A fixture at Iona College basketball games for the past 17 years has been President James Liguori. Brother Liguori would stand and watch the games from just inside the gym door and say hello to everyone as they walked by.
How many times over the years did we enter the gym for games and say hello to Brother and he would ask how we were doing? He might thoughtfully ask how a parent was getting along, or how work was going, because he was always interested and approachable.
This summer, after four terms guiding New Rochelle, NY-based Iona, Br. James Liguori, a member of the Christian Brothers, leaves office as well as a transformed campus. The reins will be passed to Joseph E. Nyre, PhD., formerly the President of the Hope Institute for Children and Families in Springfield, Illinois.
Br. Liguori's tenure saw the Gaels flagship men's basketball team make the NCAA tournament four times between 1998 and 2006. The four appearances resulted in first-round losses, but the Gaels had close two-point games with Syracuse in 1998 and against Ole Miss in 2001. This past year the Gaels were 25-12, winning three post-season games and hosting the national championship game of the CIT Tournament.
Other sports have also excelled at Iona, led by the men's cross country team, which in each of the last nine years has placed in the top ten nationally at the NCAA Championships. Women's cross country has developed into a top program, winning the last six straight Metro Atlantic Conference Championships. And women's softball has emerged as a new powerhouse, winning the MAAC championship the past two years and its first NCAA appearance this year.
Meanwhile, Iona student athletes posted a composite 3.20 GPA in 2010 with 116 athletes on the MAAC Academic Honor Roll.
During Br. Liguori's era, the Iona campus in New Rochelle was largely transformed from a mostly commuter school to a balanced campus with residential opportunities. Across North Avenue from the main entrance is a new dormitory complex. An extensive addition to the schools indoor athletic facilities was completed in January 2006 when a new practice gym, training facilities and a rowing tank were added to the renamed Hynes Athletic Center. A new softball complex with field turf was recently built on Rice Oval.
Across from the Hynes Center is the $12 million Robert V. LaPenta Student Union, completed in 2005 next to the neat new turf of Mazzella Field. All of the new buildings feature an attractive redbrick Georgian style. Near the campus entrance, the Ryan Library completed a $14 million expansion in 2009. All strong accomplishments for a school founded in 1940 that now serves just over 3,300 undergraduates plus graduate students.
Recently I had a chance to chat with Br. Liguori and ask him a few points about his 17 years leading Iona:
Q: What are you most proud about the athletic program at Iona?
A: Aside from the facility enhancements and having built an extraordinary group of coaches, the academic quality of the athletes, and the fact they are truly part of the college community, they are much more than being from one corner of the campus, they are Iona people, that is most important.
Q: What are the challenges in building new sports facilities?
A: Finding the money to do it, the second is is to find the right combination of donor and facility, and the third challenge in a land locked campus like Iona is to find space to to it.
Q: What are the memorable moments that standout to you?
A: The trips to the "Big Dance" even though we did not advance beyond the first round, we came dangerously close a couple of times of getting into the second round. Listening to people like Kyle Smyth (senior basketball player), I was just speaking to one of the basketball players who was already working to make certain to do better in the MAAC Tournament than we did this year. Those kind of things are quite stimulating.
Q: Plans after serving as President of Iona?
A: A sabbatical, then hopefully, something after the sabbatical that remains an open question.
We wish Br. Liguori the best in his future endeavors and will miss him not being at the door welcoming us to Iona basketball games.
Iona Notes: Many Iona alumni gathered June 5th for the annual Iona Goal Club Hall of Fame Induction golf outing and ceremony which will be held at Wykagl Country Club in New Rochelle, NY. Inducted into the Hall were:
- Mr. Joseph A. Bernardi '58, Men's Basketball
- Ms. Alison N. Higgs '05, Women's Softball
- Mr. Patrick G. Lyons '96, '00MS, '04MBA, Golf, Hockey, Coach, Administrator, Athletic Director
- Mr. C. Ronald Pascale '71, Cross Country / Track & Field
2011 Donald E. Walsh '66 Award Recipients:
- Mr. John J. Judge '71 & Mrs. Monica L. Judge '70
Ken Kraetzer received an MBA at Iona in 1986. He covers Iona basketball and West Point football for WVOX 1460 AM in New Rochelle. NY