By RON LAJOIE
Louis Cappelli never forgot what the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) gave him as a kid growing up in the South Bronx during the 1940s. It wasn't just a chance to play basketball, though it did give a kid who never owned a basketball that opportunity.
"Discipline, sportsmanship, character, confidence," he recounted on the flight deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid June 17 moments before going inside to the hangar deck where he was awarded the Gold Medal at the CYO Club of Champions Tribute and Dinner. The award was in recognition of his long service to CYO, Catholic Charities and a broad range of community charitable activities.
"Actually, I'm thrilled about it," he said of the medal he was about to receive. "It's such a great organization and it is a very high honor. I have four sons, and every single one of them also played CYO basketball in Westchester, and I have a grandson who played CYO basketball, so there's three generations of Cappellis that played basketball at the CYO. The organization has had a positive impact on my life and family."
In fact, it was largely Cappelli's almost seven-decade association with CYO that earned him recognition. Cappelli, who started as a mailroom clerk at Sterling Bank out of high school, eventually working his way up the corporate ladder to his current position as chairman of the board of Sterling National Bank/Sterling Bancorp, also sits on the board of directors of CYO and Catholic Charities. He recently organized Sterling's food drive to benefit Catholic Charities' emergency food program, to provide food for the growing number of New Yorkers affected by the current recession.
Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, executive director of Catholic Charities, welcomed the 550 guests to the Intrepid. CYO works with more than 27,000 youths throughout the New York Archdiocese through its youth ministry programs and retreat centers and through hundreds of local sports programs and cultural activities, summer camps and community centers.
Also honored were Tim Cohane and Dan Doyle, who received the Terence Cardinal Cooke Humanitarian Award for their work to make athletics an instrument of world peace. Doyle and Cohane are working together on the 2011 World Youth Peace Summit, an unprecedented gathering of scholar-athletes, to foster peace through sportsmanlike competition and thoughtful discussion.
Rex Ryan, the new head coach of the New York Jets, was named Sportsman of the Year. In accepting his award, Coach Ryan acknowledged some personal discomfiture at joining such elite company.
"They read off the list of past winners. You know: Tom Seaver, Yogi Berra, Frank Gifford, Lou Holtz, Tommy Lasorda and all these guys. And I'm like, just raise your hand if you don't belong. That would be yours truly," he said to laughs. And, while he didn't exactly promise a Super Bowl in the next couple of years, he didn't shy away from the challenge either.
"If I were to make a statement that we were going to win the Super Bowl in the next year or two, that might be pressure," he said to more laughs and loud cheers. "But we have such high standards for our organization and our goal should be to win the Super Bowl each year. It's a level playing field and there are no excuses. So I think our goals are set appropriately, and hopefully one day we can bring that Super Bowl back here to New York."
Joint Cardinal Cooke winners Cohane and Doyle also recalled early ties to CYO.
"I'm reminded of 60 years ago when I was in the second grade and I was taken for the first time to a CYO basketball game," said Cohane, who was born in the Bronx and grew up in Westchester, going on to a distinguished Navy career and to coach basketball at the high school and college levels. "I remember the blue uniforms, and I wanted to have the uniform that the big kids wore, the fifth- and sixth-graders. I've learned over the last 60 years that the CYO means a lot more than just wearing a uniform. It means so much more."
Doyle, a former collegiate basketball coach and celebrated author, recalled how the new pastor at his parish in Worcester, Mass., built their CYO program from scratch in 1960 with the help of NBA legend Bob Cousy, who held an exhibition game to help raise start-up funds. "The game sold out and Father raised enough money to run this remarkable program, which started six weeks after that game," Doyle recalled. "Over the course of that joyous summer as a 12-year-old, I learned about negotiation and compromise. That league was our introduction to diversity. So among the many reasons that I am honored to receive this award is my tremendous affection and respect for the work of the CYO."