.

The support was amazing. Dan raised a minimum $120,000. Post-run money continues to arrive. Some people brought food and drink to the run to provide Dan with the fuel and hydration he needed, and to feed the hundreds of fans surrounding the school’s athletic field. Some people even joined Dan, taking laps with him around the track.

As he prepared for the run, Dan challenged the students to bring in 10 sponsors at $10 each for a total of $100 per student. Their involvement was voluntary as the school never initiates mandatory fund-raising among the students. As is common at Catholic schools, fundraisers usually remain among family and close friends. But the media coverage before and during Dan’s run created a significant increase in support among the greater Spellman community and many others outside of the school.

When he first proposed the challenge, Dan admitted that the endurance run received some raised eyebrows from faculty and students. But, he knew that he was in his comfort zone. He ran cross-country for his Queens high school. He ran marathons during college and he has completed the New York City marathon. He also has finished the Vermont 100 and the New Jersey 100, battling rugged terrain in those runs compared to the modern flat track on Cardinal Spellman’ athletic field.

“I constantly challenge the students at Spellman to achieve their limits and beyond,” Dan told one newspaper. “I tell them to never let anyone say something is impossible.”

What an accomplishment. But even more, Dan is a wonderful role model for all his students.

- Jim

Trying To Become One Of The World’s Best
Feb 16, 2015Posted by james

Joshua Colas is a neatly dressed skinny kid with glasses. Nothing flashy–he’s just a regular 16-year-old high school junior.

The family home, an apartment, is filled with scores of trophies of various shapes and sizes. Space is limited. Room now must be found as more trophies may be on the horizon since Joshua may be close to stardom. He doesn’t play sports nor does he have a singing, music, or acting talent. Joshua’s talent is found at the table with a board game.

Joshua is a chess whiz. No, he’s a chess champion. No, check that, he’s a prodigy whose ambition is to become one of the world’s best players.

Joshua learned to play from his father. It began when the boy was just seven years of age. In a few months, son was beating dad. He has a photographic memory and he memorizes the board.

Joshua compares his skill to finding his way home. Do it enough times and the route becomes second nature. No wonder his career highlights are longer than five pages. His chess rating has risen each year. At 10, he was third best in the nation in that age group. At 12, Joshua was the youngest African-American Chess Master (his family is from Haiti). At 13, he topped all players in that group.

Now, Joshua is ranked 231 out of more than 52,000 chess players of all ages who are registered with the United States Chess Federation. He has been selected to the 2015 All-American Chess Team.

For intense chess players, or should I say chess masters, the four-hour matches can become tiresome. Joshua, though, never gets too high or too low. He relaxes his brain before each match so as not to place too much pressure on himself.

Joshua’s goal is to become the first American-born black Grandmaster. To do this, he first must become an International Master. He will face that challenge during a European tour this coming summer. That goal is not cheap. Joshua is raising about $24,000 for travel, hotels and tournament entry fees.

With the help of family and friends, Joshua will be on that tour. Then, he just needs his second nature to kick in.

Checkmate!

Jim