Eight sporting greats – one of them deceased – were honored Sunday for their athletic achievements by being inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame at the Gershman Y in Center City.
The honorees included two wrestlers, three basketball players, a track star, a soccer coach – even a sportscaster.
"It was always an inconvenience to be a Jew and an athlete. My feelings of Jewishness were lessened," admitted David Groverman, who was recognized for his accomplishments as a wrestler at the Haverford School, the University of Pennsylvania and the Maccabiah Games in Israel throughout the 1970s. "Being in the Maccabiah Games [in 1973] gave me a chance to reflect on not just being an athlete, but being a Jewish athlete. It made me proud of what I am and what we are."
The other inductees included Barbara Albom, a New York City attorney who was the 1984 Penn women's basketball team's most valuable player; Dan Promsilo, whose exploits on the Drexel University basketball team in the 1950s gained him a previous appointment to that school's Hall of Fame; basketball whiz Marty Zippel, who 50 years ago played for the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the now-defunct American Basketball League; wrestler Samuel Gerson, who was posthumously honored, and was the official historian of the U.S. Olympians from 1948 to 1954; Al Laverson, who coached Drexel's soccer team to a Division I Championship during his 53-year tenure that ended in 1991; politician and sprinter Hillel Levinson, who still holds the Temple University record in the 200-meter event of 20.9 seconds, set in 1960; and Philadelphia Eagles broadcaster Merrill Reese.
Philadelphia sportscaster Michael Barkann served as master of ceremonies.
"It's really rare to receive an honor of any kind for something you did 50 years ago," said Promsilo to the audience of 250, made up of friends and family of those honored, as well as past honorees. Pointing out that the night had particular meaning, Promsilo said that he was flattered to be associated with an organization that had already inducted Menchy Goldblatt, who coached a league championship game Promsilo's uncle took him to see when he was 13. "I was hooked. I wanted to be out there. I wanted to be part of the experience."
The Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame was created in 1997 to honor Jewish athletes in the Philadelphia area, whether they grew up or played here. Since its inception, the Hall of Fame has inducted a total of 74 athletes and broadcasters.
Proved His Mother Wrong
In addition to the eight who were honored, Simcha Gersh – for 14 years, he's served as president of the Jewish Basketball League Alumni – received the Pillar of Achievement Award. The hall also highlighted 11 JCC Maccabi athletes who were nominated by their coaches for excellence in their sports.
Upon acceptance of their awards, some of the players reminisced about practicing in the former Young Mens Hebrew Association, whose very building now houses the Gershman Y and the Sports Hall of Fame. Laverson called it his "home away from home," where he spent days swimming, attending dances or playing basketball and badminton.
Gersh said the location was his mecca.
Others thanked their friends and family, and recounted some embarrassing moments on the court or personal stories of triumph.
Levinson, for instance, reminisced about being known as the world's fastest Jew.
Zippel related that growing up during the Depression, his parent's first priority was for their children to get a good education. When it came to his affinity for basketball, Zippel's mother told him she "had no time for such foolishness," and didn't need to watch "grown men running around in their underwear."
When his team came over for dinner one night – and his mother saw how much his teammates liked and revered him – she told him that eventually "no one will remember you" as such a good player.
"This is one of the times my mother was very wrong," said Zippel, with a bit of glee. "Some folks still remember."