From Feeding Umpires To A Multi-Million Dollar Cookie Business
May 15, 2020Posted by james

You just never know when an opportunity will appear and where it will lead you.

Debra Sivyer was raised in Oakland, California, the youngest of eight daughters. Her father was a welder for the U.S. Navy. Her mother was a housewife.

During the 1968 baseball season, innovative Charles O. Finley, the owner of MLB’s Oakland Athletics, introduced ball girls to the game. The young ladies were placed in foul territory during games to retrieve grounded foul balls. When Debbi was just 13, she became a ball girl with the help of an older sister, who was a secretary in the A’s corporate office. Debbi received five dollars an hour when she was on the field.

Debbi was an entrepreneur at that tender age, using her earnings to purchase ingredients to bake chocolate chip cookies. She created a “milk-and-cookies” break for umpires at the park, perfecting her cookie recipe that she found on the back of a package of Toll House chocolate morsels. Fast forwarding a few years to 1977, Debbi married her first husband, Randall Keith Fields. She began marketing these homemade cookies that same year, grossing $75 the first day. Eventually, the cookies would make her a millionaire.

With little investment enthusiasm from outside sources, Debbi secured a loan and supervised operations, brand management, public relations, customer service and product development to grow the business. At its peak under her leadership, the company featured more than 900 owned and franchised stores in the U.S. and in 11 other countries. Debbi eventually sold the business to an investment group, but she has remained the company’s spokesperson while concentrating on her philanthropic interests.

So, who is this cookie girl whose idea was such a success on a major league baseball field when she was just 13? You know her as the founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies.

Lending A Helpful Glove
May 01, 2020Posted by james

“Friends of the Champ” is a non-profit organization that supports ex-boxers in The Bronx and beyond who face a variety of personal challenges.

According to Michael Bernard, a founding member of the organization, “our main goal is to help individual souls living a destitute life.” The program traces its beginnings to a day more than 30 years ago when Michael first met three-time World Boxing Champion and Bronx native Iran Barkley.

Michael has been a physical education teacher for 40 years. A former student who became a police officer called Michael one day as he patrolled the streets. The officer reported that he found the champ sleeping on a bench outside the Patterson Houses. According to the officer, Iran appeared ill.

Realizing that many poorly educated older ex-fighters were experiencing financial and health issues, Michael, Iran and others founded “Friends of the Champ.” Today, Iran is living comfortably with his wife in a two-bedroom apartment.

The 40-member group recently held its first fundraising gala. Not every member is a boxing fan. However, each member is concerned about the plight of all former athletes who once worked hard at their chosen crafts but now face various hardships.

“Friends of the Champ” (718-823-5083) is looking to continue to raise awareness about the mission and spur growth in the organization. The group plans to contact boxing legends Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and others as it expands its reach to help additional ex-boxers.

High school, college, amateur and professional athletes regularly support a variety of causes. For many years now, “Friends of the Champ” has reversed the game plan, lending its helpful glove to former boxers.

A New York Crusader Becomes A North Carolina Tar Heel
Apr 15, 2020Posted by james

The fallout from COVID-19 has touched every one of us. Our health, finances, routines and lifestyles have been compromised and only time will heal us.

I am specifically heartbroken for our high school students, especially our seniors. In many instances, their lessons, events, spring sports and, likely, proms and graduations, have been erased from the calendars. In the athletic departments, many seniors will not enjoy their final seasons in such spring sports as baseball and lacrosse.

R.J. Davis, though, is one senior who was lucky to salvage his last hurrah at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains. He was named Mr. New York State Basketball for the past season by the Basketball Coaches Association of New York. R.J. averaged 26.5 points, eight rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.1 steals per game in leading the Crusaders to an 18-9 record and the Archdiocese of New York championship. He shot 87 percent from the free-throw line, 51 percent from two-point range and 34 percent from the three-point arc.

R.J.’s coach praised the guard as a leader for the program throughout his four years at the school. This year, R.J. embraced his senior role and became more vocal for his teammates in practice, during games and even off the court.

R.J. was selected to play in the 43rd McDonald’s All-American game in Houston but, unfortunately, the contest was canceled due to the health care crisis. Let’s hope that R.J. can get his college career started on time this fall at the University of North Carolina.

Everyone, according to R.J.’s coach, knows about his on-the-court ability, but more people need to know that this young man is an all-around student-athlete. He holds a 3.8 GPA, volunteers in his community and embraces public speaking opportunities.

R.J. is driven, a hard worker and seeks success. I’m confident success will find him.

Good luck, R.J.!

