Penn at the Maccabiah Games

MaccabiahThe Olympics are here and a few Penn athletes will be competing in them!

Well, the Jewish Olympics.

On Thursday, the opening ceremonies were held for the Maccabiah Games, the international event held in Israel every four years that pits the best Jewish athletes from around the world.

And between now and July 30, when the event wraps up with the closing ceremony, you can root for these Quakers:

BaronAlyssa Baron – Women’s Basketball

The rising Penn senior will represent the United States in women’s basketball. And Team USA – which opens against host Israel today in the preliminaries, before facing Canada on Sunday and Australia on Tuesday – would be wise to get the ball in Baron’s hands. The first team All-Ivy honoree led the Quakers in scoring last season and has been known to hit some clutch shots (see video below).

softballElysse Gorney & Sydey Turchin – Women’s Softball

Fresh off helping the Penn softball program to its first-ever NCAA tournament berth, two Quakers will look to add to their already impressive year as members of Team USA. Gorney, a rising senior, and Turchin, a rising junior, were both key starters and all-Ivy honorees for Penn. They begin their quest for gold on Sunday against Canada and will play round-robin games the rest of the week

photo (4)Table Tennis – Matt Simon C’02

Why yes, a Penn alum is part of Team USA’s Table Tennis squad. A doctor by day and a former junior Olympian, Simon ranks among the top five percent of the 7,500 active tournament players in the United States. And the ping-pong star believes this U.S. squad can take home gold. (Full disclosure: I’ll have a profile on him in the next print issue of the Gazette.)

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Rowing expert from Penn discusses life and death of rowing icon from Penn

Harry Parker during his undergraduate days at Penn

Harry Parker during his undergraduate days at Penn

When I heard about the death of rowing giant Harry Parker C’57, I immediately thought to reach out to Peter Mallory C’67. Last year, I interviewed Mallory for a Gazette alumni profile on his book – The Sport of Rowing: Two Centuries of Competition – and found him to be passionate and extremely knowledgeable about crew. And knowing he wrote entire chapters on Parkerthe rowing icon who coached at Harvard for more than 50 years – I called him this week to ask about one of his fellow Penn alums. Below is the interview:

Penn Gazette: What was you reaction when you heard Harry Parker had died?

Peter Mallory: Well, it wasn’t a surprise. He looked like he was going to die two years ago when he first contracted the cancer and they essentially bought him a couple of years with aggressive chemo. At the same time, when I did see him three weeks ago at the Harvard-Yale race, he looked frail and was walking slowly – but he seemed hale and hearty and there was color in his cheeks. It was really quite a remarkable performance on his part. There’s something about a man of that strength of personality where part of you wants to say this is going to go on forever. But it can’t. For a rower that’s part of the American rowing family, Harry is kind of the lynchpin. He’s just been there forever. Your emotional side says he can’t die.

What was your personal relationship like with him?

Harry knew me by name for nearly 50 years and I got a thrill every time I would walk up to him and reach out my hand and he would say, ‘Hello Peter.’ I never rowed for him but he’s known me literally since I was an undergraduate at Penn. And that has felt like such an extreme honor. Harry was one of the first people I went to when I started researching my book. And he was extremely generous with his time. He was an early mentor to the book.

Parker was widely considered the country's premier rowing coach

Parker was widely considered the country’s premier rowing coach

What was he like as a person?

Harry was probably the most competitive guy I’ve ever met. I know a lot of Olympians and one of the common threads of an Olympic athlete is their incredible competitiveness. It’s not enough just to play harder or train harder; you have to have so much drive for so many years that it has to become part of your DNA. And Harry certainly had that. And it never stopped. His Harvard guys would tell uproarious stories about Harry competing with them – whether running at Harvard Stadium or playing croquet at their compound—and how he was always all about winning.

