The Kean University Athletics program honored seven inductees into the Benisch Hall of Fame on Thursday, April 20, 2017. The ceremony took place inside the North Avenue Academic Building (NAAB).
The seven alumni joined the ranks of the previous 124 inductees into this prestigious class of coaches, players and administrators who have already been recognized for the distinction they brought to themselves and their school through participating in Kean Athletics in their scholastic careers.
At around 6 p.m., the room of the ceremony opened its doors to the honorees, as well as the many guests supporting these seven great athletes. From the sign-in table, attendees were treated to refreshments atop the sixth floor of NAAB, where families, friends, old teammates and Hall of Famers conversed about the night ahead.
Inside, rows of round tables draped with white linen, flowers and other decorations were available for those eager to witness their favorite athlete's induction speech. In the first two front rows, the inductees' tables were coordinated with blue and silver balloons with their respective numbers, as their families and friends filled the round tables.
An event that displayed itself in a banquet-esque fashion, an appetizing salad, an entree of chicken with a side of asparagus and a cheesecake dessert was served to the tables as the presentations began.
The school's athletic director, Jack McKiernan, would then open the night by congratulating the athletes honored, and the families, friends and former teammates of the seven alumni.
The seven inductees were honored as follows:
- Pascal Clergio, a key contributor on the 1992 men's soccer national championship team and the first athlete to lead Kean to a national title in any sport.
- Melissa Nunez, who was one of only two Cougars ever to earn All-Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) honors as a midfielder who was twice named team MVP in field hockey.
- Melissa Beyruti, the all-time leading scorer in the history of the women's basketball program.
- Ebony Jackson, the all-time leader in assists for the women's basketball program, as well as the fifth-most scorer in the history of the school's program.
- Jason Sgaramella, a former quarterback and assistant coach for the football team, and currently serves as the assistant director of recreation, intramurals, facilities and event management at Kean University.
- Johanna Hedler, former shortstop for the Cougars' softball team who helped lead her team to its first postseason berth in 13 years in 2008.
- Perry Schatzow, a former shortstop for the baseball team and one of the first Gold Glove Award winners in school history who helped lead the Cougars to their first national championship in 2007.
Each of the seven athletes were properly inducted by former coaches or teammates, who would tell stories about these players regarding how much of an asset they were to not only the team they were on, but the university's athletic program as a whole.
Clergio, the soccer player who led the Cougars to a national title in 1992, was the first to be honored.
Kevin East, a friend and old teammate of Clergio spoke on his behalf as Clergio currently resides in Brazil. East did not only note Clergio's attribution to the many awards they won together, from a conference championship to a national championship while playing in the NCAA tournament every year, but noted the impact he made on each and every teammate he came across throughout his career.
"[Clergio] found a home at Kean and through playing the forward position, he was able to make an impact on the program with his combination of skill and temper which made him a formidable foe to his opponents," East said.
"On the field, he was a street fighter and a classically trained dancer all in one. He played with a chip on his shoulder and would dare opponents to knock it off. He defended as much as he attacked. He would do whatever it took to win games, so we would have not accomplished as much had it not been for his significant contributions. He was a talented individual that we were proud to call our own," East commented.
Secondly, Nunez, the two-sport (lacrosse and field hockey) athlete from 2001 to 2005, spoke on her upbringing and motivations as a substantial part in achieving a spot in the Benisch Hall of Fame.
"Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is much more than having success at the college level. The attributes that made me who I am today started out when I was younger. From a little girl playing sports, I was taught the initial lesson of being an athlete: Do not miss practice, be on time, work hard and do not make excuses," Nunez said.
Nunez continued to speak of those who helped her along the way.
"My mother and my family pushed me and supported me and without them, I would not be here today," she said. "My teammates taught me that starting positions are earned. Being unselfish is necessary on a team, and the power of a group wanting the same thing can win any game. For the long days, the long drives, the constructive criticism, the constant cheers and the consistent love, thank you so much."
The night would continue, as Michele Sharp, the former head coach for the women's basketball team, would honor her two favorite inductees: Beyruti and Jackson. Sharp said that while they played, the two's personalities were distinct from one another off the court, but were indiscernible as teammates on the court. Sharp also said that the two epitomized the old sports cliche of "fire and ice."
Beyruti, the first of the two to be inducted, was the "ice" mentioned in Sharp's speech. She spoke on her social development as a teammate and skillful development as well as a particular story about her tenacity to always compete.
