We sat down with UConn Football Coach Randy Edsall and asked him questions submitted by UConn Nation.
By Tim Froberg, USA Today Network-Wisconsin
This article was originally published on Post-Crescent.
The hair is coming back and so is the fastball.
The latter will serve Ryan Radue well the remainder of his collegiate baseball career at the University of Connecticut.
When he does return to the mound, Radue may see the sport differently.
He’s endured enough off the field to know that must-win games don’t really exist. But there are must-win situations in life, and he’s winning a personal battle against the ultimate opponent.
Ted Lunney ’92, a loyal alum and Husky basketball fan, will be one of the first donors to have a locker named after him in UConn’s new Werth Family UConn Basketball Champion Center.
Lunney says he wanted to contribute because of the strong connection he feels toward UConn, where he majored in business and formed lifelong friendships.
“This is a chance to give back to a place that had a big impact on me personally and professionally. Hopefully, this will have a positive impact on the university,” Lunney said. “I have incredibly fond memories of UConn. It’s been a great experience.”
The new 78,000-square-foot basketball practice facility features common areas for strength training, academic support, and sports medicine as well as separate practice gyms, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms, and video analysis theaters. Fundraising is ongoing for the $40 million facility, the first and only building on campus funded completely by philanthropy.
“Seeing major supporters like Dan Toscano ’87 and Mark Shenkman ’65 give both their time and money over the years planted the seeds for me to make my own donation. Hopefully it will have a meaningful impact,” Lunney said. “The perfect opportunity presented itself in the locker naming at the Werth Family Champion’s Center.”
Lunney’s donation will assist UConn Athletics’ Drive to 5K initiative to raise funds for scholarships, facility expenses, and other related costs to support UConn’s 24 teams. To date, nearly 4,000 donors have contributed to support our 700 student-athletes and help keep UConn’s teams nationally competitive. UConn is competing with universities such as Kansas, which has 6,050 athletic donors, Maryland, which has 6,500, and Rutgers, which boasts 7,460.
Lunney was raised in Meriden. His parents divorced early and he was raised by his father, Bob, an elementary school teacher in North Haven. After graduating from Maloney High School, Lunney headed to UConn. A lot has changed on campus since then. He remembers watching the basketball team play in the old fieldhouse and the Hilltop residence halls had just opened and were considered the “cream of the crop” in dorm living. UConn’s transformation through the UConn 2000 construction program was just starting then.
His fondest memories are of the great friendships he formed at UConn, particularly during his junior year on his floor in Hale Hall. He remembers the day it all started when three guys down the hall were trying to watch a game on an old TV with a rabbit-ear antenna in their room. They were frustrated because they couldn’t get any reception.
They walked by Lunney’s room and noticed that he was watching the same game. They asked if he minded if they watched it with him.
“I had cable TV,” Lunney said. “That was a big deal then.”
After that, every day he came home from class he’d find them in his room watching cable.
They became and have remained good friends over the years. All three were in his wedding party and they still get together, though not as often.
“What I remember most about UConn is the great relationships we created, the lifelong relationships you establish going through university together,” he said.
Lunney married his high school sweetheart, Melissa, and they live in Westport with their two daughters, Alexa, 11, and Taylor, 8, whom he calls his “mini Huskies.” Lunney has worked on Wall Street for the past 23 years. He currently runs the high yield trading desk for the Bank of Montreal, BMO Capital Markets, in New York.
UConn baseball pitcher Nico Darras looked out at fellow Husky athletes and donors at the annual UConn Athletics Endowment Dinner on Monday, October 5, and talked about how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and glory of being a Husky champion.
“There’s the 6 a.m. lift, the hours of study hall, the walk-off home runs, the buzzer beaters, and the fourth-quarter field goal,” he said. “Then it hit me. None of those things were possible without you—the donors.”
Darras, a junior from Laguna Beach, Calif., spoke of the gratitude he and the other athletes feel to be able to play the game they love while getting a top-rate college education. Darras told the 250 students, coaches and donors gathered in the Rome Ballroom that their scholarships not only made it possible for them to be a student-athlete at UConn, but allowed them to simply go to college at all.
Such is the case for Immanuella Anagu, a marketing major from Culver City, Calif., who has an endowed scholarship to play volleyball.
