The Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center has put together some tremendous programs for local high school students, as well as student-athletes. The Center has worked well with member schools of the Super Essex Conference (SEC), in collaboration with Investors Bank.
On May 21, the Museum hosted a reception and buffet dinner at Yogi Berra Stadium, on the campus of Montclair State University, to honor the “Best Teammates” for the 2012-2013 school year. One student from each of the 37 schools within the SEC was honored, with the awards presented in the theater of the museum.
Dave Kaplan, the museum’s director, welcomed everyone and pointed out how appropriate the Best Teammate award is, because Yogi Berra, himself, took pride on being called the best teammate. Kaplan also called the night the highlight of the year for the museum and praised Investors Bank President and CEO, Kevin Cummings, for sponsoring the event.
Altiliyah Butler of Shabazz High was recently awarded with the 2013 Best Teammate Award for the Super Essex Conference at the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center. Butler, a junior on Shabazz’s state champion girls basketball team, was one of 37 student-athletes from a SEC high school honored for their selflessness and promoting team unity at an awards banquet on May 21. Presenting her award are Scott Brunner (l.), former New York Giants quarterback and Kevin Cummings, president and CEO of Investors Bank, a major supporter of the Museum’s character education programs. (Photo courtesy of Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center).
“When John McCarthy and I first met with Kevin to tell him about our plan to recognize the best teammates in the SEC, it took him less than 10 seconds to say ‘count us in’,” Kaplan recalled. “He and his branch managers are really committed to kids.”
The guest speaker for the evening was former New York Giants, Denver Broncos and St. Louis Cardinals quarterback Scott Brunner, who today is an Executive Vice President for Net Worth Management. A New Jersey native, Brunner was graduated from Lawrenceville Prep and led the 1981 Giants to its first playoff appearance in 18 years and the team’s first playoff win in 23 seasons. He had an interesting philosophy on management style, using geese as an analogy.
“There’s always one out in front leading the way,” Brunner said. “Others fly behind in formation, constantly honking to show their support. If the one in front drops out, another fills the spot and they move on. The one who falls off is supported by the others. And so it is with a team, everyone has a role.’
The awards ceremony was conducted by McCarthy, a co-founder of The Institute for Coaching at the museum. McCarthy, a former speech teacher, lightened the mood by reminding the audience that ” this is a celebration, not a library council meeting!” He went on to inject humor when appropriate as the 37 honored guests received their plaques from Cummings and Ed Manigan, the AD at Newark Academy, who handled the selection and notification process.
“We couldn’t have done this without the dogged persistence of Ed,” said Kaplan. “He contacted and got a response from every school in the conference. It took time, but he stayed with it. He also secured a brief statement from a coach or an AD that was read about each recipient. He was invaluable to us.”
McCarthy pointed out that this recognition should make each honoree especially proud.
“It’s one thing to get recognition because you’re a good player, as many of you are,” McCarthy said. “It’s more special, we think, to be honored for being a good person.Talent fades in time, character doesn’t. We know your parents are proud of you; they played a big part in your development.’
“If you’re looking for role models, you need look no further than Kevin Cummings or Yogi Berra. Not only have these men been successful, they’ve been significant because they’ve helped others become successful. We hope that will be your goal, to be significant.”
McCarthy also noted, “I thought this award really drove home essential parts of a team. Selfless contributions for the greater good and encouragement of other teammates are staples of any good program. This award embodies both concepts and awards those students that are the ever-positive driving force that propels success. The message delivered that night was very clear. You may not be able to control your level of athletic talent, but you sure can control your attitude and encourage others to do well. That is what a teammate does and that is sure what Yogi Berra is best known for. The students recognized have now left their legacy on their respective schools. Looking forward, others on the team(s) can certainly do the same.
Belleville High School athletic director Tom D’Elia was very impressed with the evening’s message.
“Our award winner,Domenick Gonnella, has been the backbone of his (high school baseball) team for four years,” D’Elia said. “Domenick may not grab press for his athletic contributions, but he is the first one at practice, last one to leave, he is the first off the bench on a good or bad play to cheer on his teammates. Domenick knows the pitch count, batting order, and inning/score. He doesn’t have to be asked to cheer or to help clean up. He is the silent bar that raises everyone else’s potential around him. He is a true teammate.”
Bloomfield AD Steve Jenkins concurred.
“The Best Teammate award is an outstanding opportunity to recognize those athletes that are the glue that hold teams together,” Jenkins said. “Their actions often go unnoticed by the general public but their teammates and Coaches are well aware of their significance to a program’s success.”