The Nerney Field House was electric as students, faculty, parents, and alumni shook the stands with excitement as the final seconds ticked away in the second overtime of the men’s basketball game against Gwynedd Mercy College on Saturday, Feb. 5. Regardless of the 86-84 loss, Coach John Dzik was smiling as alumni from the past 24 years returned to their alma mater for the Annual Alumni Game. Rallying against President Iadarola and her firm decision to end Dzik’s legacy at Cabrini, the largest alumni turnout in Dzik’s history banned together to voice their unfaltering support for the legendary leader as he coaches his final season.
Although 20 years of basketball wins and losses stood between the 1983 alumnus and the 2003 alumnus, they reminisced as if they had played together. Ironically, the group has only played together in past Annual Alumni Games but the shared stories of Coach Dzik and the impression he has left on each player’s life linked 24 seasons of Cavaliers together.
With so much hype and contradicting stories between Dzik and the administration, it is amazing Dzik is able to enjoy the annual event. He spoke tenderly about the players and said, “The alumni game is always a special day for me and my coaching staff. We have the chance to renew old friendships and ‘catch up’ with what is happening in the lives of our players from the past. I am always gratified by the loyalty and commitment they exhibit by just returning for the day.”
Dzik has been the cornerstone of Cabrini Athletics and is exclusively responsible for giving young men the opportunity at a college education that may not have had one other wise. All time leading scorer of Cabrini College Billy Car said, “I worked hard, but if it wasn’t for Dzik I would have never been able to come to Cabrini.”
As players jogged up and down the court sinking shot after shot in a playful warm-up session youthful laughter could be heard from either end of the court. Despite the smiles and friendly competition, the traditionally lighthearted event was undoubtedly drenched in a wave of great loss.
With 29 rebounds, Dodie Watkins holds the record for single game rebounds. The ’84 alumnus said, “Cabrini will suffer a great loss. It was hard enough for anyone to go to college back then, but for a black man to go to college was even harder. Dzik is the reason I went to Cabrini. Iadarola’s decision is a sad injustice to the college and the community.”
Proudly clad in his USMC T-shirt, Tim Anderlonis, a 2000 alumnus, said, “Coach Dzik has dedicated his life to Cabrini basketball and all his players. I don’t want anything to do with a school that can just get rid of a man like that. Nobody is happy with president Iadarola and her decision.”
Billy Car said, “I was the biggest ambassador of Cabrini College since I graduated in ’96 and now I will be against Cabrini College as long as Iadarola is the president. She [Iadarola] has too much pride to give Dzik his job back and I don’t think the alumni response will change that but we want her to know how much he [Dzik] means to the alumni and the community.”
Towering over most other alumni, Watkins stood still and couldn’t help but shake his head in disappointment and sadness. “I am stone shocked and deeply saddened. He [Dzik] is the reason we are all here. Not to remember Cabrini, but to remember him. He [Dzik] is a great man. What other college do you know has one of the most winningest basketball programs in NCAA history with nearly 95 percent of its players graduating with honors? Dzik taught us how to be prepared for tomorrow’s game but more importantly he taught us how to be prepared in life. This is a sad day.”
Tears of sadness over the ending of a legacy dampened the once happy annual event. Rich Schepis set up a makeshift battlefield at the entrance of the Nerney Field House. He provided pre-written letters to President Iadarola and asked that Dzik supporters sign a letter. Current students and parents signed over 100 letters.
Schepis seemed to be leading the crusade to keep John Dzik although he admits, “The letters are not meant to give Dzik his job back. We all know that will not happen. I hope to collect more letters in addition to the hundreds that have already been sent to Iadarola. If I can present her with a binder full of letters from the Cabrini community I can only hope that will make an impact and maybe she will begin to understand the importance of John Dzik to this community.”
Schepis continued to speak warmly about Dzik. He said, “I learned so much from him, most importantly I learned that success is loving what you do. He [Dzik] once told me that he is the luckiest guy in the world because he gets to wake up everyday and do something he loves.”
Amongst the cheers for Dzik and the alumni’s touching stories of his incredible outpouring of love for the entire community, the legendary coach’s words lingered. He said, “As the season begins to wind to a close, I am confronted with many emotions. Sadness is most paramount. I love Cabrini basketball and the students of the college. It is hard to leave something you love so dearly, especially when it is not your choice to leave.”
Dzik introduced each alumnus and spoke fondly of each player and his accomplishments. Parents, wives and children of the alumni looked on adoringly as their favorite coach celebrated history with his Cabrini players for probably the last time in his career. 1997 alumna Andrea Kelliher spoke of the tremendous impact Dzik has had on her life and her career path. “Dzik helped me get an internship in athletics during my sophomore, junior, and senior years at Cabrini. No one else would ever help me the way he did. I never played for him; I was just someone who he reached out to. It’s appalling that the administration feels this decision is best for the college. This man was more than a coach; he was a father figure. He helped players fight academically, financially, emotionally, and athletically; now the alumni are here to help him fight.”
Sitting next to Kelliher in the stands was college friend Jana Tidwell. Tidwell and her husband are ’96 alumni who feel a lifelong connection to Dzik. “Whether you are a student or an athlete, he [Dzik] has acted as a mentor and a role model to thousands of Cabrini alumni. My husband would not be the man he is today without the guidance and mentoring of that man. It is sad; no one here is proud to be Cabrini alum. Most of us here will not step foot on this campus after he is gone. Iadarola clearly underestimated the power of alumni.”
Amongst the cheers for Dzik and the alumni’s touching stories of his incredible outpouring of love for the entire community, the legendary coach’s lingered. He said, “As the season begins to wind to a close, I am confronted with many emotions. Sadness is most paramount. I love Cabrini basketball and the students of the college. It is hard to leave something you love so dearly, especially when it is not your choice to leave.”
Posted to the web by Chayne Roland