by Malik Vincent
People gathered on May 21 to recognize the contributions of both current and former Ozanam alumni, coaches, volunteers, and sponsors at its benefit dinner at Damon’s Grill and Sports Bar, Downtown.
Vince Sims of WPXI-TV served as the evening’s Master of Ceremonies and conducted the silent auction. Some of the items sold included a ‘legends’ basketball signed by several greats, or what they refer to as “legendary alumni” that have participated in the program over the years. Another was a wood-burned art rendering by OZ’s executive director Curtis Cureton. There was also a raffle that included an autographed football signed by Robin Cole, Mike Meriwether, Mel Blount, and Craig Bingham—to name a few, as well as other sports-related items.
“Until Ozanam gets the proper funding, it’s going to be a struggle,” program alumni Dwight Clay said. “Now, you can see that they’re on the right track to developing that type of leadership and following but they still need the funding.”
Referred to as, ‘the Iceman’, Clay hit the game-winning shot to end UCLA’s NCAA Division I men’s record-longest 88 game winning streak back in January, 1974—a mark that still stands today.
“As a young man, Ozanam prepared us intellectually, worldly, and skillfully in sports to take that beyond the Hill District boundaries,” Clay said. “It was just another vehicle presented to young men such as myself to utilize to continue my growth.”
Dr. Mary Myers, who is now coordinator of Student Organizations at Cleveland State University, was one of the first female players in Ozanam to play with boys in the mid- ‘70s. Her Archerettes played together in the OZ summer league and then met later on in the regular-season at Fifth Avenue High School.
From there, she took her talents to star at the University of Kansas.
“We didn’t lose much, in fact, I don’t’ think we lost at all,” Myers said. “The time I spent with Ozanam earned me a scholarship. It provided me with an opportunity for exposure and an environment to cultivate. “
Myers, who refers to the late Ozanam founder Karl Kohlman as ‘Daddy Kohlman’, said he was a “disciplinarian” who enjoyed girls basketball and who applied the idea that she called the “each one, teach one rule.”
Cureton mentioned that the organization plans to continue Kohlman’s vision, financially, pursuing opportunities for funding by continuing to conduct community events and by obtaining more corporate sponsorship.
“Back during the Kohlman era of Ozanam, many of its ventures were funded by his own organization. The Catholic Diocese (who was a key supporter, during that time) assisted with things such as the maintenance of the Community Center.”
He feels one long-term solution to any financial difficulties is to build its alumni base and for it to campaign for more such gateways to gain such funding.
Native son Lamman Rucker, an Ozanam alumnus, served as the event’s keynote speaker. In his address, he made several references to his pride in hailing from Pittsburgh and how he’s applied his experiences with the OZ program to his life.
“Ozanam has been a pillar in the community, and in particular to the Hill District, for many years,” Rucker said. “It was a big part of my childhood. It’s as if your own family asked you to come back and asked you to tell what they mean to you. The fact that I’m here right now is a similar thing.”
The famed actor moved to New York after earning his masters from Duquesne to fulfill his stage and screen aspirations. After performing in the theatre, he obtained work in television series, such as: “All of Us,” “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns.” His major movie credits, to date, are Tyler Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married?” and “Why Did I Get Married Too?”
“I can look around and see some of the results of that work we put in back in the OZ days,” Rucker said. “The other guys are here doing great things, whether it’s teaching, coaching, active in business, politics, (etc.). We’re all peers, so it’s no surprise that they’re thriving. I know them and that’s the way it’s always been. It’s good to see that they’re the same people that they were back then… (Their success) is no surprise.”
(Malik Vincent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)