By Joshua Needelman
People from all walks of life ventured into Al’s Variety Store. Rich people and poor people, neighbors and tourists. Some needed to sate their sweet tooth with candy and ice cream, and others needed aspirin to get through the day.
Lou Scheinfeld cherished his interactions with them all.
Though the door shut on his parents’ Brewerytown convenience store in the late 1960s, Scheinfeld carried his interactions with customers throughout his life, and they grounded him as he rose up the Philadelphia sports ladder.
A longtime executive who now serves as president and CEO of the in-the-works Museum of Sports, which is set to open June 2019, Scheinfeld has kept his roots close. He believes that’s a reason for his accomplishments, which will be honored when he’s inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame on May 23.
The hall’s 21st class will also include former University of Pennsylvania basketball standout Bruce Lefkowitz, the late boxer-turned-trainer Marty Feldman, former MLB catcher Jesse Levis, former field hockey and lacrosse star and coach Lauren Becker Rubin, and longtime Maccabi youth basketball coach Brian Schiff.
“What’s special about this class is that each of the individuals that are being honored truly excelled in their particular sport,” hall Chairman Stephen H. Frishberg said.
This year’s class will also hold special importance, given it’s the last that’ll be enshrined at the Gershman Y, which has housed the hall throughout its existence. Frishberg said the organization is actively searching for a new home.
Before the hall leaves the Gershman Y behind, though, Scheinfeld and the rest of the inductees will get their moment in the spotlight.
“It’s the first honor I’ve ever gotten,” Scheinfeld said.
He took a most unique path to his role as a sports executive. Scheinfeld grew up a newspaper junkie, passing lulls at his parents’ store by devouring the local headlines in the Philadelphia Bulletin.
He caught on as a city hall reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News, which eventually brought him into contact with management for the Eagles. Later, the brass of the Flyers offered him a job as the vice president of the organization and the Spectrum in April 1966, a post he eventually left to serve as president of the 76ers more than a decade later.
Throughout his years as an executive, he said he often tried to help those who contacted him asking for tickets for the needy.
“To this day, people stop me at Wells Fargo Center or Citizens Bank Park, and they thank me for something I don’t remember doing,” Scheinfeld said.
For the past seven years he’s dedicated himself to launching the Museum of Sports. Scheinfeld said the museum’s uniqueness stems from its unwillingness to be tied to a niche; the space will be dedicated to great athletes from all sports and cities, highlighted by cutting-edge interactive features.
“We are working with exhibit leaders to have a lot of virtual reality,” Scheinfeld said. “What’s it like to hit a 100 mph fastball? What’s it like to ride in a NASCAR [vehicle]? What’s it like to be in huddle with Carson Wentz?”
Rubin is fully acquainted with the thrills of athletic competition. A Friends’ Central graduate, Rubin starred in field hockey and lacrosse at Brown University, earning scores of Ivy League awards — including first-team all-conference honors in field hockey from 1984 through 1986.
Exhausted from the grind of college athletics, she took a step away from the field until 1993. That was when she represented the United States’ field hockey team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel, helping her country earn a bronze medal. At the age of 28, Rubin was an athlete reborn.
“I was doing it for all the right reasons. I learned a ton about myself, and I didn’t realize how much I still loved playing,” she said. “It propelled me into my second phase of my sports life — not as a player but as a coach.”
After bouncing around as an assistant, Rubin took over her alma mater’s lacrosse program in 2004. She guided the team to six Friends’ Schools League championships in eight seasons, before stepping down in 2016 to spend more time watching her children play college sports.
She’s not done coaching, though. She now works as a mental skills trainer, helping athletes around the area hone their in-game thinking. Rubin leads players in mindfulness meditation and visualization, strategies she employed as a full-time coach. She also said she completed a certification course at Penn’s Positive Psychology Center.
Rubin said she’s spent a lot of time thinking about her hall of fame speech, and what it’ll be like to stand before a sea of people hanging on her every word. She’s not concerned. She’ll look out and see friends, family and former players, smiling back at her.
“They’re all part of my journey, so it just makes sense they’d be there for this, too,” Rubin said.
Joshua Needelman is a freelance writer.