Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Ten hall of famers or their representatives stand in front of the new Hall of Fame Wall in the Max Stern Athletic Center.

Abe Sodden at his home after being presented with his award a few days earlier.

This week, Yeshiva University inducted its inaugural class to the university’s brand new Hall of Fame. The event, which took place on Monday night in YU’s Belfer Hall, featured some of the best athletes and coaches in Yeshiva history.

According to YU, The Yeshiva University Athletics Hall of Fame was established to recognize and honor men and women who have distinguished themselves and the university in the field of intercollegiate athletics at Yeshiva University. Hall of Fame members include individuals who have demonstrated exceptional athletic ability, personal integrity and high standards of character, and have supported the Maccabees while displaying the ideals and philosophy of Yeshiva University.

One of the most notable inductees in the group was Bernard “Red” Sarachek, the legendary men’s basketball coach who led the team in its early days. Sarachek coached during a time when Yeshiva University had no home gym, and instead had to play in local gyms and high schools. While he made his greatest impact within the university, Sarachek also had a strong effect on the greater basketball world. He is known for his innovations in the game of basketball, which is why Coach Lou Carnesecca of St. John’s, who Sarachek mentored for years, labeled Yeshiva as“the birthplace of modern basketball” under his coaching. Sarachek, who passed away in 2005, had his induction accepted by his grandson, who spoke of his grandfather’s devotion to the game, Yeshiva University and, especially, his players. Today, Sarachek has a Yeshiva high school tournament named after him, and people recognize him for his tremendous influence on the game of basketball.

Coach Arthur Tauber served as the fencing coach at Yeshiva University as well as its athletic director. After excelling in fencing on the collegiate level at NYU, Tauber’s fencing career was cut short by his service in the U.S. Army. He later returned to fencing, this time as a coach at Yeshiva University, where he remained for 45 years. Like Sarachek, Tauber was instrumental in developing the athletics program at Yeshiva. People remember Tauber as a great role model for everyone he coached and taught at YU. Tauber’s son accepted his induction, and many of his family members were present to help celebrate this honor.

The third coach inducted in the 2017 class was Henry Wittenberg, who had an illustrious wrestling career as both a player and coach. Having not wrestled growing up, Wittenberg was first introduced to the sport at City College of New York. Wittenberg quickly rose up the ranks until he reached the 1948 Olympics where he won the gold medal. He returned to the Olympics four years later and won silver, becoming the first American wrestler to win two Olympic medals. He then came to Yeshiva University, where he coached wrestling for ten years. The induction was accepted by Wittenberg’s two sons, who spoke about their father’s commitment to his players at the university and his will for each player to give it their all. Wittenberg, who was also inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, is remembered as one of the best wrestlers of his time as well as a great mentor for the many players he coached. Today, there is a yeshiva high school wrestling league tournament named in his memory.

After the coaches, several basketball and one tennis player were inducted. Basketball stars Marvin Hershkowitz and Abe Sodden were unable to attend the induction ceremony, but both sent videos thanking Yeshiva University for the honor. They were the first two players in YU history to score over 1,000 career points. Their introduction was highlighted by comments about their menschlichkeit off the court, in addition to their basketball prowess. Several days earlier, Sodden had been presented with his award at his home.

Herb Schlussel played at Yeshiva University from 1953 to 1957, and during his career had one of the highest winning percentages in Yeshiva history. He was a fantastic shooter, but also known to be a very unselfish player. His son Richie, who introduced him, spoke about some of his father’s achievements on the court, including how Schlussel turned down a scholarship offer to Syracuse to play at YU. In his acceptance speech, Schlussel talked about his close friendships with his teammates and Coach Sarachek as well as his busy schedule, having to balance both Judaic and secular studies and his basketball schedule.

Schlussel’s teammate, Irwin Blumenreich, was also inducted. Blumenreich broke the single season scoring record, scoring 513 points in the ‘54-’55 season, and went on to play for the Harlem Globetrotters. He was introduced by his wife and, having passed away in 2009, Blumenreich’s son Scott accepted the induction on his father’s behalf.

Though Sheldon Rokach did not have as deep a roster as his fellow inductees who played together in the 50s, he still managed to put together some very impressive numbers, amassing over 1,000 points and rebounds. He was introduced by the YU Assistant Athletic Director, Josh Pransky, who spoke about his impact on the university. His son Barry, who accepted the honor on his late father’s behalf, talked about his father’s influence and devotion to his family.

The final men’s basketball inductee was Yossy Gev, who is the all-time leading scorer for Yeshiva University, with 1,871 points. He was introduced by Athletic Director Joe Bednarsh, who spoke about how even though Gev was fierce on the court, he was also a great guy off of it.

The two women who were inducted were star tennis sensation Heidi Nathan Baker and basketball star Daniela Epstein. Baker, who went undefeated in women’s singles and only lost one match in doubles, was introduced by her sister-in-law, and in her acceptance speech spoke about her love for playing and teaching tennis and how much it meant to her to have played for the Maccabees.

Epstein, the final inductee, is the only women’s basketball player to score 1,000 career points. In her father’s introduction, he mentioned how she passed up a chance to play at Maryland and Miami to attend Stern College.

Throughout the event there was a warm feeling of nostalgia, as the inductees, their families and the attendees were able to hear about the recipients’ time at the university and the impact they had on others. The inductees also felt a sense of pride to have played at Yeshiva University and represent the Jewish people. Many of the athletes, especially the ones who played together during the 50s, noted the close relationships they still maintained with their fellow teammates and coaches.

The event culminated with the opening of the Hall of Fame Wall, right outside the

basketball gym in the Max Stern Athletic Center. The night was very special for inductees, families and attendees alike, and YU hopes the wall group will grow as they induct more athletes into the Hall of Fame in the future.

By Eli Rifkind