Working Together Brings Us Closer
Apr 01, 2020Posted by james

While all the major professional and college sports leagues and associations have postponed game schedules and public events, the various leagues, associations, teams and players have not abandoned the countless staff members and arena employees who, so quickly, lost their major sources of income and family benefits. The sports world also has come to the rescue of medical and emergency personal who are on the front lines to battle the coronavirus.

In our corner of the world, the Yankees immediately initiated a program that supports its staff and vendor employees at the stadium. The Mets, too, have joined with Major League Baseball to address income shortfalls and family health concerns during the crises.

On the gridiron, the Giants are funding a program at the Meadowlands YMCA that provides free childcare for emergency response personnel for 10 weeks. The YMCA has continued to operate its daycare program in consultation with medical personnel for the children of these essential workers. The funding expanded the program to up to 42 children. The Jets are engaged by providing financial support for the COVID-19 Community Fund for low-income residents offered by the United Way of New York City.

The NBA, involving the Knicks and Nets, launched NBA Together, expecting to raise more than $50 million “to support people impacted by the coronavirus and community and healthcare organizations providing vital services around the world.” About $30 million has been pledged by teams and players. The program is supported by four pillars that focus on the latest global health and safety information, sharing guidelines and resources, working on mental and physical health, and keeping people socially connected. The league also is collaborating with fans, asking them to share stories, photos and videos focused on small acts of kindness.

All NHL teams, including our Rangers, Islanders and Devils, also are providing financial assistance for team staff members and arena workers.

With the suspension of all athletics, we certainly have a huge void in our social lives. As you can see, though, the sports world has not remained idle, joining forces with others (while maintaining social distance) to help people across the country and worldwide.

Let’s be patient and let’s support our family, friends and our communities when we can. Join me in looking forward to good days that certainly are within reach.

From Health Crises To NHL King For A Day
Mar 15, 2020Posted by james

Did you hear about David Ayres? If you don’t follow hockey, you may have missed this wonderful moment, the most magical night of David’s life.

More than 15 years ago, David was an aspiring NHL goalie. A few weeks ago, at the age of 42, he finally played in a game. He was the winning goalie for the Carolina Hurricanes in a 6-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. David, though, was not on the Carolina roster at the start of the game.

David works a regular job, coaches kids and suits up as Toronto’s practice goalie. He also drives the Zamboni at the Toronto arena and he serves as the game-day emergency backup goalie. When both goalies on a team leave a game, the emergency backup at each NHL arena quickly signs a contract for $500, suits up and gets on the ice. He could play for the home team or the visiting team. He could play for one shift or the remainder of the game.

The starting Carolina goalie on this night left at 6:10 of the first period with a lower-body injury. His replacement was body checked and left the game with 28:41 remaining in the game. Enter David, who made eight saves on 10 shots, recorded a shot on goal that appeared on the score sheet and then was credited with the win.

The Hurricanes players entered their locker room laughing, cheering loudly and chanting “Dave! Dave! Dave!” Their winning goalie was the last to leave the ice and then he was stopped halfway up the tunnel. David had to return to the ice, because he was named the first star of the game.

When David finally got to the locker room, he was doused by sprays of water by his new teammates. In the Toronto locker room, the Maple Leafs coach was unhappy with the loss but he felt good for David. The Toronto coach once had been David’s minor league coach.

While playing in the minors, David had faced a very serious medical issue. He underwent a kidney transplant with his mother as his donor. David’s career became secondary as he just was pleased to be alive.

Following David’s NHL debut, the Hurricanes announced a donation would be made to a kidney foundation to honor their goalie. His game-used goalie stick immediately appeared in the hockey hall of fame. The governor of North Carolina announced that David now was an honorary member of the state. David also made the rounds on television in Canada and the U.S.

“What a moment for him that he can have the rest of his life,” Hurricanes coach and former NHL star Rod Brind’Amour told his team and the media. “That’s incredible. That’s why you do this.”

David left the arena that night carrying a case of beer and his game-worn Hurricanes No. 90 jersey. He said he is going to look at that jersey every day.

Smart As A Fox
Mar 03, 2020Posted by james

Adam Fox is from Jericho right here on Long Island. He is playing professional hockey for his favorite team. Sorry, Islanders fans—he’s an emerging star for the New York Rangers.

Adam is a Harvard University graduate who was drafted by the Calgary Flames and then traded to the Carolina Hurricanes organization. He became Rangers property almost a year ago.

