After nearly 50 years, the Brookdale Athletics program has generated more than its share of heartwarming, inspirational stories. From legendary coaches and record-shattering players to more personal, less heralded tales of triumph and resilience, the Jersey Blues legacy is as storied as it is revered.
On Feb. 10, hundreds of former players, coaches, administrators and supporters came together to honor that legacy at the 2017 Brookdale Athletics Hall of Fame Induction ceremony at the Sheraton Hotel in Eatontown. Six former Jersey Blues players, two coaches, an administrator and the 2005 national champion Brookdale softball team were all welcomed into the Hall of Fame, the fourth cohort to join the hall since it was established in 1979.
The evening began with addresses by Brookdale president Dr. Maureen Murphy and athletics director Shawn Noel, who remarked on the growing interest in the hall of fame since it was “reopened” in 2015.
“We have had so many awe-inspiring stories and contributors to the success of our athletics program over the years, and we are proud to be able to recognize many of them here tonight,” said Noel, adding that organizers had to bring in extra tables to accommodate the awards dinner’s record setting crowd of over 230. “It’s truly a great evening for the Jersey Blues.”
The player inductees included multiple national champion athletes, including two-time All-American softball player Jessica Williams (2003, 2005) and back-to-back men’s tennis champion John Macchio (2000, 2001), who was the first national champion in Brookdale history. Maccio, who know serves as an assistant Jersey Blues coach and Brookdale summer camp leader, was inducted into the hall by former assistant coach Mike Fillardo and acclaimed head coach Rich Karpinski, who joined the hall of fame on the same evening.
“I think it’s fitting that I am getting inducted into the hall of fame with my coach, my friend, Rich Karpinski,” said Maccio. “Me as the first champion, and he as the first coach to coach a champion. We started off as player and coach and have grown to so much more. He is family now.”
It was an emotional night for members of the Brookdale tennis program, many of whom were on hand to celebrate the induction of 28-year head coach Karpinski.
The winningest coach in program history, Karpinski has coached 17 national champions, more than 80 regional champions, 47 all-Americans, and won a record 198 games since 1989. He was joined on stage by his brother Bob, Maccio and former Brookdale tennis star Abel Lampa, who joined the hall of fame in 2015. While Karpinski is revered for his unprecedented win total, all in attendance said his best work is often done off the court.
“It’s not all about winning tennis matches for Rich,” said Bob Karpinski. “He takes great interest in his players as people, in their education, their interests, their family and friends, and their career pursuits. It’s extremely important to Richie. He wants to see his players succeed in life, and, with Rich, the door is always open. They have a friend for life.”
The emotion continued as two beloved Brookdalians were honored posthumously for their contributions to the athletic program.
Former tennis coach and Brookdale literature professor Kevin Hayter was inducted into the hall by Brookdale Humanities Institute dean Carl Calendar, with the honor accepted by Hayter’s son Michael.
Later, former dean of enrollment, development and student affairs Jim Palumbo was inducted by former Brookdale athletics director Frank Lawrence.
“No one did more for students than ‘The Dean,’ as we somewhat lovingly referred to him,” said Lawrence, who was joined on stage by Palumbo’s wife, Debby, and daughters Kristen and Jamie.
“He would have been shocked by this… But the reality is, however, that in the entire history of the college, no other administrator has had the same profound, positive impact on Brookdale athletics than Jim.”
Accepting the honor for her husband, who passed away last May, Debby Palumbo said her husband would have been thrilled to be a member of the athletics hall of fame.
“Brookdale was a very important part of Jim’s life,” she said. “The Brookdale Athletic Department and the student athletes held a special place in his heart. No matter where he went, he bragged about Brookdale, bragged about the athletes. This honor would have meant a lot to Jim, and it means a lot to us. Thank you very much.”
Also inducted into the hall of fame were men’s basketball player John McDermott (1974-76), baseball and men’s basketball player Peter Peltz (1974-76), women’s tennis player Carol Hammond (1980), multi-sport standout and current Brookdale fitness professor Mike Toomey (1972-74), and the 2005 national champion softball team. For a full list of inductees and bios, click here.
Nearly all of the inductees remarked on their experience as a Brookdale student and athlete, many of whom expressing surprise at the powerful impact college athletics would go on to have in their lives.
“When I came to Brookdale after high school, struggling to find the direction for my life, tennis allowed me to be on solid ground,” said Hammond, who went on to serve four years in the Air Force, graduate from the University of New Hampshire and enjoy success in both business and life. “I realize that I owe Brookdale much credit for adding to who I am today, and I might not have ever realized that if someone else hadn’t realized it first.”
The induction dinner was emceed by Brookdale alumnus and current Baltimore Orioles play-by-play man Jim Hunter, a 39-year broadcasting veteran who has covered the Olympic Games, multiple Superbowls and other prestigious sporting events since first reporting on the Jersey Blues for Brookdale Public Radio. In recognition of his achievements, Hunter was declared a lifetime member of the Brookdale Alumni Association by Brookdale Foundation and Alumni Affairs executive director Timothy Zeiss.
“In listening to all these speeches, there is one theme that runs through all of this,” said Hunter, who hosted the hall of fame induction ceremonies in 2015 and 2016 as well. “All of us who went to Brookdale either thought we knew what we wanted to do or didn’t know what we wanted to do and, at Brookdale, we found it. And that’s really special.”
Learn more about the Brookdale Athletics program here.
Check out more photos from the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony here.