In terms of his coaching personality, he seemed to emulate his mentor at Penn, Joe Burk C’34. Joe was a man of very few words but Joe also had an incandescent smile. When Joe smiled, the whole room would light up. The interesting thing is I only saw Harry really open up twice. Once was in 2006 when my wife and I hosted a party at our house for the 1955 Penn Heavyweight Eight because just a couple months before Joe had passed away. And Harry was telling stories like he was 18 years old again. And they were laughing at all of them, just remembering so fondly the year of 1955 when they were the fastest eight in the world, won Henley and toured Germany undefeated. And the second time was three weeks ago when there was a reunion of the 1968 Harvard crew that went to the Olympics for Harry. And Harry came over and everybody was hugging him. Everyone had to be really careful because he seemed frail. But then everyone gathered around, he sat down and off he went – all of the nostalgia, wonderful stories, everyone laughing, people peppering him with questions, just wonderful anecdotes all around. I’ve never seen him more alive those two times.

Do you have any favorite stories from your book about Harry’s time at Penn?

Joe Burk was, at the time, experimenting with the idea that the best way to select the varsity crew would be to see how people do day in and day out throughout the year. So what he did was he sort of allowed the guys to pick the boats every day like a playground kickball type thing where you pick two captains and each one would pick one guy one at a time. And he eventually had to cut that out because what happened was Harry figured out really quickly who the fast guys were, so he would pick the guys no matter what they looked like and Harry’s boat kept winning day after day after day. So within a number of years, he went to a completely random selection of boats and he would have a deck of cards and would assign each person a particular card and just deal them. And that way no one could game the system. But the fun thing was that Harry Parker, even as a relatively small sophomore, had figured out a way to beat everyone else on the entire team. And he certainly followed through on that for the rest of his life in everything he did.

The undefeated 1955 Penn heavyweight crew poses for a photo, with Parker second from right

The undefeated 1955 Penn heavyweight crew poses for a photo, with Parker second from right

Did Penn still mean a lot to him even after he spent so much time at Harvard?

Harry was a man of few words and I’m not aware of him ever going back to a reunion on campus. But I know that he retained a great personal friendship and connection to his 1955 teammates for the rest of his life. Crew was the crux of his undergraduate life and that meant a great deal to him. He soon became synonymous with Harvard rowing but I don’t think he felt there was any contradiction in that or any conflict. His goal in life was to teach young men to go fast. There’s a quote of his that basically said, ‘Jeez, a lot of you say that you learned all these life lessons and you applied them for the ret of your life; I just wanted to teach you to go fast.’ I’m not sure whether he was being facetious because when guys would come up to him and tell him he was like a father to them and that they had gone on to various successes in whatever they’ve done, Harry was very touched by that.

Can you describe what he meant to the sport?

Harry raised the bar. Harry redefined what you had to do in order to be the best in America. But he refused to be the inspiration for all rowers. He said, ‘I coach the Harvard crew. If you want to row for me when I’m an Olympic coach, fine. But it’s not my job to go around the country and spread some new doctrine.’ Nevertheless, by Harvard’s example, everyone else was deconstructing and reverse-engineering what he was doing. If you wanted to beat Harvard, this is how fast you have to go. And from the East coast to the West coast, everybody rose up in an attempt to stay with Harvard or surpass Harvard. And that’s what he did for the sport. For Harry, it was just setting the bar high. I think his influence will continue for many years. As long as the people that knew him – whether as coach or as a colleague or as just a friend in rowing community – are alive, he will be alive.

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Penn’s Top 10 YouTube moments

One of the highlights of the past year in Penn sports happened last month in the NCAA Division I Softball Championship. Making their first-ever postseason appearance (more on this in the next issue of the Gazette), the Quakers lost two straight games but earned a terrific memory in the process when first baseman Georgia Guttadauro made SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays with a diving catch.

