For years, the No. 22 of the great Dennis McDermott has hung in isolation in the Pope Physical Education Center on the campus of St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights.
McDermott though is about to have some company.
During halftime of the Terriers’ game on Dec. 15 against the University at Albany, N.Y., the No. 15 jersey of Jeanne Zatorski will rise to the rafters – making it the first retired number for any female student-athlete in the college’s history.
“Being the first female up there is quite an honor, and it’s really exciting,” said Zatorski, who in 1987 became the first woman to be inducted into the St. Francis Athletics Hall of Fame. “And yet in the same breath, it’s very humbling. It’s truly amazing to see just how far women have come over these past 50 years on every front.”
Zatorski grew up in Brooklyn at Our Lady of Angels parish and school, Bay Ridge. She played Catholic Youth Organization basketball at the parish and also played volleyball, softball and any of the many sports always taking place each day on the streets of the neighborhood.
She went on to Our Lady of Perpetual Help H.S., Sunset Park, where she played as a forward on the girls’ basketball team, which won the league’s division crown in each of her four years.
Upon graduating in 1975, Zatorski was awarded an athletic scholarship to St. Francis, making her one of the first female student-athletes to earn a scholarship to the school. Known for her two-handed shooting ability in high school, she immediately changed her game on the college level.
“All of a sudden, I changed my shot that won me a scholarship, and I just started shooting a one-handed jump shot,” she said.
That accurate shot would lead to a memorable Terriers career playing under head coach Dianne Nolan, who in her five seasons tallied the highest winning percentage (.627) of any coach in program history.
Place in the Record Books
When she graduated in 1979, Zatorski was the highest scoring St. Francis player for both the men’s and women’s teams with 1,704 pts., which is now third on the women’s list. Keep in mind though that this total came at a time before the 3-point shot, which was adopted in NCAA women’s college basketball for the start of the 1987-1988 season.
“I could have never done it without the support of my family and some really great teammates, especially Janet McDade,” Zatorski said. “I think about being on that court, and Janet was my point guard. She was absolutely phenomenal, and the two of us played so well together. I think for every point I scored, she had the assist.”
Zatorski is also third in program history in career rebounds with 878 and second in field goals made with 765. She eclipsed the 450-pt. mark twice in a single season.
Following college, she was drafted by the New Jersey Gems of the Women’s Professional Basketball League. Before she even made her debut though, the league folded as a result of the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Years later, the WNBA was formed in 1996.
With her dual degree in medical technology and chemistry, Zatorski went to work for Brooklyn Union Gas. After eight years there, she spent time at Pfizer and Knoll Pharmaceuticals before enjoying a long career at Johnson & Johnson.
“I had a lot of fun doing it, and I’ve met some of the most wonderful friends in the world,” she said. “I really have to attribute basketball to being a large component of my success in corporate America. I learned how to be a team player, how to work under pressure and how to make things happen.”
Zatorski retired two years ago and now spends her time between homes in Montclair, N.J., and Naples, Fla. She enjoys traveling and has recently visited Vatican City, Poland and Prague.
Whether on the basketball court or in her business career, she said she is grateful to St. Francis College for preparing her well for future success.
“When I look back at St. Francis, they gave me far more than an academic education,” she said.
With Zatorski’s No. 15 jersey now a staple at Peter Aquilone Court, current and future men’s and women’s basketball players will continue to be inspired by this Terrier legend.
As deserving as Zatorski is of the honor, her No. 15 will have a short run of being the only women’s basketball retired number in school history. On Feb. 9, St. Francis will retire the No. 40 jersey of Karen Erving-Schiera, ’91, the program’s all-time leading scorer.
These two women changed the landscape of women’s basketball at the school, and now they’ll be forever celebrated right alongside McDermott, the “Face of St. Francis” himself.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.