Technical Advantage

Oct. 15, 2010

Technical Advantage

Irish teams newly equipped thanks to Joseph T. Mendelson Endowment for Athletics Excellence.
By: Brendan Corsones

For a school such as Notre Dame so inherently tied to athletics in its history and culture, any fund that supports its teams deserves to be honored. This is especially true in cases of extreme generosity, such as the Joseph T. Mendelson Endowment for Athletics Excellence. Recently, funding has helped install new technology for Notre Dame’s softball, soccer, and fencing programs (refer to sidebar on page 253 for complete listing of sports aided by the Mendelson Fund).

Thanks to the benevolence of Joseph and Barbara Mendelson of Santa Barbara, Calif., the Endowment, which was established in 2006, provides incremental and non-budgeted funding for the enhancement of Notre Dame’s Olympic sport programs to enable those programs to enhance their levels of competitiveness. The fund allows each program to apply for funding in order to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities that cannot be addressed through the regular annual budgeting process.

Associate athletics director Jim Fraleigh emphasizes that the fund “helps identify ways to improve the on-field performance of all of our student-athletes. Mr. Mendelson’s interest is in helping all of our varsity programs.” Through the Endowment, Mendelson has approved and funded numerous projects and initiatives that teams would not normally have been able to afford.

A true believer in enhancing the total experience of the student-athlete, Mendelson formed and coached the inaugural cross country program at nearby Holy Cross College. Dave Morrissey, assistant vice president for University Relations and longtime friend of Mendelson remarks, “He really wants to be an advocate for (Notre Dame’s) Olympic sports.”

Mendelson has deep ties to Notre Dame and has long served the community, whether as a charter member of the advisory council for Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life, serving as chair from 1980-1986, or on the Snite Museum of Art Advisory Council (1986-89 and 1991-2000). Mendelson credits his love for Notre Dame to viewing countless numbers of Irish football games while his father, Herbert, served on the University’s first Business Advisory Council. His contributions to campus can be seen every day, notably in the new Knute Rockne bronze sculpture now welcoming visitors at the Stadium’s front gate, which he funded. He also has two children (Patrick ’84 and Rachel M. Rice ’97, ’00 MSA) and a stepson (Brian Claassen ’07 JD) who graduated from Notre Dame.

“I’m an athlete and a coach, so I know how having the right resources are so important to development,” Mendelson remarks. He realizes that for many sports, these resources include installing the latest technology that ordinarily would not have fit within their original budget constraints.

The endowment operates on a need-based basis, meeting quarterly or when the need arises, hearing a handful of proposals a year from coaches’ presentations. From there, the Committee must evaluate how effective a particular proposal will be. “Ultimately, it must benefit the performance of a student-athlete on the field and fall in line with the overarching goal that Mr. Mendelson envisions,” Fraleigh says.

The Committee, comprised of Fraleigh, Morrissey, Missy Conboy, Senior Deputy Athletic Director, and Mike Karwoski, associate athletics director evaluates these proposals from a business standpoint, such as how often a particular team has been given approval for funding and the cost of the equipment. In addition to a written proposal, it is important for coaches to meet with the Committee in person.

In addition to decisions by the numbers, the Committee likes to add a human element. “It’s very exciting when dealing with our coaches to feel their passion,” Fraleigh says. “I find it to be much better to meet, because their passion cannot simply be translated or written on a piece of paper.”

The fervor coaches feel for their teams is perhaps only equaled by the zeal Mendelson displays with his donations. This year alone, the softball, soccer, and fencing teams have been approved to receive advanced video analysis systems that allows the respective coaches a comprehensive breakdown of their team’s play, which will prove invaluable to future improvements on the field.

As an example, over the past few years, the softball team was provided both indoor and outdoor filming and video analysis systems that can be used for both hitting and pitching. These video systems allow swings to be broken down frame by frame, providing the hitters an enhanced view of their swing. The systems are some of the best in the industry and are used by several major league baseball teams and the USA softball team.

Other proposals currently being considered by the Athletics Excellence Committee include an anti-gravity treadmill for the men’s and women’s cross country and track teams and a “fungo-Man” for the Notre Dame baseball team. The treadmills will enable both male and female athletes to train and rehabilitate at the same aerobic intensity of a regular workout while lowering the impact on muscles and joints. Lowering the impact on joints and muscles during exercise and training reduces the risk of injury as well as provides a smooth progression back to full recovery after an injury. This technology was originally developed to assist astronauts in preparing for space travel.

The Fungo-Man, a machine that any coach or former player would envy, is designed to spray balls onto the diamond anywhere and at any speed a coach or player desires. As the machine can work the outfield or infield on its own, this lessens the areas coaches need to cover during practice, enabling them to focus on the highest priorities for improvement. The machine can be pre-programmed by the coaching staff allowing coaches the freedom to coach and work with individuals or groups of players without the need for an extra fungo hitter. Any player who has seen days wasted attempting to hit a perfect pop fly can appreciate such a contribution.

This advanced technology furthers the goal of the Endowment, making the extraneous work easier for coaches and student-athletes in order to facilitate individual player development and improved play out of Notre Dame’s athletic programs. The Mendelson Fund adapts its donations according to each team’s specific needs.

“Every sport is different. For baseball Fungo-Man is great; for softball and soccer it has been video analysis. All these improvements have been according to what the coaching staff feels is most important to the respective program,” Fraleigh notes. By working closely with the individual coaching staffs, the fund ensures every priority can be addressed in a timely manner.

Notre Dame’s prestige often is enough to attract new recruits to many of its sports programs, but the promise of state-of-the-art equipment is a tantalizing draw as well. Notre Dame teams now boast some of the most advanced technology on the market today that coaches can use to pique recruits’ interests. This, thanks to Mendelson, coupled with its storied tradition, will make Notre Dame all the more desirable to top-tier student-athletes, improving the quality of the University on the whole.

Mendelson long has been an integral and generous member of the Notre Dame community. He has offered his resources to its students and student-athletes alike, and his vast contributions to the University cannot be understated.

So much of Notre Dame’s identity is tied with its elite sports programs. The success of Notre Dame the team and Notre Dame the school is practically synonymous. Any strides forward our sports teams make means an equal step forward for the athletic program and University. Mendelson’s undying generosity and commitment to the improvement of Notre Dame’s athletic programs can be seen by any student-athlete who walks through those doors to play for the Fighting Irish.

Joseph T. Mendelson Endowment for Athletics Excellence

Established in 2006, the Joseph T. Mendelson Endowment for Athletics Excellence provides incremental and non-budgeted funding for Notre Dame’s Olympic sports programs. The fund, whose market value stands at approximately $ 1.82 million, generates annual income that can assist Irish Olympic sport coaches in taking advantage of opportunities to help grow their sport and support their student-athletes in a variety of ways.

In 2009-2010, the Mendelson Endowment funded an in-pool video system for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams.

Since its inception, the Mendelson Endowment has provided more than $280,000 in financial assistance to the following teams:

Men’s Baseball
Men’s Lacrosse
Women’s Lacrosse
Women’s Rowing
Men’s Soccer
Women’s Soccer
Men’s Swimming and Diving
Women’s Swimming and Diving
Men’s Tennis
Women’s Tennis
Women’s Volleyball