by Pete Janny, Matthew Sweeney, and Jocelyn Visnov, Sports Editor & Staff Writers
It should come as no surprise that Manhattan College students are active away from campus, given the Lasallian values that are instilled in students from their first day on campus. But what may raise some eyebrows among Jasper Nation is that several of the school’s athletic teams rank in the top 10 nationally for community service hours among division I schools for their respective sports.
According to HelperHelper—a volunteering tracking agency—Manhattan College’s athletic teams ranked 33rd nationally among Division 1 schools for total service hours during the 2019-2020 academic year. Men’s lacrosse placed fourth nationally among Division I lacrosse teams with 369 service hours, which also placed them atop their counterparts in the MAAC. Women’s basketball, which recorded 446 hours, were fifth-best nationally, while pacing the MAAC among Division I women’s basketball teams. The other Manhattan teams that earned national distinction were women’s lacrosse, rowing and the men’s cross country and track and field program — all of whom finished in sixth place in the country for their sport.
The women’s basketball team spent a lofty 446 service hours working at different types of places such as the Riverdale Young Men’s Hebrew Association, local schools, and nursing homes. These experiences away from the court reinforce to them that playing basketball is far from their only calling in life.
“We definitely do a lot in the community, just to get out and show that this is just more than basketball,” Gabby Cajou, a graduate student on the women’s basketball team said. “We’re more than just athletes here. We try to do our best to serve the community and help those around us.”
Even during a global pandemic, the Lady Jaspers have made a concerted effort to continue the momentum of their efforts both on and off the court. The team’s camaraderie and close bonds have allowed them to persevere through this period of crisis.
“I would have to say I don’t even think it affected it at all,” Cajou said. “Throughout the summer we always keep in contact, we are a very close team. So regardless if we’re talking in our team group chat, we are communicating through social media and we are communicating through text. So it really didn’t affect it as much. We had weekly team meetings and it’s just something that kept us closer together, like a lot of people didn’t see their friends for a while but I still felt connected with my teammates throughout the whole process.”
One of the most memorable moments for the athletics department from this past academic year was born from an act of service. Last fall, the men’s lacrosse team held a press conference with Team Impact which included a very special guest. As a nonprofit that brokers partnerships between sick children and college sports programs, Team Impact forged a special bond between a young Bronx boy named Alex and Manhattan Lacrosse. The big highlight of the partnership came on Alex’s birthday, when the lacrosse team watched him have his own press conference and honorary signing in Draddy Gym before throwing a birthday bash for him.
The joy on Alex’s face that day encapsulated the powerful impact community service could have on the lives of others.
“Having Alex there gives guys a little more push and gives them more of reality that things happen but you have to battle through them and Alex kind of draws everyone back to that,” former men’s lacrosse player Justin Pape said at the time, according to Go Jaspers.
As many ultimately discover, being active in the community isn’t a one-way street in terms of the value it provides. The sacrifices made by student-athletes are integral for their own growth as well, enabling them to continue to make a positive impact in society after graduation.
“To be a full well-rounded person, I think there needs to be some type of service to others, to achieve that goal of being a total person,” Manhattan College Athletic Director Marianne Reilly said. “When that person graduates, that’s a part of the fabric of who they are. It makes our society a stronger society, both in our community, and when they graduate and go out into the world and make their community, their new community better.”
Joseph Chionchio, a member of the class of 2020 and a former Manhattan baseball player, is an example of someone who wasted no time applying the life skills he learned at Manhattan to assist his own community. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chionchio created a food delivery service called Smart Shop, tailored to meet the eating needs of local families on Long Island who were trapped in their houses out of precaution. The venture has been a roaring success for Chionchio, who was featured in the pages of Newsday, as well on cable channels Fox 5 New York and the Fox Business Network.
“He started delivering food to people who couldn’t come out,” Reilly said of Chionchio’s start-up business. “I doubt he thought of it as a business as quickly as he did thinking about how people could be helped and how it could be utilized in that way.”
In the era of COVID-19, the world of athletics has been thrown into disarray just like virtually every other facet of life. But instead of sulking over all the negativity, Reilly believes the student-athletes at Manhattan have gained a better appreciation for their opportunities, thus pushing them to work even harder for the betterment of themselves and for others.
“Our student athletes are more grateful for everything they have including the opportunity to practice and train and be together as a team,” Reilly said. “I think that’s what I’ve seen that they’re grateful because they know at any moment for this particular reason, the pandemic, things can be taken away very quickly.”
Such a scenario played out back in March when both basketball teams had to experience the shutdown of society as we knew it while at the MAAC Tournament in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Shortly after the men’s basketball team lost to Siena in the quarterfinals on the night of March 11, the sports world paused after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz became the first athlete to test positive for the coronavirus. The news led to swift cancellations and indefinite suspensions of every scheduled sports event. For the women’s basketball team, the end of the road came less than an hour before their quarterfinals match-up against Quinnipiac the next day, subjecting them to a cruel and unfortunate ending to a successful season highlighted by a third-place finish in the MAAC. Since then, sports leagues in the country have progressively resumed, with professional leagues having more opportunities to do so than college athletics. At Manhattan and many other schools across the country, fall sports have been sidelined this semester, further testing the patience and mental toughness of student-athletes on campus.
And in case the cancellation of fall seasons wasn’t bad enough, another special day crossed out on the calendar was the day of the Manhattan College Cross Country Invitational, the largest and oldest one-day high school cross country meet in the country which usually includes somewhere between seven thousand to ten thousand runners. The loss of the actual meet prompted organizers to schedule a series of virtual festivities in a year that has also seen the passing of the legendary Ed Bowes ‘64 — the man who founded the event back in 1973 and remained the main organizer of it for several decades later.
While maybe not as tangible as other acts of service, Bowes’ commitment to growing the event into an annual spectacle typified his dedication in helping future generations of runners be successful. It’s powerful sacrifices like that which are manifestations of the college’s Lasallian mission.
“I am so proud that we got to honor him last year so that he knew how we felt about not only him as a person, but as a mentor and coach,” Reilly said of Bowes, who went on to serve as the cross country coach at Bishop Loughlin for 39 years after a prolific running career of his own. “For us to put a sign Ed Bowes Way, I’m happy we were able to do it with his untimely death this year. To know that we did it last year and know that he went to his final resting place knowing that Manhattan College truly and sincerely cared about what he produced, it will always be in good hands going forward with him really as the post that keeps it all together.”
As enjoyable as their playing days may be, student-athletes must start preparing for the next phase of their lives after school. When interacting with professionals from various backgrounds in the community, it exposes them to different perspectives that may inform their own career discernment. It all goes back to the point that doing things like lending a helping hand to those in need and developing a network of connections off the court are long-term investments of sorts.
“What I want to be is a teacher.” Cajou said. “So, being a leader on the court on and off the court is definitely going to help me become a teacher, being able to interact with my teammates knowing who I can talk to, who I can’t is definitely going to help me become a teacher.”
This commitment to service found amongst Manhattan College students and alumni is the hallmark of a Jasper, and one that can be identified throughout our storied history. If the rigors of a global pandemic can hardly slow them down, then the future of the school’s athletic teams figure to be in good hands.