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MCCC Experience Prepares Alum Mel Weldon for
Dynamic Career in Local Community


West Windsor, N.J. - Mercer alum Mel Weldon '73 (Liberal Arts), of Trenton, studied at the college almost four decades ago, but those formative years had a profound impact on the life he lives today. As recently as April, Weldon had dinner with his former MCCC basketball coach, Howie Landa, in Las Vegas, where Landa now lives.

"Whenever I am in Las Vegas, I always make it a point to look up Howie," Weldon says. Landa, now 79, brought along a young man he is mentoring. "Howie is still doing his part to help young guys get started just like he did with me," Weldon says.

Born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Weldon's family relocated to Jersey City in the 1960s. Displaying a gift for basketball from a young age, he played three years at Ferris High School, where he was a stand-out. When his guidance counselor advised him to get an extra year of academics at a prep school before applying to college, Weldon attended Lowell Crest Prep in Bristol, CT.

Alum Mel Weldon '73 returned to the Trenton Campus
recently to speak to students.

"It helped tremendously," Weldon recalls. "I played basketball and I got serious about academics. That year, we won the New England championship." Setting his sights on college, his former Ferris guidance counselor told him about a community college basketball team in Mercer County that was doing great things under Coach Howie Landa, whose reputation was spreading with each passing season.

So Weldon paid Landa a visit. "Of course, son, you can try out for the team," Weldon recalls Landa telling him. "I never had a father figure. Howie took me under his wing. He was a good coach; I was a good listener. I became a better basketball player and a better person."

Weldon proved a stellar addition to the roster. During his first season (1971-72), the Viking were still practicing out of storefronts and playing on outdoor courts around Trenton. But that didn't stop Weldon from excelling. He was the team's leading scorer, averaging 25 points per game. The following season the college moved to the West Windsor campus and the team finally had a gymnasium to call home. Maybe it was the boost they needed. The Vikings won their first national championship that season.

"It was unbelievable," Weldon says all these years later. "We played against the home team in Hutchinson, KS, in front of 10,000 fans. "Coach told us to pretend they were cheering for us, but we were a bunch of young guys from Trenton. It was pretty intimidating."

But then again, not so much. The Vikings dominated, winning the game by 20 points. "There was nothing left to question," Weldon says, still clearly satisfied with the results. Weldon was named a First Team All-American and Player of the Year. He was invited to play at the World University Games that summer, the only junior college player on a squad that included a number of players who went on to the NBA. They traveled to Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, advancing all the way to the final in Russia - and won a gold medal.

"This was a chance that was given to me. I took advantage of it," Weldon says. "Basketball was a tool to get someone interested in me. But education is more important than sports. You can get injured, but you always have your education."

After taking more than 60 credits of Liberal Arts courses at Mercer, Weldon transferred to Boston College where, according to the school's website, he had "a tremendous impact on the [basketball] program's fortunes. BC was mired in a four-year postseason drought when he arrived from junior college and breathed life into a listless 11-14 team. In Weldon's first year, the 1973-74 Eagles improved to 21-9 and reached the NIT quarterfinals. The following year, he served as team captain. Led by his speed and defensive play, BC again recorded a 21-9 mark and reached the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16." Weldon was inducted into the BC Hall of Fame in 1991.

After earning his bachelor's degree in Sociology, Weldon played in the pro ranks in the Continental Basketball Association and in Venezuela. By the late 1970s, he had found his way back to MCCC. At that point, Landa was taking a break from coaching and Weldon was offered the job, along with a position as an admissions counselor.

"Howie and I would brainstorm. The team did pretty well; we won some titles," Weldon says modestly.

Weldon learned a whole bunch of behind-the-scenes skills as well, including mentoring players who were living on their own for the first time. But after four seasons, Weldon decided the commitment was more than he could juggle as he began to focus on his own family and advancing his career.

Weldon was hired as the manager of the Trenton Housing Authority, where he has remained ever since. For the past ten years, he has been manager of residence services and enjoys creating and maintaining connections with the community's residents, especially its young people. "I point them towards programs and resources that will help them develop life skills." He makes sure they know about Mercer's Youth College - Upward Bound, SMILE, and Talent Search - programs that help teens prepare for a future that makes academics priority number one.

His own humble beginnings have made his message resonate powerfully. "I am pleased to talk to young people. When I see kids get up early, go to school, I do my best with them."

Basketball continues to be a constant in Weldon's life. Two of his three children took to the sport; one of his two daughters played for Goldey Beacom College in Wilmington, Delaware, where she earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees, and his son just finished his freshman season at Neumann University.

When the time was right, Weldon got back into coaching. For seven years through 2011, he served as assistant coach for girls basketball at Trenton Catholic Academy; during that time, the team won five state championships. Last spring, Weldon was named head coach for boys basketball, taking over the Iron Mikes from long-time coach Fred Falchi. In a press conference after his selection, Weldon said, "I bring a whole lot of experience to the job and basketball is in my heart. We're going to continue to win here, plus we're going to make sure academically every one of our players is put in the best situation possible."

Good to his word, Weldon coached the Iron Mikes to a 9-0 season in the Catholic League and a championship in the Mercer County Tournament this year, beating Ewing in an exciting comeback in the final. The team also advanced in the state tournament and finished 25-5.

Weldon's successes can be traced back to a combination of talent, smarts and people like his former coach, Howie Landa, who cared about him. So, it's really not surprising that Mel Weldon is where he is today - helping young people get a good start in life just as he did, through basketball and education.

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