Guttaduaro’s priceless reaction to the moment was chronicled by the Penn Sports Network and is now on YouTube – with over 3,000 views. And this got me thinking. What are some of Penn’s other great moments on YouTube?  So naturally, I compiled a Top 10 list:

10) Georgia Guttadauro watches herself on SportsCenter – 3,068 views (as of June 17)

“I’m Georgia and this is as famous as I’ll ever be.”

9) Alyssa Baron nails buzzer-beater in women’s basketball postseason tournament  – 2,355 views

The call is almost good as the shot.

8) Penn men’s basketball beats Columbia on Fran Dougherty layup – 7,299 views

How about another buzzer-beater?

7) Penn baseball prepares for 2012 season – 58,778 views

Who knew running could be so dramatic? No other Penn sports video has more YouTube hits (as far as I can tell). The director of this video, Jeremy Maas C’11, also has a great YouTube moment here.

6) Penn men’s lacrosse player scores sick goal against Duke – 5,559 hits

Duke has won two national men’s lacrosse titles in the last four years but couldn’t stop this behind-the-shoulder goal from Penn’s Rob Fitzpatrick.

5) Miles Cartwright dunks on Princeton’s face – 9,748 views

The only thing better than a great dunk is a great dunk against Princeton.

4) The final out of a softball perfect game – 1,013 views

Relive the last out of Alexis Borden’s perfect game last year – the first for an Ivy League pitcher since 2006 – and the celebration that followed.

3) Penn men’s basketball upsets No. 6 Temple – 4,373 views

Watch some end-game highlights and a great court-rushing after the Quakers’ huge Palestra upset of the sixth-ranked team in the country 15 years ago.

2) Penn beats Harvard at :00 to win 1982 Ivy League football championship – 1,078 hits

There aren’t too many historical moments on this list for obvious reasons (if only YouTube existed during the glory days of Penn sports) but this video of Penn’s game-winning drive and late-game drama to famously win the 1982 Ivy football title is pure gold. The announcing of Eagles broadcast legend Merrill Reese makes it even better. (For an older – and longer – video of Penn sports, check out this.)

1) Penn erases 14-point lead with 6:40 left to stun Princeton in 2005 – 38,411 views

About half of the 38,411 views might be from me. Try not to get goosebumps watching this awesome highlight package on one of Penn basketball’s most memorable victories.

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Penn soccer star plays against the pros

Duke Lacroix

CHESTER, Pa. — One day, Penn rising junior Duke Lacroix hopes to be a professional soccer player.

On Tuesday night, he got the opportunity to play in a professional stadium against a professional team … and he fit right in.

Lacroix – who is spending his summer with with the Ocean City Nor’easters, a Premier Development League amateur team that fields mostly college students – traveled with his Ocean City teammates to PPL Park on Tuesday to take on the Philadelphia Union in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup, a tournament that pits American teams from all levels against each other.

And led by the speed and craftiness of Lacroix, Ocean City put a serious scare into the Major League Soccer team, scoring a game-tying goal in the 91st minute before surrendering a stoppage-time goal and losing 2-1.

“It was a great atmosphere,” Lacroix said after the game. “At first there were jitters, in the first seconds of the match. After that, for the rest of the 90 [minutes], you don’t hear much. You’re just in the moment. It’s a great feeling. I didn’t really realize the crowd until the end of the game. But it was a great opportunity to play on a field so close to my university and where I grew up.”

Lacroix, who hails from New Egypt, N.J., was especially excited about the end of the game when Ocean City tied the contest and set off a massive celebration on the Nor’easters sideline.

What was that moment like?

“Pure jubilation,” he said. “To see the bench run on the field like that, to score on the field, to hear the crowd, to hear the boos especially – it’s always nice to score on an opponents’ field. It was a great moment for our team – although it was short-lived, which was kind of bittersweet.”

Ocean City’s dramatic game-tying goal is part of the allure of the U.S. Open Cup. By all measures, MLS teams should always beat amateur sides. But time and again, lower-tier teams find ways to survive and advance in what’s been dubbed by some as the “March Madness of U.S. Soccer.”

