A 42-Year Tenure Ends

A 42-Year Tenure Ends

Jonathan Halpert says he doesn't know why the school won't renew his contract; YU won't comment.

Associate Editor

In January, Yeshiva University's Coach Jonathan Hapert published his memoirs, "Are You Still Coaching?"

In February, the answer is "no," with Halpert fired after 42 years and more than 400 victories (seventh most in the history of New York men's basketball) for no announced cause.

In a statement, YU wouldn't say that Halpert was dismissed, only that he "will conclude his service" but Halpert confirmed the firing, saying that he was notified last December, although the official announcement came with only one game left in the season.

It’s said that coaches are hired to be fired, but since 1972 Halpert commanded Yeshiva's sidelines and the respect of the city’s basketball mavens. This week, all he has left is respect, as the firing shocked players, past and present, and the YU community.

Halpert's last game will be the Feb. 22 home game at their Washington Heights campus versus Maritime.

“Dr. Halpert’s caring commitment,” said YU President Richard Joel in his statement, “as both mentor and coach, to his players and the YU community has made a difference for more than four decades. His legacy and lasting contribution to the university will be remembered each time our student athletes step onto the court that carries his name.”

Just two years ago, YU honored Halpert, who has a doctorate in special education, by adding his “signature” to the home court at Yeshiva's Max Stern Athletic Center on West 185th Street.

Halpert in an e-mail to friends and former players, wrote that Joel "notified me that my contract. .. will not be renewed for the 2014-2015 season; the corporate way of telling me that I have been fired."

Halpert in the e-mail added that the school had been pushing him out for almost a year. In May 2013, Joel "demanded that I announce my retirement (he offered to make me a retirement party) and sign a non-disclosure agreement. In November I informed the President that I was not prepared to make a decision about retirement at that time and under no circumstances would I sign a non-disclosure agreement.

"In December I received a termination letter stating that my services were 'deeply appreciated' just not wanted any more with no explanation as to why…. Although I am obviously very disappointed by his decision I will never allow one decision made by one person in one moment of time to negate the wonderful experiences and associations that I have enjoyed over the past forty two years. My love and admiration for Yeshiva University, its administrators, faculty and students remain as strong as ever."

The YU Maccabees have a 4-10 record in the Skyline Conference (Division III) and 6-15 overall. Halpert coached more than 300 players, including many fathers and sons. His own son, Rafi, played for him, and is now his assistant coach. Another of Halpert's players, Dave Kufeld, was drafted by the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers in 1980, though Kufeld did not play in the NBA.

Kufeld, a former captain of the team, told The Jewish Week that the Halpert’s influence on his players extended “way beyond the end lines of the court.” The coach had “a fierce devotion towards faithfully representing everything Yeshiva University has historically stood for, and for maintaining the proper perspective and attitude when experiencing either victory or defeat… Hundreds of former and current players see him as a friend and mentor in all matters of life, basketball and even religious observance. We greatly saddened and troubled by the impending end of the Halpert era at YU, and we are encouraging everyone who’s lives he has touched to attend the team’s final game, next Saturday night, to accord him a measure of hakarat hatov – grateful thanks.”

Few coaches can say their whole life has been spent at one school but Halpert can say it perhaps more than anyone. His father worked there, and Halpert went to Yeshiva University High School for Boys, then Yeshiva College where he was captain of the basketball team, with graduate school at Yeshiva's Ferkauf School of Humanities and Social Sciences, before his first coaching job at YU's high school.

In 2012, The New York Times reported that he coached part-time, often "on a salary of less than $25,000 a year. He made his livelihood operating homes on Long Island for mentally retarded adults," before retiring from that job in 2005.

Not only did Halpert's teams have to balance a dual Jewish-secular curriculum, but before the Stern Center opened in 1985, Halpert's teams didn't have a home court and often had often to travel to "home" games, often in high school gyms. They even went to some practices by train, in those early days, going over plays in the subway cars.

The oft-honored Halpert was twice named coach of the year in Skyline Conference (1999-00, 2009-10), and received the National Association of Basketball Coaches “Guardians of the Game” honor in 2003-04. The Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association awarded him its “Good Guy” award in 1997-98. In 1997, the Times included Halpert in "a look at some of the best coaching performances in the metropolitan New York area this season."

Yeshiva's former athletic director, Richard Zerneck, once told the Times: ''Jonny is of the old school, of people like Nat Holman and Red Holzman and our old great coach, Red Sarachek. They run the backdoor cuts and emphasize 'see the ball.' We also have to play a kind of slow-paced game because our players are not in the greatest shape. I mean, they spend most of their hours in classrooms. But Jonny works around it. In the summer here, we run high school clinics, and invite college coaches from the area. No one knows the game better than Jonny.''

An e-mail from one former player, Jerry Joszef, a former Maccabees captain, to Halpert, and shared with The Jewish Week, told the coach, "You have always handled yourself and treated each of us honestly, thoughtfully and in a fundamentally balanced and thoughtful manner… I appreciate all that you have done for me. It took awhile, but I eventually realized the profound impact you made on me in modeling and guiding me to live life as well as I could…. Kol Hakovod (with all honor to you). Your work at Yeshiva might be done but in my view, your work and responsibility in continuing to mentor us, your talmidim (students) must continue unabated as I and we count on you to continue to honor us as our leader among leaders and as a lifelong friend among our community of friends."

Halpert is 69 and probably feels a little like Casey Stengel, whose contract in 1960 was not renewed by the Yankees (“fired,” said Stengel) after Hall of Fame success, the year he turned 70. Said Stengel, "I'll never make the mistake of being 70 again."


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