Monday, June 01, 2020

Yeshiva University athletics has taken college athletics by storm, creating many die-hard fans and transforming student-athletes into household names. Whether it’s the high-flying Ryan Turell, sharpshooter Simcha Halpert, the tenacious rebounding of Michal Alge or the all-around superstardom of NABC All-American Gabe Leifer, there is always plenty to rave about. Today’s Yeshiva University student-athletes are terrific, but Monday was an opportunity to honor a few of the Yeshiva University student-athletes that have paved the way for them.

Monday, June 3, was an evening to pay respect and honor some of the greatest student-athletes in the history of Yeshiva University, at the biannual Yeshiva University Hall of Fame ceremony. The esteemed inductees were: Irv Bader ‘60 of men’s basketball,1999 MACFA men’s fencing championship team (Steve Mellner, Alex Traiman, Hadar Weiss), Josh Hasten ‘98 of men’s tennis, Dave Kufeld ‘80 of men’s basketball, Elizabeth Penn ‘12 of women’s fencing, Shai Samet ‘98 of men’s tennis and Rebecca Yoshor ‘14 of women’s basketball. Although each inductee achieved a different feat, they all accomplished one common goal, as stated by Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman in his opening remarks, “ to represent the Torah values and be mikadesh shem shamayim, while still being able to win and conduct themselves properly.”

The first inductee, Irv Bader, was introduced by NBA Hall of Famer Nate “Tiny” Archibald. Archibald, long time friend of Bader, traveled all the way from Connecticut to show his love and respect for his friend. Bader was a two-time captain, who graduated in 1960 as YU’s all-time leading scorer with 1,374 points. He helped the Maccabees to a 46-32 mark over his four years, including a 14-4 ledger in 1958-59 for the second highest winning percentage (.777) in the Red Sarachek era. Bader was also named Small College All-American as a senior in 1959-60, after placing second in the Tri-State League in scoring and was sixth the following year with 20.6 points per game. He tallied a career-high 35 points against Kings College as a sophomore in 1957-58. The men’s basketball standout was inducted into the Jewish Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Although Bader is no longer playing basketball, he is still a vital member of the basketball community, as he operates the popular MVP Basketball Camp every summer.

The 1999 MACFA men’s fencing championship team, Steve Mellner, Alex Traiman and Hadar Weiss, took the stage to share their amazing story of their legendary fencing careers. This trio captured the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Fencing Association title in epee, despite entering the tournament as a No. 5 seed. The epee team’s MACFA crown is on record as the first conference championship for any YU sport. The Maccabees took home first-place at the army meet that same year. Traiman, a Marlboro, New Jersey native, now lives in Jerusalem and is the managing editor of JNS.org, The Jewish Link’s preferred syndicated news service. Weiss and Mellner are both from Scranton, Pennsylvania and live on the Upper West Side and Passaic, respectively. In their speeches, each athlete noted that prior to joining the fencing team, they had minor exposure to the sport, but through much practice and support from their coaches, teammates and the university, they were able to achieve success.

Next, Josh Hasten, one of two men’s tennis players that were honored, was introduced. Hasten played No. 1 singles for YU in his junior and senior seasons as well as part of his sophomore year. He was a key force during the Maccabees’ incredible 40-match winning streak, which ended the year after he graduated. The three-year tennis phenom went 25-3 at No. 1 singles throughout his career and secured an undefeated doubles record. He helped his 1996 team to the Independent Athletic Conference championship. As a senior during the 1997-98 season, he was named the Emile Offenbacher YU Athlete of the Year. While speaking with Hasten, he displayed his humility by crediting his teammates and wife for all his success, both on and off the tennis court.

Although there have been many Yeshiva University athletes that have achieved tremendous feats, none have been as remarkable as Dave Kufeld. Kufeld was selected by the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1980 NBA draft. He was named All-American as a senior in 1979-80 and was a two-time NCAA rebounding champion. He remains fifth all-time in this category in Division III history with 1,222 in only three seasons. Kufeld graduated fourth all time at YU with 1,250 points, becoming the first 1,000-point, 1,000-rebound player in school history. The men’s basketball standout was named National Jewish Player of the Year for Division II and Division III by the Jewish Sports Review in both 1979 and 1980.

Another vital member of the Yeshiva University Hall of Fame class of 2019 is Elizabeth Penn. Penn was selected EWFC Epee Fencer of the Year, as a senior in 2010-11, the first in YU history to receive such an honor. She recorded an 11-0 mark in the 2011 EWFC Championships and was named First-Team All-Conference. A four-time NCAA Regionals qualifier, she advanced to the second round in 2010. The epee fencer was named to the EWFC Second Team All-Conference as a junior in 2009-10. In 2009, she placed sixth individually in epee at NIWFA. While speaking with Penn, she mentioned that she had a natural love for fencing, and although it took a lot of work it was worth the challenge and it paid off.

The second tennis inductee of the night was Shai Samet. Samet was a key member of Yeshiva University men’s tennis team that won 40 consecutive matches. He went undefeated at No. 1 doubles with fellow inductee Josh Hasten in match play throughout his career and recorded an 18-2 mark at No. 3 singles. The men’s tennis standout played on the same team with his brothers, David and Ronnie, at YU. He helped his 1996 team to the Independent Athletic Conference championship and was named Norman Palefsky Scholar-Athlete of the Year at YU. Samet relayed that one of his most memorable moments on the court was on one cold October night when he came prepared to play with batting gloves so he could still grip the racket, despite having no feeling in his hands—and he won the match!

The final member of the 2019 Yeshiva University Hall of Fame class was Rebecca Yoshor. Yoshor is a two-time Capital One CoSIDA Academic All-American. She totaled 890 points and a school-record (at the time) 820 rebounds over 54 career games. As a senior in 2013-14, she led the nation in rebounding with 16 per game, while also registering 15.9 points per contest. As a junior in 2012-13, she placed fifth in the nation in rebounds (14.8) and ninth in double-doubles (17). The women’s basketball phenom was a three-time all-conference selection, who graduated YU with a 3.92 grade-point average, the true definition of a student-athlete. One of the highlights of the evening was when Calvin Murphy, former star player on Yoshor’s hometown Houston Rockets, delivered a congratulatory video message to Yoshor—both of them now Hall of Famers from Houston.

Each inductee received a Hall of Fame jacket along with two hall of fame plaques, one of which will hang outside the Max Stern Athletic Center on the Wall of Fame, and a replica to keep to commemorate their accomplishments.

Each of the electees to the Hall of Fame, were true student-athletes, being able to maintain a proper grade average and be successful in their respective sports as well. A common theme of the evening was that the life skills gained by having that YU athletic team experience, enabled them to be successful in their later lives. When Yeshiva University takes the court, the players are representing the Jewish people, and all the inductees to the Yeshiva University Athletics Hall of Fame have had a positive impact, both then and now, on the Jewish community and athletics.