Ocean City was not able to advance into the fourth round but they still managed to defeat the New York Red Bulls U-23s and upset the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the first two rounds of the 100-year-old tournament.

And they were not scared to play an MLS opponent.

“I like to think Ocean City keeps things professional,” Lacroix said. “The way we play keeps things top-notch. And we kept the game close to the very end. I think that’s a testament to the program we have in Ocean City.”

Lacroix, who’s scored 10 goals during his first two years at Penn, said that he had a lot of friends and family in attendance. The Penn men’s soccer coaches, including head coach Rudy Fuller, were also on hand to watch their star player take on the local pros.

And even though Lacroix’s team was ousted from the tourney, they can now turn their attention to Penn stars Stephen Baker and Jonny Dolezal, both of whom are part of the Reading United amateur team that takes on the vaunted New York Red Bulls tonight.

Could a little more U.S. Open Cup magic be in store for those Quakers?

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Championship Sunday: One afternoon, two teams, two titles

With Penn’s women’s lacrosse and softball teams both playing one game at home for their respective Ivy League championships – just an hour apart – I went to campus to watch both games and chronicle the experience. It turned out to be a very good day for the Quakers. Here’s what transpired:

12:00: “I’m going to be doing a lot of banging,” a father of one of the Penn players informs me as the lacrosse game begins. “You might want to move up a row.” I keep my seat and the Franklin Field bench indeed begins to shake beneath me. I don’t mind. Lacrosse fever, baby!

12:02: People are still settling in when Penn scores its first goal of the game – the 16th of the year from Maddie Poplawski.

12:06: Lucy Ferguson makes the first of her eight saves on the day. “She’s amazing,” someone in the crowd says of the Penn goalie that would soon earn quite the amazing honor.

12:07: Ferguson can’t save a shot from Dartmouth star Hana Bowers, who nets her 46th goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1. It would be the last time the game is tied and the last time the Big Green would score that half.

Dartmouth was no match for Penn goalie Lucy Ferguson (courtesy of Penn Athletics)

Dartmouth was no match for Penn goalie Lucy Ferguson (Penn Athletics)

12:18: Two straight free-position goals – from Caroline Bunting and Courtney Tomchik puts Penn up 3-1 as the crowd goes wild. The Penn fan that leads the cheers with a bullhorn after every goal gets a friendly suggestion to take a sip of water to preserve his voice. He grabs his 24-once Wawa coffee and takes a sip of that. I guess that works, too.

12:30: After a couple of more big saves from Ferguson, Penn goes up 4-1 on the 21st goal of the season from Iris Williamson.

12:43: Penn completes a dominant first half with a Bunting goal with just 11 seconds remaining. It’s 5-1 at the halftime break but the Quakers know they can’t rest easy. In last year’s Ivy championship, they held a 3-1 lead at halftime before watching Dartmouth celebrate on their own field.

Penn's Caroline Bunting shook free of Dartmouth defenders all day (photo courtesy of Penn Athletics)

Penn’s Caroline Bunting shook free of Dartmouth defenders all day (Penn Athletics)

12:59: Penn picks up right where it left off, opening up a 6-1 lead early in the second half on another Poplawski goal.

1:02: Around the same time Dartmouth slices a little bit into the lead to make it 6-2, the Penn-Dartmouth softball championship begins over at Penn Park. I start following that game on Twitter.

1:07: Penn calls a timeout after Bowers scores to make it 6-3. The people dressed in green are starting to make a little more noise.

1:09: Over the loudspeaker, it’s announced that Yale beat Princeton in the Ivy League men’s lacrosse championship but there aren’t any cheers. Come on, Penn fans – where’s the Princeton hate?