“It’s pretty much the reason I can go to a school like this,” she said. “I know if I didn’t have volleyball and didn’t have the support from UConn I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be able to afford it. The fact that these people give their money and put their trust in us, I think that’s amazing.”
Senior Lexi Gifford, a softball shortstop from Natick, Mass., said her scholarship has made college more affordable.
“I don’t come from a wealthy background, so it opened a lot of doors being able to earn a scholarship,” she said. “I’m really grateful. I don’t think ‘thank you’ covers it, but thank you for everything they’ve put into the University, the athletics and the athletes. We just look to pay it forward for the next generation.”
Private support from donors is more essential than ever for the success of UConn’s 24 varsity sports and more than 700 student-athletes. This year a new fundraising initiative, the “Drive for 5K,” is being launched with the goal of increasing the number of donors from 4,400 to 5,000.
During the dinner, endowed scholarship donor Mark Sinatro, ’88, a UConn scholarship recipient in men’s tennis during his undergraduate days, congratulated the student-athletes for their determination, hard work, integrity and character. He predicted their drive would spill over into their professional life.
“I know for a fact you will all be successful. You are going to hang up the cleats, hang up the sneakers, and you are going to go out there and knock the professional world dead. I want you to always remember UConn. I want you to stay connected,” he said.
Sinatro thanked the donors for making a difference in the lives of the student-athletes.
“I know firsthand the sacrifices that you make to make that contribution year in and year out,” he said.
Field hockey midfielder Roisin Upton, of Limerick, Ireland, said the foundation for athletic excellence has been laid down over the years by dedicated donors.
“Year after year, the legacy grows, standard rises and the community and winning culture exists,” she said.
“I have made some friends for life from all corners of the world and also have been surrounded by the types of people that have shaped and formed how to act and think my whole life long. On top of all this, I have been given the opportunity to broaden myself holistically by giving back through community service through the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and their community outreach programs.
“In this way it’s fair to say that being a recipient of a sports scholarship at the University of Connecticut is definitely a golden ticket,” she said.
Director of Athletics Warde Manuel noted that UConn student-athletes continue to perform well academically. More than half achieved at least a 3.0 grade point average and 28 student-athletes earned a 4.0 in the fall or spring semester during the last academic year.
“The momentum and success on and off the fields of play are the result of your belief and support of this exceptional institution,” he said to the donors.
Nearly 250 donors, student-athletes, coaches and administrators gathered inside Rome Ballroom in October for the UConn Athletics Annual Endowed Scholarship Dinner. Throughout the evening, which featured a social hour, dinner and speaking program, those in attendance heard about the importance of endowed scholarships on the lives of UConn’s student-athletes and the success of its programs.
“The Endowed Scholarship Dinner is a special night for UConn Athletics,” said Director of Athletics Warde Manuel. “Each year I really look forward to this event because it’s a great opportunity for our student-athletes to come face-to-face with and get to know the individuals who support their education. By endowing a scholarship, our donors are providing our student-athletes with a great education, which is a gift that will benefit them for a lifetime. ”
From Latvia to Husky Nation
For women’s track and field standout Saija Bikanova, it was a long journey to Connecticut. Born and raised in the small Eastern European country of Latvia, she never dreamed of one day running track while receiving an education from one of the premiere universities in the United States.
Since arriving on campus nearly four years ago, Bikanova has learned many valuable lessons that go well beyond her time in the classroom and on the track.
“I’ve learned so much about toughness, determination and dedication,” she said. “UConn has brought out the best of me both on the track and in the classroom. It hasn’t always been easy, but I know everything I’ve learned here has prepared me to be successful once I graduate. I am incredibly grateful for everybody here tonight. You have made this UConn experience possible for me and so many of my fellow student-athletes.”
Empowering coaches to recruit champions
Endowed scholarships have an impact on others besides the student-athletes who receive them. For UConn’s coaches, endowed scholarships allow them to continue attracting talented student-athletes from around the world.
“Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program,” said UConn Women’s Hockey Coach Chris MacKenzie. “As our program continues to grow, it’s important that we have the ability to provide scholarships to bring in the best and brightest student-athletes. I think tonight’s Endowed Scholarship Dinner says a great deal about the wonderful support we receive from our donors here at UConn.”
Spirited alumni give back
While endowed scholarships have a direct effect on UConn’s student-athletes and coaches, the ability to make this type of impact is very rewarding for those who invest in scholarships.
