Iona College Goal Club:
Written by Joseph Rees '54
Over the last few years, the Goal Club has become more prominent as a fund-raising asset of the College. This year, the Club may pass the three million mark for funding Iona College athletics. In a way, this goal is a testimony to the many alumni who have contributed to the effort over the years. Too many to mention in what follows, yet a tribute nevertheless, on what has been and is to be accomplished in the future.
The year was 1965. O’Connell Gymnasium, the Building of World War II Vintage, was still the practice site for the Iona College Basketball Team. To best describe the gym, opponents refused to play there. Mount St. Michael or Iona Prep was usually requested by opposing teams as an alternative.
Each season, interested alumni would check the Iona College basketball schedule looking for, hopefully, that one game played at Madison Square Garden. In 1965, it was on December 16 against DePaul. No one knew what was about to happen – a 40-point loss would serve as the forming of the organization now known as the Goal Club.
After the game, a disappointed Iona basketball coach, Jim McDermott, engaged a few alumni in conversation on the state of the athletics program. The alumni asked what could be done to help Iona’s future. The alumni remember his initial response was to support a new facility. However, putting the obvious aside, he requested “more eyes” in helping the staff look for prospects who might be over-looked by other schools.
Since McDermott served as both basketball coach and athletics director, while his assistant coached the baseball team, this seemed to be a reasonable request. In early 1966, about 20 alumni attended high school games in their locales. Jeff Hartigan ’64, Frank McGuire ’55 and Ray Coyne ’54 were a few members of the initial scouting group. At the time, it was permissible for alumni to assist the athletics department on its recruiting efforts, however, the alumni only observed and reported their observations of prospective players.
Overall, the program did prove helpful by assisting the department on recruiting a successful prospect, Ray Hyland, a player who became a 1,000-point scorer. Ray Coyne ’54, who assisted in recruiting Hyland, recently recalled, “Ray Hyland was playing in Brooklyn at Bishop Loughlin. He had some good moves. He was a tremendous re-bounder and had a good post-up game. I noticed him while he was playing in a recreation league in Breezy Point, and he turned out to be a great asset to the Gaels.”
Unlike organizations where you could easily bring the members together for events on campus, our situation was different. It was a logistical problem since Iona’s home games were played off campus. Nevertheless, in 1969 the Iona 5ers was formed. Total membership that year was 181. Not knowing what to expect, membership dues were set at $15, and, only two games, both at Iona Prep, were selected for post-game functions. Although the first game was a two-point loss to Farleigh Dickinson University, members did come to Spellman Hall for a post-game reception. After the second game, a victory over Seton Hall, a larger number came.
These functions continued over the next few years, and even included an event after a football game. Again, logistics played its part since the football games were played at Mt. Vernon Stadium. Although these efforts were described, at best, as helpful, the obvious was always there - Iona needed an athletic facility. One Ionian sports editor stated in his column that the “cardboard coliseum” known as the O’Connell Gymnasium had to go.
Around 1970, the College had a moratorium on building construction, but people kept talking about the possibility of an athletic facility. Later in this period, the College’s Legal Board of Trustees lifted the moratorium and began exploring the feasibility of a building fund drive.
In the early 1970s, under the leadership of Brother John Driscoll ’54, then president of Iona, the school commenced the building campaign. The “core” fundraisers were members of the Iona 5ers. The dream for a competitive athletic facility was finally realized when the John A. Mulcahy Campus Event Center opened in 1974.
In 1976, the athletics department (namely Jim McDermott and Jim Valvano) wanted to change the direction of the Iona 5ers by increasing membership dues and scheduling more events in the metropolitan area. There had also been a perception that the funds raised benefited basketball only.
It was decided to change the 5ers name. Those involved did not want it named after the mascot or school colors. It had to be different, it was mentioned that athletics teams had specific objectives or goals each year. Why not apply the same criteria to the club? One evening, under the leadership of Bill Aitchison ’61 (the club’s first president), Joe Tighe ’60 and Terence McCormack ’67, the Iona 5ers became the Goal Club, and increasingly became more active in funding other sports.
With the changing of the guard around 1980, Rick Mazzuto, athletic director, and Pat Kennedy, basketball coach, continued to actively lend their support to these events. This has been continued by current members of the athletics department under the direction of Rich Petriccione, the athletic director. “The Goal Club continues to be the fund-raising arm of Iona Athletics. Those who have helped form the Club years ago are still valuable to us today,” said Petriccione.
The next significant step in the Club’s growth came into play in the early 1980s. The first annual Goal Club Golf Outing, under the leadership of Donald Walsh ’66, was organized. This event raised the Club’s visibility and expanded its fund-raising capabilities. When asked recently about the golf outing, Walsh said, “The outings continue to develop camaraderie and raise money. The recent golf outing (held on June 5, 2000) demonstrated this and helped us to meet these objectives.”
Since the Goal Club’s inception, the alumni body has raised directly or in part an estimated $2.5 million. Today, it is on the threshold of exceeding, in a much shorter time span, the present total raised. History has demonstrated that the Club has grown in stature. Alumni belief in their College is evident on the corridor walls of the Mulcahy Center. Next to the Hall of Fame display, there are two plaques listing the financial contributors to the “Long Step Forward” including most, if not all of the original Iona 5ers. In a way, these plaques are also a special tribute to them. For them, it was a belief in their College’s ability to grow in stature--a belief that still holds true today.
Editor's Note: Joseph Rees '54 was inducted into the Iona College Hall of Fame on Monday, June 4, 2001 for his role in forming the Iona 5ers, which is now the Goal Club.
"The Goal Club Today"
Since 2001, there has been tremendous growth in the size, activities, and contributions of the Iona College Goal Club. The Goal Club now exceeds in a few years the totals raised in a decade.
In addition, there has been a spin-off of a new fundraising venue of the Goal Club known as the "Iona Gaels Capital Improvements Fund", with its monies used for a new astroturf Women's Softball Field, upgrades in Mazzella Field, the Judge Student-Athlete Academic Center, Men's & Women's Player Lockers, as well as Administrative Offices.
Its success has brought more sponsored events and trips for its members, plus on basketball game days, more enjoyable half-time and post-game functions, thereby making it a "Total Iona Experience".
Its accomplishments are testimony to the commitment made by its members to always have a student-athlete program that the Iona Community and its neighbors will always look upon with favor.
Senior Associate AD / Advancement & External Affairs
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