1:11: After Penn goes up 7-3, I get a high-five from the fan with the bullhorn, who I find out is defender Meg Markham’s dad, John. I asked how he got the role of head cheerleader. “I’m loud and they gave me this,” he said, pointing to the bullhorn. Makes sense.

John Markham is the man with the bullhorn for women's lacrosse games

John Markham is the man with the bullhorn for women’s lacrosse games

1:16: Bunting gets her hat trick to put Penn up 8-3 with a little under 20 minutes remaining. Things are looking good at Franklin Field but not as good at Penn Park, where Dartmouth opened the scoring with a run in the top of the first.

1:22: Dartmouth is going to have nightmares about Bunting, who scores her fourth of the game to extend Penn’s commanding lead to 9-3.

1:30: Dartmouth is making a little noise on both fields, scoring two straight goals to shave Penn’s lead to 9-5 while increasing its advantage at Penn Park to 2-0 through one-and-a-half innings.

1:35: The lacrosse game is starting to get pretty physical with an increasingly desperate Dartmouth team committing three straight penalties. But Penn makes the Big Green pay when Meredith Cain burying a free-position goal following one of them. Meanwhile at Penn Park, the Quakers slice Dartmouth’s lead in half on a Georgia Guttadauro RBI single in the second inning.

1:45: Dartmouth again scores two straight goals. But with Penn leading 10-7 and just five minutes left, the Big Green are running out of time.

1:48: Bunting forces a key turnover and Ferguson makes a big save as the Quakers begin to clamp down to protect their lead and run down the clock.

1:53: With fans counting down the final seconds, the final whistle blows and Penn celebrates its 10-7 win in the middle of the field. The win assures the Quakers a spot in the NCAA tournament for a whopping seventh straight year. Later, they’ll find out they draw Virginia in the first round Friday.

1:55: As is their custom, the Penn players sing “The Red and the Blue” in front of their fans. The Dartmouth players quickly try to scamper out of the stadium but reluctantly stop halfway down the track for the trophy ceremony.

After doing some celebrating, the Penn players do some singing

After doing some celebrating, the Penn players then did some singing

2:00: The all-tournament team is named with Bunting, Cain, Markham and Poplawski all earning a spot and Ferguson being named most outstanding player. Chants of “Lucy” can be heard all across Franklin Field, right before all of the players go to receive their championship trophy.

Everyone wants to touch the the championship trophy

Everyone wants to touch the the championship trophy

2:04: With one championship down and one to go, I begin the long, arduous journey from Franklin Field to Penn Park to catch the end of the softball game.

2:08: Just as I’m completing the arduous journey, I see a ball fly over the fence and notice that Penn is now leading 3-2. The fourth-inning solo home run, I find out, was belted by Kayla Dahlerbruch. And it came after Penn tied the game on a Dartmouth error.

2:20: Penn clings to its 3-2 lead after ace Alexis Borden wiggles out of a jam in the top of the fifth, getting a strikeout to end the inning.

2:38: Still leading 3-2, Penn escapes another big jam, thanks to a clutch play to catch the lead runner at third on a sac bunt with runners on first and second and nobody out. Some Penn fans are shaking bottles filled with coins to celebrate. Is this a softball thing?

Is there a better place to watch a game? That skyline never gets old.

Is there a better place to watch a game? That skyline never gets old.

2:46: On her next at bat following the home run, Dahlerbruch gets hit in the head with a foul tip but shakes it off with a smile on her face. Penn still can’t get any more runs though as the game shifts to the seventh – and final – inning.

2:51: Looking for her second win in as many days, Borden retires the first batter of the inning on a lineout. Two more outs until Penn’s first Ivy League softball championship since 1981. Fans are standing and cheering every strike.

2:53: Strikeout. One out until the title. “Don’t say anything,” one fan warns. “It’s not over,” another one screams. Gotta love baseball/softball superstition.

2:55: A slow grounder to second … and it’s over! About an hour after one Ivy League championship, Penn wins another. You can watch the final out and some great fan reactions below.

