Brandeis scores big with athletic homecoming

Soccer coaches honored, bust dedicated to Bill McKenna '55

Dara Spital ’15 pulls away from a Rochester player.

Hundreds of former Brandeis athletes — from “Benny’s Boys,” who represented the school on the football field in the 1950s, to young alumni whose onetime teammates still compete for the Judges — gathered on campus last weekend to celebrate a sports program that has always prized excellence on both sides of the student-athlete equation.

The inaugural Athletics Homecoming, held Oct. 12-13, featured a pair of varsity soccer matches against the University of Rochester (the men lost, 3-2; the women played to a 0-0 draw); a Brandeis community barbecue; and alumni basketball, swimming and softball events. Additionally, the university feted soccer coaches Mike Coven and Denise Dallamora for their combined 75 years of service; dedicated a bust to memorialize football star Bill McKenna ’55, the school’s first All-American in any sport; and honored past stars at the 15th Joseph Linsey Athletic Hall of Fame induction.

“Whether it’s in the library, lab, studio, playing field or pool, we always try to do our best,” said Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence, who spent the day shuttling between ceremonies and watching the soccer matches at Gordon Field.

The Athletics Homecoming was the brainchild of Jessica Bergman ’91, a former member of the Brandeis basketball, softball, and track and field teams, who joined the Alumni Association board of directors last year at the urging of president Adam Rifkin ’97.

“We wanted to find a way to connect former athletes with Brandeis and welcome them back,” Bergman said.

The Department of Athletics helped organize the weekend along with the Alumni Association, the Alumni Club of Greater Boston and the Friends of Brandeis Athletics.

“It’s wonderful to come together and celebrate Brandeis athletics in this way,” said director of athletics Sheryl Sousa ’90, a former volleyball and softball player at Brandeis. 

In his role as president of the Alumni Club of Greater Boston, former Brandeis swimmer Doug Rosner ’88 helped organize alumni events around men’s and women’s soccer doubleheaders the past two years. The Athletics Homecoming represented a natural progression.

“We always try to plan events to get alumni back on campus,” Rosner said. “The Athletics Homecoming brings together athletes from different generations and different sports.”

Rifkin expects the event to grow in coming years. “Athletics has been a core part of Brandeis since the university’s inception, but we haven’t always done such a good job of reaching out to our alumni athletes,” Rifkin said. “Under President Lawrence, we are re-engaging with former athletes to make them feel more a part of the alumni community.”

Soccer coaches honored

Between the women’s and men’s soccer matches, longtime coaches Coven (41 years) and Dallamora (34 years) were recognized for the outsized influence they have had on generations of Brandeis athletes.

“When I talk about Denise and Mike, I’m not just talking about coaches,” Lawrence said. “They are teachers, educators and my colleagues.”

During the program, Murray Greenberg ’77, a member of Coven’s first team at Brandeis, and Jim Belanger ’81 spoke about their coach. Sisters Mimi ’12 and Ali Theodore ’12 shared their memories of Dallamora, the only coach in the history of the women’s program.

McKenna bust dedication

About 125 of McKenna’s former teammates, friends and family jammed into the Napoli Room in the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center to honor the standout end, an Associated Press All-American in 1954 who later played in the Canadian Football League. Fellow football players Myron “Mike” Uhlberg ’55 and Dick Bergel ’57 and team manager Bob Weintraub ’55 organized the event and raised more than $30,000 to pay for the bust. Other speakers on the program included former teammates Jimmy Stehlin ’57 and Ed Manganiello ’54, McKenna’s three daughters and two brothers, and Lawrence.

McKenna, who died in 2012 at age 79, was generally considered the star of “Benny’s Boys,” the team led by legendary coach Benny Friedman before Brandeis gave up football in 1959. McKenna was remembered by his teammates as an outstanding athlete, leader and student.

His widow, Myken, kissed the bust after it was revealed to the crowd by sculptor Dick Baldacci ’56, a former teammate and accomplished artist.

Hall of Fame inductions

Six individuals and two teams were enshrined in the Hall of Fame during a dinner and ceremony attended by more than 200 people at Levin Ballroom in Usdan Student Center. In a twist, current athletes presented the new Hall of Fame members. 

Inductees included:

— Jules Love ’55, who scored the first basket in Brandeis men’s basketball history in 1951 and has been involved with Brandeis and the sport ever since.

— The 1957 football team, which finished with a 6-1 record, including wins over Northeastern, the University of Massachusetts and the University of New Hampshire.

— Mark Bonaiuto ’77, a shortstop and two-time captain who earned All-Greater Boston League honors and helped the 1977 Judges reach the championship game of the NCAA Division III tournament.

— The 1984 men’s soccer team, which posted a record of 19-5 and earned a second-place finish at the NCAA Division III tournament, losing in the championship game in triple overtime.

— Michael Goldfarb ’99, a three-time All-American and the first male member of the swimming and diving program to be inducted.

— Victoria Petrillo ’99, a four-time national champion in the 800-meter run and eight-time All-American.

— Rashad Williams ’02, Brandeis’ all-time leading scorer in men’s basketball with 1,928 points and a four-time All-University Athletic Association selection.

— Danielle Fitzpatrick ’04, the first All-American in Brandeis women’s basketball history, who finished among the school’s top 10 in career points and rebounds.

Categories: Alumni, Athletics

Return to the BrandeisNOW homepage