Adam has been listed by scouts as a stud player with fantastic offensive ability. He passes the puck quickly and moves well in all zones of the ice. His defense originally may have been labeled as “unknown” or “developing,” but during his first NHL season he has positioned himself as an anchor on the Rangers blueline. Adam also maintains a high IQ on the ice. He understands game situations, he reads plays well as each unfolds in front of him and he quickly makes necessary adjustments on the ice.

The hockey journey for Adam since he first put on his skates on Long Island has provided him with success at every level. His achievements include:

  • 2017 World Junior Hockey Championships gold medal with Team USA, recording four points in seven games.
  • 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships bronze medal with Team USA, leading the defense in assists and points as alternate captain.
  • At Harvard, became the only defenseman in college hockey to average more than a point-and-a-half per game. Led Harvard to the NCAA Tournament on several occasions.
  • Finalist for the Hobey Baker Award that is presented to the best college hockey player.

According to former Rangers defenseman Dave Maloney, Adam has the potential to become a major factor on the backline for New York for many years. “…it’s going to be his ability,” said Dave, “to have the sense of where he needs to be and how he needs to get there [that is going to help him succeed].”

Promising Lacrosse Program For Bronx Middle Schoolers
Feb 15, 2020Posted by james

Many Bronxites have played football, baseball and soccer on the borough’s limited number of public and school fields. Kids across multiple generations also have enjoyed stickball on side streets, roller hockey in school yards, basketball in the asphalt parks, boxball on sidewalks, and many other sports and games against stoops and building walls.

Now, a sport long popular on green suburban fields, has moved into NYC’s concrete jungle. Dan Leventhal is the founder and president of Bronx Lacrosse. For the past two years, his program has been a success at two middle schools — Highbridge Green Middle School and Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School (P.S./I.S. 218).

Dan was inspired to start the program when he began teaching at Highbridge Green during 2015. He realized extracurricular activities were minimal for students. Dan had played lacrosse for 20 years and he was seeking an opportunity to connect with students outside the classroom.

Dan injected a lot of enthusiasm and compassion to “sell” lacrosse to the kids. During just one year, he gathered gear for 30 players and then officially started the lacrosse team at Highbridge Green during the spring of 2016. Bronx Lacrosse was founded the following year. The program at the magnet school began during the fall of 2018.

After a few months of practice, scrimmages and individual tutoring sessions with kids, the parents and teachers noticed the sport provided positive reinforcement among the students.

“I remember the principal calling me in to office and telling me how well the kids in the program were doing,” said Dan. “That’s when I realized we had a good recipe going there.”

Dan emphasized that the initiative is an academic program that uses lacrosse to build student confidence. Tutors assist students with their studies. Players record a 96 percent attendance record and a 100 percent graduation rating. The program also offers incentives for participating students through special outings, encouraging them to want more out of life.

“Lacrosse is so embedded into the school now,” said Dan about Highbridge Green, that “fifth graders coming into the school are excited about trying out.”

This past July, the boys and girls teams at Highbridge Green won the Middle School Athletic City Lacrosse Championships, the first time that a Bronx team won the title. Dan hopes the program will enjoy similar success at P.S./I.S. 218, and then he plans to introduce the game at area high schools.

Women’s Panel Provides Insights For Student-Athletes
Feb 01, 2020Posted by james

The growing influence of women in athletics over the last handful of decades has provided significant benefits for women, for men and for our younger athletes who participate in sports programs at all levels. Professional athletes, college and high school scholar-athletes, weekend warriors and millions of boys and girls who are enrolled in grade school and private programs all are becoming better athletes from the improved training, conditioning, dieting and sports IQ insights offered by their men and women coaches and trainers.

An outstanding illustration of the increasing influence and impact of women in athletics is the Class of 2020 induction of four sports pioneers — Dr. H. Jean Berger, Ruth Gracey, Jeannette Rogers and Annamae McKeever-Kress — in the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame. Another example of the significant advancement by women is the inaugural women’s athletics panel that was offered by Fordham University just a few months ago.

Five outstanding womenFordham Women’s Head Basketball Coach Stephanie Gaitley, Fordham basketball player Danielle Padovano (now business operations manager at Home Team Sports), financial consultant and decorated marathon swimmer Elizabeth Fry, former Dartmouth University director of athletics Josie Harper and Fordham’s Graduate School of Education clinical assistant profession Shannon Waite – dialogued with the university’s student-athletes last November. The panel was formed by the Fordham Women’s Philanthropy Summit, an annual community–building and networking event at the Lincoln Center campus.

Stephanie participated in the 2018 summit and she was inspired to coordinate a similar event specifically for student–athletes. The goal of the gathering was to provide women with the opportunity to meet and learn from athletes who created successful careers in various fields.

