Fanatics in the faculty: How Iona professors show support for their Gaels

Giovanni Paolo Tagliafierro, Sports Editor

Looking around the stands at a home soccer match at Mazzella Field, a spectator has a good chance of catching Dr. David Zuckerman cheering the Gaels on. Inside the Hynes Arena, fans may see Dr. Michael Hughes attending a basketball game with a group of honors students, and if anyone passes by the water polo team about to depart on a road trip, it is safe to assume that Dr. Jack Breslin is behind the wheel of the team’s van.  


These professors are just a few of the Iona faculty that recognize athletics as an important part of creating the best-possible learning environment for their students.  


Zuckerman has taught biology for just over five years at Iona. While he has not always been a natural sports fan, he has found himself enjoying sports more and more since he started attending games at Iona, particularly soccer. His interest in basketball has also grown since he first started teaching at Iona, due in no small part to his wife’s efforts to explain the game to him.  


The biggest reason that the biology professor attends games is to show support to his students, something that he prioritizes in his teaching career.  


“I think a lot of students are not aware that there is a ton of faculty support for them in and out of the classroom,” Zuckerman said in an interview.  


Zuckerman believes that sports, along with other extracurriculars, are extremely valuable to a student’s college experience as a whole, and that it makes the experience even more fruitful when faculty members get behind them in their pursuits.  


“Having been a student, I understand their perspective,” Zuckerman said. “And I really want to discourage the thinking that we don’t think of them beyond how they did on their last exam or their last essay.”  


Whereas Zuckerman’s newfound enjoyment of Gaels athletics was mostly a product of his passion as an educator, Hughes’ love for college sports began when he was pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois.  


Hughes was hooked from the first Fighting Illini basketball game he attended, so hooked that he bought season tickets in his second year at the university. His office, which is filled wall to wall with Illinois basketball posters and other sports memorabilia, is a testament to his die-hard fandom.  


After earning his doctorate and coming to Iona to teach in 2005, Hughes was excited be a part of a college with a Division-1 sports program. He wanted to carry his enthusiasm and love for the college sports scene over from the Midwest and on to the New Rochelle campus.  


The history professor has organized many tailgate events for sports like soccer and has infused attending sports games into his learning community classes as well. One of the most successful events that Hughes recalled was when he brought a group of honor students to a basketball game. He said that the students’ interest and energy helped make the evening a success.  


This commitment to furthering student involvement in Iona athletics comes from Hughes’ own personal experiences at Illinois. He witnessed firsthand how powerful college sports were in bringing together an entire community. It is a reason he feels so connected to his former university, and he wants that same experience for his students here.  


“Few things can make a student feel more connected to a college or university than sports,” Hughes said. “I want students to make the most of their time here.”  


Hughes also believes that the presence of faculty at sporting events is meaningful because of how students relate to sports and the significance of sports in American culture.  


“It’s important for students to see their professors not just as teachers and academics, but to see them as ordinary people who like some of the same stuff that they do,” Hughes said.  



Breslin’s role in sports at Iona is slightly different than that of his previously mentioned peers, as he serves as the moderator for the men’s and women’s water polo teams at Iona.  


The professor took on this role in the spring of 2013 after he was asked by members of the team to become their moderator. Two days after he accepted the offer, Breslin found himself driving one of the team’s vans to Hartford.  


He joked that every professor should drive a van at least once for the college.  


The main job of a moderator is to help the players succeed in their classes and to make sure their academics are not getting neglected in the busy daily life of a college athlete. Breslin views his role as being an “intermediary” between athletes and academic faculty, aiding the athlete in balancing their pursuits, both as learners and as competitors.  


While he enjoys the trips to the west coast, Breslin is focused on helping his athletes do their best in the classroom.  


“I very quickly saw what a great opportunity it was to get to know the students and to make a contribution,” Breslin said.  


These insights help show the community aspect that is so important at a college like Iona. Whether it is in Doorley Hall or on Mazzella Field, a Murphy Center classroom or a packed Hynes Arena, these Iona faculty do their best to see students and athletes prosper.