Be prepared to hear an even louder roar from the Bears and Lady Bears of Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, starting this fall.
Effective Sept. 1, St. Joseph’s College’s Brooklyn Campus became the newest member of the NCAA Division III. The athletic program persevered to get where it is today, thanks to the support of the administration and Athletic Director Frank Carbone.
“Everyone on campus is extremely thrilled,” said Carbone. “NCAA membership symbolizes the culmination of years of hard work by not only our athletic department staff, coaches and student-athletes, but also the entire St. Joseph’s College community as a whole.”
In addition to coaching women’s basketball and softball for over a decade, Carbone took over as AD seven years ago. In 2003, he approached the school’s president, Sister Elizabeth Hill, C.S.J., with the idea to join the NCAA, especially since the Long Island campus, located in Patchogue, had been a member since 1997.
“As part of the whole NCAA process, once we got into it and started making it a reality, it really took off,” Carbone said.
A smaller school, St. Joseph’s Brooklyn campus consists of roughly 800 full-time students, but the school only had 500 at the time of Carbone’s appointment. Also, when Carbone arrived on the scene back in 1997, there were only three varsity sports programs: men’s/women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.
Today St. Joseph’s has 12 varsity sports, and student-athletes make up close to 20% (170) of the enrollment – with that number likely to increase in the near future.
“The growth has been really very exciting and steady,” said Carbone. “Particularly in the last five years, we’ve doubled in size as an athletic program.”
While Carbone and his staff are excited for the many new opportunities associated with joining the NCAA, he admits that it was an all-consuming process. Division III is actually the largest division in the NCAA, and St. Joseph’s was forced to strictly comply with NCAA standards with regards to handling student-athletes, hiring coaches and adhering to rules.
“The NCAA is the gold standard in college athletics, and I am very proud that the excellence of our program has been recognized,” said Sister Elizabeth. “The values of Division III and the college are very compatible, and we are all looking forward to many years of exciting and rewarding competitions.”
Though the distinction of being an NCAA member is now official, St. Joseph’s followed all NCAA procedures beforehand. The Bears were an independent team that was part of the Association of Division III Independents (AD3I). Locally, the program played in the Hudson Valley Conference, comprised of 12 teams from the metropolitan area – most of which are not in the NCAA. The school also participated in the Untied States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA), which reaches out to schools with enrollment under 3,000.
As St. Joseph’s begins its hunt for a permanent NCAA-sanctioned conference that it deems a good fit, the athletic teams will continue to be affiliated with these conferences. Playing against tough competition allowed the school to show a strong progression and be ready once the NCAA came calling.
Starting in 2004, St. Joseph’s was accepted as an NCAA candidate. However, that year, 12 universities applied for membership, and the NCAA accepts no more than four institutions at one time. The Bears lost out on the lottery and were forced to go through a two-year exploratory period, followed by the standard four-year provisional period. All told, it was about a six-year process.
“In the long run, it did help because now we’re totally set,” said Carbone. “We are in good shape from all standpoints, and we didn’t have to rush. We were able to map out a good plan and execute it.”
The real difference now is that the Bears are eligible for NCAA Championships. While it competed against NCAA schools in the past and frequently won or contended for a number of Hudson Valley and USCAA championships, St. Joseph’s never experienced the thrill of receiving a bid to an NCAA national championship tournament. Additionally, the student-athletes can now set NCAA records and qualify for awards.
While the majority of St. Joseph’s student-athletes hail from Brooklyn and Queens, the “Bears’ claws” have reached out into Staten Island, Manhattan and the Bronx, as well as several different states. Expanding into the NCAA should further help with recruiting.
St. Joseph’s often attracts top CHSAA athletes. Softball senior pitcher Alyson Chiaramonte (Moore Catholic, Staten Island) was named the AD31 Female Student-Athlete of the Year for the second straight year. Senior women’s basketball guard Ashley McQuillan (St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows) returns as a 1,000-pt. scorer. Senior baseball catcher/third baseman Jon Mendez played his high school ball at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge. Senior swimmer Kristen McMaster (Fontbonne Hall, Bay Ridge) holds various school records.
Since Division III student-athletes are not awarded athletic scholarships, St. Joseph’s prides itself in creating a strong academic atmosphere for its athletes. Each year, many Bears are recognized as Academic All-Americans for maintaining a cumulative overall GPA of 3.5. In 2010-2011, 18 Bears and Lady Bears earned this honor.
“They’re getting the job done in the classroom as well as on the field,” Carbone said.
With the addition of men’s soccer this fall and plans to break ground on a state-of-the-art athletic facility right in Clinton Hill, St. Joseph’s College is merely scratching the surface of its athletic potential.
“We’re hoping to keep on building,” said Carbone. “I just want to see us continue to grow and look to accomplish our mission of providing our kids with the best opportunity and experience possible.”
The Lady Bears women’s volleyball team will play the school’s first-ever NCAA contest when it travels to the College of St. Elizabeth, Morristown, N.J., on Sept. 13, 7 p.m.