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Captains Of Their Soles

Captains Of Their Soles

Some former Yeshiva University basketball players will get to do something next week they never did during their playing days — walk on the YU court.

During halftime of the Maccabees’ game on Sunday, Dec. 18 against St. Joseph’s College, the school will honor the team’s onetime captains at mid-court of the Max Stern Athletic Center. The building opened in 1985, long after many YU players had graduated; during their years on the Washington Heights campus, they played and practiced at high school gyms in the neighborhood and in Queens, often taking the bus after long days in the classroom.

“It was a shlep,” says Abe Sodden, a star player for YU in the mid-1950s and still among the team’s career leaders in points and rebounds.

Sodden, who at 77 is retired from his career in the insurance claims business, plans to attend the afternoon game and other reunion activities that day sponsored by YU’s Alumni Affairs department ( All living former captains were invited; some will come from as far away as California, the alumni department said this week that some two dozen show up.

The event, honoring the players who have captained the basketball team since it began as a club sport in 1930, will also serve as symbol of YU’s melding of religious life and secular interests. Like sports.

The basketball team’s success — Sodden captained the 1955-56 squad that recorded a best-ever 16-2 record — served as a point of pride in the wider Jewish community. “It showed that a yeshiva kid could be athletically inclined,” Sodden says.

The ranks of YU’s past captains include rabbis and chaplains, doctors and lawyers, businessmen and publicists — “every profession in the world,” says Jonathan Halpert, who has coached the team as a part-time job for 40 years. Halpert, retired CEO of a residential agency for the developmentally disabled, was captain in 1955-56.

Halpert, whose memoirs of his coaching career will be published next year, played for the late Bernard “Red” Sarachek, a legendary coach and basketball authority who led the team for 31 years starting in 1942, with a few years off to join the Army in World War II.

A YU basketball exhibit will be displayed in the Stern Center’s lobby as part of a “family friendly” pre-game series of shooting competitions and three-on-three matchups on Sunday morning, says Illana Feiglin, director of the alumni office.

Emcee of the halftime show will be Nachum Segal, host of the JM in the AM radio program.

Sodden, who has followed the Maccabees since he left YU more than five decades ago, says he has “flashbacks” of his youth when he watches the current players. He sees himself “running up and down the court and rebounding and scoring. It brings back memories.”

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