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Student-Athletes Meet the People Who Make It Possible

Grace Merritt
Grace Merritt

3 min read

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.

Donor Paul Polo and UConn field hockey player Roisin Upton.
Donor Paul Polo and UConn field hockey player Roisin Upton. (Credit: Steve Slade/UConn Photo)

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.

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Jack Kramer
Jack Kramer

3 min read

Noel Thomas and the Oleksiws
Noel Thomas flanked by Jim (left) and Marylee Oleksiw (right).

UConn’s prowess in the sporting world is well known. UConn Nation has come to expect—and receive—national championships in exchange for their loyalty and passion.

What sometimes gets lost in that effort, however, is that student-athletes are no different than “regular” students. The need for scholarship support to keep attracting these top students to UConn has never been higher.

As the cost of tuition continues to rise, private support is more essential than ever for the success of our 24 varsity sports and more than 700 student-athletes. And what also sometimes gets forgotten is that UConn student-athletes continue to excel: more than 50 percent earned a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.

In the 2014-15 academic year, $12 million was paid by the Athletic Department in tuition costs, as 216 athletes received partial scholarships and 196 received full scholarships. That cost will be going up this year.

UConn’s championship success has been achieved in large part due to the continued generosity of donors, season ticket holders, alumni and friends who annually support UConn Athletics.

This year a new fundraising initiative, the “Drive for 5K,” is being launched with the goal of increasing the number of contributors from 4,400 to 5,000.

[Listen to our radio spot on the Drive for 5K, featuring UConn Athletic Director Warde Manuel]

The “Drive for 5K” comes at the same time the UConn Foundation is in the midst of its Transform Lives fundraising initiative that aims to double the amount of financial support—including merit and need-based scholarships—that the Foundation raises for the benefit of the UConn student body.

There are tangible benefits to making a donation to UConn Athletics. A gift enrolls you in The UConn Club and provides priority seating and parking privileges at games, invitations to special events, tax benefits and other exclusive benefits associated with membership.

Numbers are great—but to put a face on one of the scholarship recipients, meet Noel Thomas, a junior wide receiver from Norwalk, Conn., who caught 26 passes, gained 305 yards and caught a team-high four touchdowns during the 2014 season.

Noel, a junior majoring in communications who says it’s his dream “to be a coach someday,” is this year’s recipient of the Oleksiw Family Football Scholarship.

“My family has one less thing to worry about” thanks to the scholarship, said Noel. “I have a lot of self-motivation to keep my grades up. Plus we have a good team of academic advisors to help us out.”

Time management, said Noel, is a challenge for student-athletes, especially during the time of year when the sport the athlete is playing is in season. “Studying—and playing—is a full-time commitment,” he said. “But it’s a commitment that I am more than willing to make.”

Noel’s scholarship donors, the Oleksiws, have a long history of contribution and service to the UConn Club and the UConn Division of Athletics.

Jim ’75 (ENG) and Marylee Oleksiw said they are thrilled to help pay for Noel’s education. “He and his teammates,” said Marylee, “are such an impressive group of young men. We are so happy to be able to help him, on and off the field.”

“We just wanted to do what we could to support the (football) program,” said Jim Oleksiw.

A native of Manchester, Conn., Jim was an engineering major at UConn and served as a resident assistant in Buckley Hall. Marylee is from a small town in Massachusetts and grew up watching sports as a cheerleader at her high school. Both of their children are also UConn graduates.

The Oleksiws are faithful followers of the Huskies both at home and on the road. They have attended all four of the men’s basketball team’s appearances in the Final Four and all five of UConn’s bowl games in football. They have also attended numerous women’s Final Fours and followed the Huskies to locations such as Hawaii and the Virgin Islands.

“Supporting UConn athletics is a family activity for us,” said Marylee. “When our kids were young coming to UConn sporting events was a big part of our lives.”

“And it still is,” added Jim.

If you have questions about the “Drive for 5K” or any other fundraising question, please call the UConn Athletic Development Office at (860) 486-3863 or email at UConnClub@foundation.uconn.edu.

Go Huskies!

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Basketball Center Dedicated to Werth Family

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson
Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

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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.

We still need your help! Support the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center today.

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