Celebrating the scholar-athlete
John Jay building sports tradition in the heart of NYC
No fields? No problem.
No dorms? Traffic jams or subways shut down? You deal with it.
After all, how many colleges list on their website ways to get to the gym, in order: by subway, by bus and then by car?
And that’s the amazing part, which is that the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (nickname: Bloodhounds, indoor sports played at the Doghhouse) has a full-fledged Division III athletic program that is expanding in the heart of New York City.
Just listening to athletic director Dan Palumbo almost wants to make you mail in a donation, so enthusiastic is the native Brooklynite who also happens to double as the school’s baseball coach despite having both hips replaced.
“I’m going to say that people think of the NCAA and they think of Texas and they think of LSU and Miami, but I think that smaller Division II and Division III schools make up at least half of the student-athletes,” Palumbo said. "I don’t know that for fact, but I would think so.
“And when you’re dealing with schools like us in Division III where you don’t have scholarship money, and us at John Jay where you don’t have dorms, you’re dealing with a very, very special kind of student, a very special kind of student-athlete.”
John Jay president Jeremy Travis, who came to the school in 2004, agreed.
“We celebrate the idea of the scholar-athlete,” Travis said, “so many of our athletic teams are also in essence study groups and peer-support systems and encourage our students to do well in the classroom in addition to doing well on the field.”
Named for one of our country’s founding fathers, John Jay College is located on 10th Avenue in Manhattan, two longs blocks from Central Park and another two blocks to the Hudson River. It began in 1965 as 'The College of Police Science of The City University of New York (CUNY)' and boasts a wide variety of students in both background and age.
From its website:
“Today, a thriving, urban, multicultural institution and a senior college of CUNY, John Jay attracts motivated students of proven achievement who have the intellectual acuity, moral commitment, and professional competence to confront the challenges of crime, justice, and public safety in a free society. Their ability and drive, along with the superb, professional education for which John Jay is known, have established the College’s national and international reputation for excellence in criminal justice and public service education.”
“It became a very, very noble field again, unfortunately, after 9-11, when people started saying this is a really good thing to go into to take care of the community,” Palumbo said. “Our students go into law enforcement, FBI, drug enforcement, border patrol, federal marshals, we get great recruiting from the federal government.”
John Jay offers 27 majors, but, as the name would indicate, many of its students enter law enforcement.
Its athletic logo, featuring a Sherlock Holmes-type bloodhound, is as unique as its athletes of which there are about 200. John Jay fields men’s teams in baseball, basketball, cross country, rifle – “We’d better have rifle,” Palumbo cracked -- soccer and tennis, and is adding volleyball, which is a story in itself.
The women compete in basketball, cross country, rifle, soccer (added just last year), softball, swimming, tennis and volleyball. The part-time volleyball coach, Brittany Fout, is also taking on the task of starting the men’s program from scratch and they’ll compete next semester. And that despite her team winning only two of its first 23 matches this season.
“Here we are in a budget crisis and all this stuff and we’re adding teams,” Palumbo said with a laugh. “You know what, again, I think it’s our job, our duty, our responsibility to give our kids as much as we can. Men’s volleyball, there was a ton of interest. It’s an easy sport to add. It was a no-brainer. We have the ‘Pound,’ the kids wanted to do it, Brittany wanted to do it. And we have great support from our administration for what we do.”
At least they have the Dogpound in which to play. Baseball, soccer and other outside sports? John Jay doesn’t own any fields. It relies on the parks and rec department and other entities to hold practices and games.
“We have fields all over the place,” Palumbo said. “All our home games are away.”
Not that everyone is always there at the start of every practice.
“When I was coaching at other schools where we had dorms, lateness was never allowed,” said Palumbo, who was the longtime baseball coach at Ramapo in New Jersey, “but now you’re dealing with New York City, where a train is backed up, for example.”
He joked that even on the morning of this interview, he got stuck in traffic driving in from New Jersey and was late getting to his office.
“With no traffic it’s like a 45-minute ride. With traffic it can take two hours,” he said. “Like this morning when the George Washington Bridge was closed because of an emergency. It’s the same thing the kids have to deal with, but you know what? These kids love their sports and are dedicated to their sports and they walk around and wear their John Jay gear proudly.
“They wear it on their chest very proudly without getting any money for it, without getting any free dorms or free books or anything. They do it for the love of the game.”
Palumbo, who went to work at John Jay in 2002, prides himself on watching all the school’s teams play and knowing the athletes. He also brags on how his teams do “crazy amounts” of community services. Their athletic program is funded through student-activity fees.
That’s not lost on Travis.
“I always say that [Palumbo] embodies the spirit of the school,” Travis said. “He’s very student-focused. He believes very strongly in values based in education and that it’s important for athletes to be active citizens of the college community and the baseball team in particular is known throughout the city as being a group of young men who are role models and that comes from the top, that comes from coach Palumbo.”
Palumbo makes a point, he said, to speak from heart to all the athletes at their respective postseason dinners.
“I always say to them that in all my years of coaching that I am dealing with the most dedicated, loyal athletes who love their sports more than any athletes I have ever seen,” Palumbo said.
“Because these kids come in to a commuter school, travel by trains, buses, or whatever, go through classes, go through games, some of them have to work, some of them have families, and they go home and do it again the next day.
“So I think we are the backbone of the student-athletes in the country.”