Fans call it “the beautiful game,” and for good reason. Exciting goals and assists have helped establish soccer as the world’s most popular sport, and at the inaugural New York City Soccer Gala – hosted by St. John’s University – alumni and friends gathered off the pitch to celebrate the game they love.
Founded by New York City’s five Division I Men’s Soccer programs (St. John’s, Fordham University, Long Island University, Brooklyn, Manhattan College and St. Francis College) the gala honored outstanding individuals who have devoted their lives to enhancing the game of soccer.
“An event like this is important because it brings generations of people back together,” said Dave Masur ’03Ed.D., St. John’s University’s Head Men’s Soccer Coach. “A variety of people, whether they’re players, coaches or administrators, are here tonight to appreciate the hard work done year after year to develop young people through our great game.”
The following individuals received honors:
Jerome Belson ’48L, ’80HON, St. John’s University (Humanitarian Award)
Dieter Ficken, Former Men’s Head Soccer Coach, Columbia University
Sunil Gulati, President, United States Soccer Federation
Arnold Ramirez, Former Men’s Head Soccer Coach, Long Island University, Brooklyn
Frank Schnur, Former Men’s Head Soccer Coach, Fordham University
Carlo Tramontozzi, Former Men’s Head Soccer Coach, St. Francis College
Featuring NBC News4 New York Sports Anchor Bruce Beck ’09HON as the Master of Ceremonies, the gala also welcomed special celebrity guests like Don Garber, Commissioner of Major League Soccer, Shep Messing, former Goalkeeper for the New York Cosmos and current New York Yankee Mariano Rivera.
The night was particularly special for the St. John’s community, as Belson, one of the University’s most generous benefactors, earned the prestigious Humanitarian Award. His philanthropic works include: funding for Belson Stadium, the state-of-the-art soccer arena on the Queens campus; naming honors for Belson Hall, which houses the School of Law; the creation of the Belson Moot Courtroom; and a wealth of other charitable endeavors to help those in need throughout New York City.
“This is a great moment for me,” said Belson, surrounded by his loving family and friends. “More importantly, though, I believe we’ve put soccer on a higher level with the students at St. John’s. We’ve brought the game out of the basement and to the awareness of the general public – that there is such a thing as collegiate soccer! And what’s particularly satisfying to me is the academic achievement on the part of our student-athletes.”
Fellow St. John’s alumnus Tom Principe ’69C, ’73L, who has known Belson for years as part of the St. John’s Law Alumni Association Board of Directors, came out to support his good friend on this tremendous occasion.
“Every university should have an alumnus like Jerry Belson,” Principe noted. “He’s done more for St. John’s and the School of Law than any graduate I can think of, and I’m proud to call him my friend. The soccer stadium we have on campus is tremendous, and it has helped our program to become a contender year in and year out, which says a lot about him and soccer at St. John’s.”
Other guests, like former Red Storm Men’s Soccer player Luis Rodriguez ’07CPS, know firsthand how big an impact Belson has had on St. John’s. Rodriguez’s freshman year at the University was Belson Stadium’s inaugural season, and having that spacious home field proved to be one of the most memorable components of Rodriguez’s college experience.
“Our stadium has become famous in the soccer world,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s a real showpiece. And little by little, I got to know Mr. Belson, and I can guarantee that our program would not be anywhere near the level it’s at today had it not been for him, a man of such great vision.”
Other Men’s Soccer alumni in attendance, like Alfonso Meneses ’91C, enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with former coaches and reminisce about his playing days. Now a successful financial planner, Meneses is quick to attributes his professional accomplishments to his experiences at St. John’s, both on and off the playing field.
“I had the privilege of playing in some high-pressure, high-intensity games,” Meneses said. “At the same time, I was taking classes with great professors, which allowed me to establish a very nice career for myself. It was the time of my life, a period that opened a lot of doors for me, so I always support the University whenever I can.”
Masur was glad to see so many of his former players at this inaugural gala, coming together to support St. John’s, honor Belson and celebrate the rich history of New York City soccer.
“We’re excited that our St. John’s tradition can be part of something bigger than ourselves,” Masur said. “An event like this reminds us that soccer is alive and well here, and that this city is truly the heartbeat of United States soccer in every level and every corner.”