JLBC – Thanks for taking the time to talk with us about YU Athletics. What is it that you do for the department?
YU – Thank you for having me here, I’m excited to talk about our student athletes. I wear multiple hats but essentially I coordinate our recruiting efforts and our athletic alumni relationships. I’m also the Men’s Soccer Coach.
JLBC – There’s a lot there. Let’s break it down. What does recruiting mean; you go to TABC and Kushner and scout?
YU – I have, and we do keep track of what is going on locally, but we are spreading our net far and wide trying to create an international recruiting network. My post is only a year old so we are learning about what is out there as we discover certain elements to the Jewish sports scene. In this first year we have focused on four main regional areas, essentially the four biggest Jewish metro-areas in the world: Israel, the New York Metro area, Southern California, and the Southern Florida corridor along I-95. At the same time we are using our contacts to identify and contact potential student athletes from around the world. What we have learned is that despite YU’s history and popularity there are still so many people out there that have no idea what Yeshiva University actually is, and we have been educating them about how fantastic a destination it can actually be. Our next step will be to build a bigger presence in smaller market areas and continue to spread our wings internationally.
JLBC – So once you ID a strong prospect you give him a sports scholarship?
YU – YU is an NCAA Division 3 school which means we are prohibited from giving any sort of athletics-based scholarships. But like every other D3 school, students, whether athletes or not, can receive Financial Aid based on need and Academic Merit-based grants. YU is very similar in that regard to other upper echelon D3 schools—MIT, NYU, Carnegie Mellon and others. We are a Top 50 Academically Ranked school according to US News & World Report; we have a fantastic career center and therefore amazing statistics of graduating students getting a job within six months of graduation, we are in New York City, and we provide the only shomer Shabbat NCAA experience. All of that, coupled with our Judaic studies, makes us uniquely poised to attract a lot of people. My conversations with athletes take two main directions, “I want to learn more about Judaism and become more religious” or “I want to keep playing and this is my chance to do so and continue to be shomer Shabbat.” One of our student athletes, who is a two- time Capital One Academic All-American, when asked about why she chose YU instead of anywhere else, phrased it really well. She said, everyone my age coming out of high school was talking about getting out of a Jewish school and going into the real world, but I have my entire life to have to live in the real world so why not spend these four years surrounded by Judaism. If she wasn’t a two-time All-American, that probably wouldn’t carry as much weight to it. But if she can say it, I can say it!
JLBC – You really get players who are choosing YU over other places?
YU – All the time. We have numerous Division 1 and Division 2 transfers. Students that were playing at places you see on TV and others that chose us from the beginning but were having conversations with universities with that caliber of athletic program.
JLBC – Okay, so who does YU play and what kind of championships are available for a D3 team like Yeshiva? Can you offer that same elite level competition?
YU – We compete in the Skyline conference and play out-of-conference games against teams from around the northeastern U.S. So our athletes are playing schools like Purchase College, St. Joseph’s, and Maritime College in our league and then out of our conference against the likes of Baruch, Montclair State, NYU, Rutgers Newark, Army, Haverford College, Johns Hopkins, Western Connecticut State University, and this year we will play against Penn State Brandywine, which will be fun. The championships structure is identical to what you are used to in the D1 sphere. There are over 400 Division 3 schools in the country broken into 45 or so conferences. We play in our league, the Skyline Conference. If we win the championship, then we go to the NCAA National Tournament. The misnomer is that D3 means lower competitive levels than D1 and D2. In a sense it is true because D1 and D2 are essentially “paying,” through scholarships, to attract the top players. But D3, at the top, offers extremely high level competition. Players from our conference have been drafted by MLB and gone to Europe to play Basketball; many D3 players have played Major League Soccer, and more than a few have gone to high level tennis and golf tournaments.
JLBC – So let’s talk about tennis then. YU Tennis went to the NCAA Tournament?
YU – Yes! Tennis won the Skyline Conference and went to the NCAA National Tournament. They lost to Skidmore College, who was ranked 20th in the country, in the first round.
JLBC – Alright, so honestly, does anyone actually care if you win?
YU – For sure! My phone was buzzing like crazy with people asking how they can watch the NCAA games. Now, obviously our biggest focus is on a higher level. We will never encourage or endorse winning at the expense of sportsmanship, middos, or academic success, but as a school we want to succeed at everything we do. One of the tennis matches this year, our #1 player was hitting the ball so hard and so fast that his opponent couldn’t get out of the way and it hit him in the chest—this was an opponent who went to the national tournament last year by the way—and after each time it happened, our guy apologized. In the championship game, after he won, he didn’t celebrate on the court. I asked him why? He says, “I couldn’t; the other guy was crying. He’s a senior. This was his last college match ever. I couldn’t do that.” That is the epitome of what we want to imbue in our students at YU—to control one’s emotion in the heat of the moment, due to a sensitivity of others, and to be gracious regardless of the circumstance. You see, we aren’t out there recruiting hired guns or anything like that. We are out there trying to find students who can thrive at Yeshiva University in every sense.