2:57: Head coach Leslie King gets the Gatorade shower – only it wasn’t Gatorade. “Thankfully, it was water,” she’d say later, her shirt almost completely dry. “Last year it was blue Gatorade.”

3:05: Standing in a row, the Penn players pass the trophy down the line. One fan helpfully calls out, “Don’t drop it.”

For the first time since 1981, the word "Pennsylvania" will be inscribed on this trophy

For the first time since 1981, the word “Pennsylvania” will be inscribed on this trophy

3:06: I see Penn athletic director Steve Bilsky watching the celebration and ask him if Penn has ever won two Ivy League championships at home in the same day before. Off the top of his head, he thinks it might be the first. It’s later revealed that this marks the first time two Penn women’s teams earned NCAA tournament bids in the same day.

3:09: The softball team sings the second “Red and the Blue” of the day. The song definitely sounds better after a win.

Heeding the words in the dugout

Heeding the words in the dugout

3:17: With players still smiling and taking pictures with their friends and family, I talk to Dahlerbruch about her game-winning home run. She said her dad has the ball. She’s going to keep it.

3:25: I talk to King about capturing her first title at Penn. Like all good coaches, she credited her senior class but admitted she was nervous during the final two innings as she was “counting down the outs.” As for the upcoming NCAA tournament, King said, “We’re going to go to some beautiful stadium somewhere and play some high-quality team and we’re looking forward to the challenge and the experience. We’re really going to enjoy the ride.”

3:30: I leave the softball stadium. All of the players and parents are still on the field, not wanting the moment to end.

The team that broke the 32-year title drought.

The team that broke the 32-year title drought.

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Championship weekend comes to Penn

lacrossesoftball

 

This is getting to be a yearly tradition.

Last year at this time, Penn hosted the Ivy League women’s lacrosse tournament, the track and field Heptagonal Championships, and a one-game playoff for the softball division title.

This weekend should be just as fun.

For the fourth straight year, Penn will host the Ivy League women’s lacrosse tournament with Princeton playing Dartmouth on Friday at 4 p.m. and the Quakers, led by recently named Ivy League Midfielder of the Year Shannon Mangini, facing Cornell at 7 p.m. at Franklin Field. Both of those games are semifinal contests.

The next day, Penn hosts the Ivy League softball championship series for the first time ever, as the Quakers, who won the Ivy South Division with a 16-4 record, take on North Division champ Dartmouth in a Saturday doubleheader at Penn Park starting at 1 p.m.

Since it’s a best-of-three series, if the two teams split Saturday, they’d play again on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Penn Park in a win-or-go-home battle for the league title – and automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

Meanwhile, if the Penn women’s lacrosse game wins its semifinal game on Friday, it would also play in a championship game on Sunday – at noon.

That means that on Sunday, you might be able to watch Penn win a women’s lacrosse Ivy championship at around 2 p.m., leave Franklin Field, make the very short walk to Penn Park and see the softball team win a league title possibly within the next hour or so.

What do you think, Quakers? Two championships in one afternoon?

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Athletic Director Steve Bilsky discusses upcoming honor, state of Penn athletics

Steve BilskyOn Sunday, Penn’s Director of Athletics, Steve Bilsky W’71, will be inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. It’s a big honor for Bilsky, who was a standout point guard for Penn, where he captained the famous 1970-71 team to a perfect regular season, and has been the athletic director at his alma mater for the last 19 years. Leading up to Sunday’s induction ceremony at the Suffolk Y JCC in Commack, N.Y. (near where Bilsky grew up), I caught up with the Penn AD to discuss the honor and the state of Penn athletics under his watch.

What does it mean for you to get inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame?