Hailing from the heart of UConn Country, Mike Soltys ’81 and his family have a deep connection to the University of Connecticut. For 25 years, his father Joseph worked as the sports information director, then during his time on campus, Mike had the good fortune to meet his wife Teresa, and in recent years two of their children graduated from UConn while their youngest is a senior who’s looking forward to graduating this spring.
“Because of UConn, I have had a great life and a successful career doing what I love — working in the sports industry,” Soltys said. “By endowing a scholarship in my parents’ honor, I have the opportunity to pay tribute to them as we support hard working and talented students who also dream of working in sports one day. Being here tonight is wonderful because we love having the chance to meet the students supported by these scholarships and to see the excitement on their faces.”
For over 20 years, Mike Melio has been a loyal donor to UConn Athletics. During that time, he has supported numerous initiatives, but for him, there is something special about making a gift to support the education of student-athletes.
“It’s all about education, without it we would be nothing,” Melio said. “We have so many wonderful student-athletes representing UConn. Personally, it’s very fulfilling to support these young people academically. I strongly believe we have student-athletes here at the University of Connecticut who will one day go on to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems.”
History was made on the UConn campus today, as the UConn Foundation handed over to the University the first building financed entirely with private donations and no taxpayer money. The UConn Basketball Champions Center was dedicated in the name of Peter J. and Pamela H. Werth, who made their second gift in three years for the new practice and training home for the Huskies’ championship basketball programs.
The $40 million state-of-the-art basketball practice facility behind Harry A. Gampel Pavilion, the on-campus home of the 2014 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball championship teams, will ensure that no university will surpass UConn when it comes to supporting its student-athletes.
“We believe the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center is the key to sustaining UConn’s tradition of great basketball,” says Coleman Levy ‘61, ’62, ’66, chairman of the UConn Foundation Board of Directors. “Built solely with private donations, this new facility is a real tribute to the steadfastness of our friends and alumni and their willingness to support UConn’s transformation and vision for the future. We are so grateful to the Werth family and the many generous donors who helped make this great new facility possible.”
The 75,000-plus square-foot facility features complete facilities for the men’s and women’s championship basketball programs. The building includes common academic support, sports medicine and strength training areas along with separate practice gyms, locker rooms, coaches’ offices, meeting rooms and video analysis facilities.
Upon entering the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center, the lobby will feature a display of NCAA trophies representing the four men’s championships and the nine women’s titles. On each side of the main lobby leading to the women’s and men’s areas, visitors will be greeted by a floor-to-ceiling image of an iconic Husky representing each program—Maya Moore and Ray Allen.
Last year men’s head coach Kevin Ollie ’95 and women’s head coach Geno Auriemma led the Huskies to dual championships, a feat accomplished just once before in NCAA history when Jim Calhoun and Auriemma led UConn to both national championships in 2004.
The Werth family is also making history; their original gift for the practice facility three years ago was one of the largest single private gifts ever made to the Division of Athletics. Now the Werths are making another investment in UConn’s quest for additional championships.
“UConn is a very special place,” says Peter Werth, a season ticket holder for both basketball teams and the football team, who says he has a special fondness for UConn women’s basketball. “The young people who go to UConn come out better than they went in, not only in terms of education but also in attitude and life skills. UConn does a great job and my family is pleased to be able to support it.”
Pamela Werth, a strong supporter of programs that marry the arts and sports to education, said she was impressed by the building’s focus on education resources for student athletes. “The sound-proof study rooms and educational support areas are a tribute to the importance of academics to our student-athletes,” she says.
Peter Werth is the founder and CEO of Chemwerth Inc., a full service generic drug development and supply company based in Connecticut. He and his wife have been active UConn Athletics donors since 2003. Their strong connection to the University began with their children—Peter III, Debbie and Jackie—all of whom attended UConn.
Warde Manuel, UConn director of athletics, says the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center will provide important support for student-athletes who join one of the nation’s best-known championship basketball programs.
“I look at this building as an important resource for our championship basketball programs and for Coaches Geno Auriemma and Kevin Ollie, who provide the leadership that allows our student athletes to excel in their sport and in their classrooms” he says.
The Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center was designed by Populous, the former HOK Sport, which designed The Burton Family Football Complex and Mark R. Shenkman Training Center located across the street from the new facilty.