Shannon’s path to a rewarding profession in education was not a straight line. Her plans changed dramatically after she tore her ACL one week before she was to finalize plans to play volleyball at the collegiate level. She now is training principals and other aspiring school leaders.

Josie spoke about her experience as the first woman in her position at Dartmouth and in the Ivy League. She acknowledged that more doors are opening for women and she urged students to learn key skills, including humor, to address challenges.

Elizabeth said swimming continues to influence many areas of her life, including her volunteer commitments. For more than five years, she has been the marathon director for Swim Across the Sound, an annual fundraiser for St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The event raises funds to offer cancer prevention education and screenings to the community, and to provide financial support for people affected by the disease.

The event that brought together these athletic-minded and successful women resonated positively with the student athletes. An outfielder on Fordham’s women’s softball team plans to major in Italian Studies and now has decided to seek a mentor. Her teammate, who is majoring in digital technologies and emerging media, realized the importance of surrounding herself with positive influences offered by both women and men.

Christopher Daleo: Suffolk County’s Top High School Football Player
Jan 15, 2020Posted by james

The best way to describe the first few days of 2020 is to use a football term – the new year began with a fantastic “super bowl” event.

I was invited to become involved with the Suffolk County Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame. The chapter has been celebrating local high school and college players for many years. Now named in my honor, the chapter invited me to speak with the students, their families and their coaches, and to present its prestigious Top Scholar Athlete Award for 2019.

Though I am more known for my career as a lacrosse player and as a supporter of Long Island youth and college lacrosse programs, I did play football and set a few records at Half Hollow Hills High School East in Dix Hills during the 1970s. For the last several years for the National Football Foundation, I have sponsored the Mr. Football New York City Player of the Year Award presented by the New York City Chapter.

At the Suffolk chapter awards program on January 5, more than 50 high school and several college scholar athletes were celebrated for their outstanding achievements in the classroom, on the gridiron and in their communities. The Top Scholar Athlete Award, which also has been named in my honor, was presented to Christopher Daleo of Westhampton Beach High School. Here is a summary of Christopher’s incredible high school achievements.

Academics:

  • Carries a 96 unweighted average and scored 1360 on the SAT and 34 on the ACT.
  • Enrolled in 10 Advanced Placement courses during high school. Recipient of the AP Capstone Diploma. Received designation of AP Scholar with Distinction.
  • Member of the National Honor Society, Science Honor Society, World Language Honor Society and Math Honor Society.
  • Recipient of the Journalism Award presented to the top journalism student in the school district.
  • Elected senior class president.

Football:

  • First Team All-Division, First Team All-County.
  • Team captain.
  • Two-way starter. Two-year varsity record, including playoffs, was 18-3.

Community:

  • Founder, Church Youth Leadership Ministry, expanding the group to more than 30 students.
  • Volunteer for the “Adopt-A-Family” program that provides local families with a helping hand.
  • Contributes his time to the Westhampton Beach Oyster Festival and the Westhampton Beach Talent Show.
  • A peer tutor for younger students.

Wow!

Christopher is going places in school, in sports and in life. I am glad that we met, and I wish him all the best!

Changing Lives Through Rugby
Jan 01, 2020Posted by james

England rugby star Kyle Sinckler was hailed throughout the country for his performance against Australia in the recent World Cup quarter-final. But, he already was a hero at his old grade school, Graveney School in Tooting. He changed lives there after setting up a rugby team when he was just 13 years old.

Kyle had assured a teacher that he would pick the players and help train the team. The hodgepodge group of students gradually grew, year after year, into a dominant team. All of the success, including an appearance eight years later in league finals, came from the foundation created by Kyle.

Following graduation, Kyle continued to build his personal foundation. He earned a scholarship to Epsom College. Then, he was spotted by the Harlequins Rugby Union, which enjoys a 150-year lineage in the sport. Through his personal success and the school rugby program that he created 13 years ago, the prop forward has inspired scores of children to play the game.

Many of the players who followed in Kyle’s footsteps are the first in their families to attend college. Rugby has led them to success through quality education. According to a former grade school teacher, Kyle “has changed lives.”

At the quarter-final game with Australia, Kyle’s outstanding performance was capped with an emotional tribute to his mother, Donna, who works at a police call center. She raised him and she ferried him to training when he was a schoolboy.

The current demographics of rugby indicates that many potential players are similar to Kyle –mixed race, from single parent households and attending grade schools without rugby teams. Today, at Graveney School in Tooting and at many other schools, Kyle’s original determination, along with his current fame, support the rallying cry that is helping many young school boys build solid lifelong foundations.