It’s a great honor. Any time you’re selected to a Hall of Fame, obviously it’s a lot of pride, you’re humbled and so forth. And then you look at all the people that have previously been inducted and it’s not just a who’s who of great Jewish athletes and media types, but for me personally it represents household names growing up: Sandy Koufax, Dolph Schayes, Howard Cosell, Red Auerbach, who I got to know when I was at George Washington. To think I’m going to be enshrined into something that includes them, it just makes you real humble.

How does this honor compare to some other Hall of Fames you’ve been inducted into – like the Big 5 and Penn Athletics?

Well, any time there’s a plural attached to it, it tells you you’re getting a little older. They’re each so unique. If you look at the Penn Hall of Fame, it’s a century-plus of great athletes who played here at Penn. If you think of the Big 5, it’s such a unique culture; there’s nothing like it anywhere in the country and to be enshrined into something like that makes that special. You don’t really compare them. You’re just flattered and honored that you would be selected for both.

What are you most proud of in your past 19 years as Penn’s athletic director?

It goes back to what I said when I was hired. You really have to concentrate on some major themes because at a place like Penn, it’s so vast and you can get drawn in so many directions that you could find yourself at the end saying, ‘I really didn’t accomplish anything.’ So when I started, I indicated things like a major overall upgrade of the facilities was the number one priority – because that happens cyclically. You have great old buildings like the Palestra and Franklin Field but if you don’t do anything with them every 20, 30 years they become relics rather than functional facilities. We also settled a Title IX complaint that was brought in before I was hired, which has really led to some great growth of our women’s teams. So gender equity was important. And then we really tried to create a culture of leadership in hiring good coaches and maintaining good coaches. And that’s all been culminated through a large degree by the success of our campaigns. The first athletic campaign that’s ever existed at Penn we raised over $120 million, which is a tremendous amount of money. That not only upgrades our facilities but it puts us in really a very healthy financial position going forward. So I would say those four things.

What has the feedback been so far for some of the new projects like Weiss Pavilion, Penn Park and Shoemaker Green?

They’ve been phenomenal. They’ve been phenomenal from the coaches, from the athletes, from recruits, from people who come here who remember this part of campus looking the way it once did and now all of a sudden they come back and they say, ‘Wow.’ It’s been really even beyond what are hopes would be. And you also include the Pottruck Center up on 38th and Walnut. People now tend to forget that. We didn’t have any fitness facility on campus and that also is an award-winning, state-of-the art, top-of-the-line place. It’s not just going to help our athletic programs, which is obvious. It really was as important that this part of the campus was developed the way it turned out to be.

The new tennis courts at Penn Park are one of the many things that has Bilsky excited about the future.

The new tennis courts at Penn Park are one of the many things that has Bilsky excited.

What’s the next big project you’re excited about?

Well, you’re always thinking about things. I think what you do now is you enter another planning stage. There are probably three or four projects that will be done in the next decade that I think will continue to add momentum to this. Right now, the two that are being developed are the renovations of Hutchinson Gym; that will be finished in August. And we’re going to start renovation on Rhodes Soccer Field and building a new field hockey facility right next to us. Those things are keeping us busy right now.

As far as Penn’s teams go, which ones are you happy with right now?

It’s so competitive in the Ivy League. In this year, you have not only teams that have done well within the league and even in the region – but you have Princeton winning the national championship in field hockey and the national championship in men’s and women’s fencing. And this past weekend, Yale won the national championship in men’s ice hockey. So this kind of tug-of-war of what Ivy League athletics look like … there are people that think we have to make sure whatever it is, it has to be different than the rest of the world because the rest of the world is crazy. And then there are those that are saying we’re Division I teams with outstanding student athletes, we should excel in athletics just like we try to excel in everything else. So there’s that tug-of-war going on and I think in the end you can’t keep good athletes down and I think we’ll continue to be a strong presence in Division I.

