Inductees, families, and teammates alike gathered at Fairmont Country Club in Chatham, N.J., Monday, May, 23 to celebrate the newest additions to the Seton Hall Athletics Hall of Fame.
Following a day of golf, the honorees gathered in the evening for a cocktail hour and dinner. After meals were completed, the five inductees, Kristen Downing, Andre McCloud, Father Frank J. McNulty, George Nazario and Thomas Sharkey, made their acceptance speeches and received their plaques.
One statement remained common among all five honorees: they were all surprised upon hearing news of their induction.
“[I felt] very surprised, to be really honest with you,” Downing said prior to the event. “I’ve just always seen baseball and basketball, those elite sports, so I was kind of shocked when obviously they notified me to let me know the great news.”
Downing is not short of elite accomplishments herself. A 1997 graduate from Seton Hall, she made her name in the women’s tennis program, where she remains the all-time leader in singles wins (86) and total wins (155).
In her time at The Hall, Downing helped the team attain its first-ever NCAA Championship bid in 1996.
Addressing the crowd in her induction speech, Downing talked highly of her coach and teammates in adjusting to a team setting. From the moment she stepped onto the South Orange campus to now, Downing knew she was meant to be a Pirate.
“After that recruiting trip, I knew this was the place for me.” she said. “I am forever grateful being a Pirate.”
The microphone had to be raised for the next inductee; 1986 men’s basketball graduate McCloud.
McCloud was the first recruit signed by head coach P.J. Carlesimo. McCloud told the story of how the coach found him.
“How we met is amazing,” McCloud said in his induction speech. Carlesimo saw McCloud playing in his hometown of Washington, D.C. and approached him and his friend, asking him to visit Seton Hall.
McCloud visited, and ended up signing his letter of intent by the end of the week. He went on to score 1,976 career points, good for sixth in Seton Hall history. Seasons were tough, but McCloud never gave up.
“Those 4 years were tough. I ain’t going to lie, it was tough,” McCloud said. “I wasn’t going to leave the ship. I wasn’t taught that way.”
While Carlesimo was not able to attend, he was sure to give his regards, which were relayed at the event.
One person who was not short of friends at the event was Father McNulty.
In his time at Seton Hall, Father McNulty was the team chaplain for the men’s basketball team from 1996-2006, even being on board for the Sweet Sixteen run in 2000.
“I always enjoyed it,” Father McNulty said prior to the event. “I enjoyed going on trips, always found [the team] a lot of fun to be with. And a lot of exciting moments. To get that close to the exciting moments, it meant a lot.”
Father McNulty had the entire crowd laughing at his story of him trying to make the Seton Hall Prep basketball team, but not making it because coach Honey Russell would have taken him on the team if he were a junior and not a senior.
“Maybe it was because I didn’t go to kindergarten, because that would’ve given me that extra year,” Father McNulty joked.
Father McNulty looks back at that as “a good experience” because he was good enough to make it, just not at the right time.
To finish his induction speech, Father McNulty reflected back to when he talked to Pope John Paul II on behalf of the nation’s priests when the Pope visited the United States. Richie Reagan approached Father McNulty and asked what the Pope had said to him.
“He said, ‘You go home, and tell Richie Reagan to get you better seats for the tournament,’” Father McNulty replied.
The crowd erupted into applause and a standing ovation. Nazari, once a men’s soccer standout at SHU, knew he had a tough act to follow.
Graduating in 1991, Nazario was part of the first Seton Hall program to win a Big East Championship in 1986. Overall, Nazario was a part of four NCAA Tournament teams in his time at Seton Hall.
“First season in ’86 was as good as it gets,” Nazario said in his induction speech.
Nazario talked in length about the importance of his coach Manfred Schellscheidt and his invaluable guidance throughout his life. His team referred to Schellscheidt as “boss,” and under that leadership with his teammates, Nazario learned lifelong lessons and memories.
“For the obstacles I was able to overcome, it gives me a firm sense of reality that I am still able to carry with me today,” Nazario said.
While Nazario expressed his surprise of the induction, as he found out about it while he was in Europe, perhaps no one was more surprised than Sharkey.
“[I felt] that it was not deserved because I didn’t spend that much time at Seton Hall,” Sharkey said before the ceremony began. “I spent two years in the seminary, two years in the army, but I only spent one year in the college in South Orange.”
Sharkey, who was a part of the Seton Hall baseball program in 1954, went on to pitch professionally for the Detroit Tigers for three years. Sharkey talked of his perfect game in his collegiate career in his induction speech, and joked how some players went to feast off him in the major leagues.
“My fastball was not fast enough and my curveball was too straight,” Sharkey said.
Since, Sharkey continues to be an active part of the Seton Hall community, as he has donated money to the athletic program and has helped student-athletes.
“I’ve contributed over 3 and a half million dollars to our alma mater,” Sharkey said in his speech.
“The management really cares, they really do,” Sharkey told The Setonian. “And I gave them a lot of money to do even better. And I’m glad to give them more.”
Sharkey said he was asked to be inducted seven or eight years ago, but denied it. He said now was a better time.
“Another campaign is in the making, and we should be ready to contribute.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @eswint22.