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Johnny Halpert, Legendary Men’s Basketball Coach of 42 Years, Fired

Amid financial turmoil, threats of furlough, and credit squeezes, another loss has hit the Yeshiva University community, this time at the heart of its athletic program.

On Friday, February 6th, Johnny Halpert, who has coached the Yeshiva Maccabees basketball team for over four decades, sent out an email to current and former players announcing that his contract would not be renewed for the 2014-2015 season.

In the email, Coach Halpert explained the circumstances surrounding his imminent departure, stating that the decision originated in a request from the President that he retire following the 2013-2014 season. Shortly after responding in November that he was unprepared to place a timetable on his retirement, Coach Halpert received a letter of termination, stating that while his services were “deeply appreciated,” they were no longer wanted.

"If there was any YU employee who earned the right to exit on his own terms, it was Coach Halpert"

David Kufeld YC '80 (Portland Trail Blazers)

Although Halpert expressed his disappointment with the decision, he professed his “love and admiration for Yeshiva University, its administrators, faculty and students,” thanking players, past and present, for their support and friendship over the years.

Currently in his 42nd season at the helm of the men’s basketball program, Halpert has achieved iconic status within Yeshiva University and beyond; he was the subject of an ESPN feature in 1997 and a New York Times article in 2002. Coach Halpert is the longest tenured men’s college basketball coach in New York City history, and the fourth-longest tenured coach in all of basketball at any level -- professional, collegiate, or otherwise. Halpert has led the Maccabees to 415 victories over the course of his illustrious career, which includes a 15 year span (1987-88 to 2001-02) without a losing season. More recently, he coached the team to the Skyline Conference playoffs in 11 of the last 14 seasons.

As a tribute to his 40 years of service to the University’s athletic program, YU honored Coach Halpert in May 2012 with a court-naming ceremony inside the Melvin Furst Gymnasium, the Maccabees’ home court since 1985. In addition to an unveiling of his signature on the court’s hardwood floor, the ceremony included the launch of the Coach Jonathan Halpert Scholarship Fund, an endowment which provides generous financial scholarships for children of YU alumni living in Israel who choose to study at the University. Halpert has received numerous awards during his coaching tenure, including Skyline Conference Coach of the Year (twice, in 1999-00 and 2009-10), the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) “Guardians of the Game” honor in 2003-04, and The Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association (MBWA) “Good Guy Award” in 1997-98. Halpert also led YU to a pair of College Basketball Officials Association (CBOA) Sportsmanship Awards in 1979-80 and 1996-97.

Halpert received his BA and BHL (Bachelor of Hebrew Literature) degrees from Yeshiva in 1966, an MA degree from New York University in 1967, and a PhD in Special Education from Yeshiva University's Ferkauf Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1978. While at Yeshiva, Halpert was a member of YU’s basketball team under legendary coach Red Sarachek from 1962 to 1966, captaining the team in his senior season. Since 1972, Halpert has coached over 300 student-athletes, including five father/son tandems. He recently published a book entitled Are You Still Coaching? chronicling his storied 41 year career at Yeshiva University.

Many alumni who participated in YU athletics voiced their discontent with the president’s decision. Lior Hod, founder of Ellkay, LLC, who played under Coach Halpert from 1984-88, reached out to dozens of former players via email, attempting to rally support around their former coach. The campaign was met with an overwhelmingly positive response. “If there was any YU employee who earned the right to exit on his own terms, it was Coach Halpert, as he is not some incidental part-time staffer, but rather an institution in his own right,” said David Kufeld, who played for Coach Halpert from 1978-80 and the only YU player ever drafted into the NBA (Portland Trail Blazers, 10th round, 1980).

“You will never find another person who gives as much as he does to his ballplayers, both past and present,” wrote Robert Himber, who captained the team in 1991. Other players spoke of his honest character, his emphasis on sportsmanship, and his relentless commitment to imparting the values espoused by Yeshiva University.

Many concealed their indignation, if only momentarily, to thank the coach for his guidance. Dr. Allen Sapadin (1979-1983) described Coach Halpert’s profound impact on three generations of YU basketball players: “Coach, your players' lives have been immeasurably enhanced by their experiences with you during their tenures on your teams.  They learned to work diligently in preparation for the pursuit of winning on and off the basketball court, but there could be no winning if it was not achieved with Torah values and conduct.  Your players admire you for your sincerity in mentoring them to become fine players, but more importantly, fine people.”

The Office of the President declined to comment on the matter, other than stating that the University “will soon embark on a nationwide search to find Halpert’s successor.”

The Commentator will publish its next issue on Thursday.