And I think at Penn, the football championship this year was great because it was a great human-interest story and guys stepped up and the team really got better and played this phenomenal game when very few people gave us a chance to beat Harvard. And we beat them soundly. In the spring, our women’s lacrosse team is always good. Our men’s lacrosse team is nationally ranked and  yet we’re .500ish in the league, so that shows you how strong lacrosse is in the Ivy League. Our softball team is doing great. In the winter, we were one bout from winning an Ivy championship in fencing and then we had a national champion. What we try to do is we try to maintain a broad-base program rather than pick a handful of sports and say those are going to be the sports we care about. And it’s hard to do that. But I think that’s the right thing to do.

You mentioned the hockey national championship. Is there any chance that Penn resurrects its program at some point in the future?

It gets asked about every two or three years. As I understand the policy, in order to come back as a sport, you have to be fully funded from external sources. The University is not going to contribute dollars. And that basically means that in order for Penn to have hockey, we’d have men’s and women’s hockey and we’d have to make multi-millions of dollars of improvements to the facility. And so to endow hockey would probably mean 40, 50 million dollars. And when people hear that they say ‘OK’ and kind of move on to something else. I think in a lot of ways if you turn back the clock, maybe there were other alternatives rather than dropping the sport back in 1979. Maybe in hindsight that wasn’t the best decision. But to bring it back would cost that much money and I just don’t think that exists right now. And our club programs are very successful and the participation is great. So I think we’re probably in a pretty good place with the number of sports right now.

What was your reaction to Harvard winning a basketball game in the NCAA tournament?

You’re proud for the league. You wish it was us. You know, we had such a complicated year because there we were beating Harvard a couple weeks before that and had some other really good games against nationally talented teams where we showed we could play with them. I know a lot of people don’t want to use youth as an excuse and I don’t either, but the question will be, ‘Will these guys that played all these minutes that were mostly freshmen and sophomores learn how to win games when they’re juniors and seniors?’ If they do, I think we’ll be very good. And if we don’t, then we’ll continue to be frustrated. The jury is out.

Bilsky says it's only fair to judge Jerome Allen after the men's basketball coach brings in at least two more recruiting classes.

Bilsky says it’s only fair to judge Jerome Allen after the men’s basketball coach brings in at least a couple of more more recruiting classes.

Is next year kind of like a make-or-break year for the men’s basketball team?

No, it really isn’t. When Jerome [Allen] was hired, as any coach would be, you say that you can’t really define any success until the person’s had a chance to have four full recruiting classes. If you didn’t do that, you’d see coaches like Bobby Knight and Digger Phelps and Mike Krzyzewski [fired] in their first two of three years. So I think probably in fairness, two years from now you’ll have a good sense what Jerome’s able to produce.

You have to be pretty happy about the other basketball program and the job Mike McLaughin has done so far, right?

Yeah, it’s very heartwarming because they’re good people and they’re good coaches. As much as you like to speed things up – everyone wants to win now, whether you’re a coach or a player or a fan – you have to develop a program. And Mike’s really done a good job of developing a basketball program. And they play good fundamentally sound basketball. And the results showed it this year for sure.

In general, as far as the next few years in Penn athletics go, are you feeling pretty good about everything right now?

I am because I think this campaign and what we’ve been able to do with it has just given us such an opportunity to kind of take off from where we are now. So when you have recruits visiting and they see the phenomenal facilities, it speaks to commitment the University has to the programs. I think we’ll be in a position to take off. There are a lot of dynamics that go into the Ivy League. I mean everyone else is trying to be good too. And there’s financial aid dynamics and admission dynamics that are at work, so you really have to be exceptional to win. But we’ve probably never been in a better position in terms of facilities and financially as we are right now.

Are you going to keep doing this job for a while?

I’ve said this for a long period of time: you’ve got to assess it every year. You look for new goals and you look for new challenges in life – whether it’s doing this or doing something else. I’ve never really had much of a chance to think about that because this campaign was so consuming, but at some point I’ll hang it up. And I’ll feel good about it because I’ll be able to pass it on to somebody in what I consider really good shape.

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