JLBC – That’s awesome. Okay, so now how do you build a winner from a team that has, well to use your word and be a bit “gracious” traditionally not been a winner?
YU – That was gracious. It builds first with the pioneers. Our coaches recruit and convince students that YU is the right choice for every aspect of their college life. In year one, say three kids decide to join a team, the team does better and so the next year it is easier to recruit three more. The process builds itself. Winning breeds more winning. The key is that Division 3 schools are made up from two types of universities. Some have an ideological reason to stay as a non-scholarship program. Those are schools like NYU, MIT, Yeshiva, and Carnegie Mellon, and in D1, the Ivy’s. The second group is made up from small city and private colleges that just cannot afford to offer those scholarships. Yeshiva is firmly from the former group of schools. We already draw an international student body; the school can sell itself with its host of offerings, which makes bringing in great students who are great athletes easier. We’ve been hiring some fantastic coaches with an extensive pedigree or a skillset to build success and we are building an infrastructure for student athletes, who are very driven individuals by nature, to compete. Our students, without any hyperbole, are superstars. Our Athletic Director likes to say how they don’t exist anywhere else on earth, and he is right. These kids are in a dual curriculum, and optionally choose to participate in what is basically a third curriculum. They practice most days of the week during the season, and yet still have an amazingly high GPA as a group.
JLBC – We are almost out of space here, you have any good stories to share?
YU – Just one? An NCAA National Tournament appearance is always going to rank as one of my favorite moments of 2014. Another favorite, though thankfully not a single occurrence anymore, is the satisfaction of hearing student athletes who did not grow up in a religious environment choose YU based on thoughts like—and these are actual quotes— “Something in my heart tells me Yeshiva is the right place for me,” or “I want to become shomer Shabbat.” Or when I ask an athlete from a public school about his level of observance and he tells me, “well my mom goes to shul on Shabbat and I just started putting on teffilin a few months ago; I really want to be more involved.” How can anything be better than hearing that? But there are plenty of funny stories that happen when I am on the road recruiting. I went out of state to visit a prospective student athlete for Stern College. I knew the family was traditional, but the girl was genuinely interested in YU. I show up and her mother had gone to a kosher bakery, specifically for me and bought probably $30 or $40 worth of cakes and treats with a hechsher. She wouldn’t let me leave until I took some cake with me to go.
JLBC – Something about Jewish mother’s right?
YU – Right! Another funny story happened when I went to a tournament, here in New Jersey, at which Maccabi Haifa’s youth team was playing. Maccabi Haifa is traditionally one of the more secular teams in Israel. So I show up in my YU, Nike brand polo shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes, and I’m wearing my kippah. The directors of the team are all shaved headed Israelis, standing off behind the field smoking and they look me up and down suspiciously like only they can. I talk for maybe five minutes explaining who I am and what I am doing there, and finally one of them says in the thickest Israeli accent I’ve ever heard, “You’re the coach? You look like a rabbi!” I say, “That’s funny because the rabbis all think I look like you!” He laughs and puts his hand on my shoulder, “Okay, Josh, we can help you; we can find you players for Yeshiva.”
JLBC – Amazing. And it is great that YU can benefit from those kinds of relationships.
YU – A different and equally satisfying kind of relationship is like this one great episode when I was recruiting a kid from South Africa. He is an elite level soccer player who was offered a chance to play for a top-level team in Europe, but he turned them down because he is shomer Shabbat. I reached out to him and he was shocked. He had no idea that we existed or that we could offer him a place like YU and that he could play soccer here. He was on his way to Israel to learn for a year, but he got so excited about the possibility of learning, studying, and playing at YU that he says, “Coach, what do you think, maybe I shouldn’t even go to Israel, and I’ll come straight to New York?” I said, “Whoa! Hold up! I don’t want that on my permanent record for when I go upstairs! You go learn for a year; I’ll see you next season.”
JLBC – Last line. Give me your elevator pitch. Why should I choose YU?
YU – Yeshiva University is the only place on earth you can get a top-50 college education, adhere to strict observance of the Torah, and never feel threatened about who you are religiously, play at the highest level alongside elite players from around the world (if you and the other three guys I am recruiting all come this year), live in New York City, meet some lifelong friends, and put yourself in a great position for a career of your choice with help from our fantastic Career Development Center. So, the way I see it, your college decision is based on four factors: Education, Religious Life, Social Life, and Athletics. You can have it all here, and if you have a few moments, I want to tell you how…