"[Kean] used to host a Nike Steve Nash Basketball point guard camp, and the women used to help out. All of the top rising senior guards would be working out, and back then there was a skinny kid who was a really good shooter from Davidson [University], and I was talking smack to Kevin Eastman, former assistant head coach of the Boston Celtics [the man in charge of the camp] that I had this girl who could beat this good shooter," Sharp said. "The kid that everyone was talking about, and Melissa went toe-to-toe for 12 shots in a pickup game, and the game stopped, because they thought that, since Melissa was doing so good, that she would beat them. And today, that kid is Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors!"
Beyruti's memorable speech saw her thanking her coaches, and teammates that helped her along the way as she would go on to set unprecedented records for the women's basketball program.
"There was always a feeling when I was looking out on the court and your family is cheering you on, regardless if you win or lose," Beyruti said.
She would go on to thank the rest of the girls she competed alongside with, most notably the "fire to her ice" in Jackson, who she called the greatest point guard she's ever played with.
"She had the same values and love for the game as I did, and together we were able to excel out game to the next level," Beyruti said.
Soon after, Jackson would give her acceptance speech and would be met with gratifying applause from the audience. The school's all-time assist leader commented on her accolades, and the love and admiration she had for her coach who made her into the player she aspired to be.
Jackson said that she was awarded this honor not just because she was a great point guard, but for the support, love, dedication and devotion that she was able to provide to the team while she played. The game taught her disciplines that she still lives by today.
"I remember when [Coach] told my mother that someday I was going to become an All-American point guard and a hall of famer when I was done," Jackson said. "I guess you were right coach."
Sgaramella, former quarterback for the Cougars and a current assistant director of recreation, intramurals, facilities and event management, was introduced by McKiernan before his speech. Sgaramella's speech saw him saluting the other honorees while thanking his teammates and friends for the prestigious honor.
"This is one of those moments where everything comes full circle. I am truly blessed to have had the opportunity to play college football at Kean University. My football years were challenging at some times but I had some amazing memories and plenty of stories to tell," Sgaramella said. "I made lifelong friends through my teammates, and I would consider these men as my brothers as we went to war together on the field.
This was an individual award on the plaque, but there is no way that Sgaramella would have won it without the brothers who sat at his table, as he proclaims. There were teammates and friends there for him, and he said that he was just as proud of them for their efforts as he was for winning the award.
Hedler and Schatzow would end the night on their speeches.
Hedler, a shortstop for the Cougars who helped her team earn a NCAA tournament berth in 2008, honored her coach, Margie Acker, who she says that "her knowledge and passion for the game of softball was contagious, and that whoever had the opportunity to play for her would be lucky."
She also thanked her parents, who served as her main inspiration to play softball.
"Thank you for always having the time to have a game of catch or help me in the batting cages, or get Gatorade and cheer me on," Hedler said. "It all payed off."
Schatzow would have the last speech of the night, and in honorable fashion, he would have two different presenters for his induction.
Kean baseball's Head Coach Neil Ioviero and Assistant Coach Jaime Ioviero would speak praise about Schatzow's natural ability and willingness to win, as well as the transcendent influence he had on other teammates through his calm demeanor through crucial situations on the diamond.
"Very rarely do you see a player come in that could play shortstop for us as a freshman. It is the hardest position to play and he was capable of doing that," Ioviero said.
Schatzow then gave his speech to the audience to close out the night. He noted how calm, cool and collected he was on the field, but how public speaking was not his strong suit. Nevertheless, he would give a memorable acceptance speech.
He thanked his family for supporting him in his life's endeavors, from his mother and father, to his wife and infant son. His coaches would also receive praise for developing him into the player and person he dreamed of becoming since his freshman year.
"I would have to say family is the most important thing in my life, and Neil [Ioviero] and the staff created a family atmosphere within the program. It was one of the factors in selecting Kean as my school of choice. Coming to Kean felt like home, and Neil and the staff were a big part of it," Schatzow said. "You guys helped me refine my skills as a shortstop and become a Gold Glove shortstop and I would personally like to thank them."
Athletic Director McKiernan ended the night thanking the audience for supporting these athletes as they achieve the highest honor the Kean Athletics program could provide. Attendees were slow to exit the venue, as photographs were taken of the athletes and their families, hugs were exchanged and final conversations occurred as the night came to a close.
The seven honorees are now enshrined into the annals of Kean University Athletics, and their distinct honors will be displayed forever in the athletic department of the university.