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Mercer to Commemorate Basketball Greats
at Hall of Fame Celebration on Jan. 18

12/6/02


The 1973 National NJCAA champs celebrate after their victory in Hutchinson, KS.

Members of the planning committee for the Hall of Fame Celebration include: (standing, left to right) John Simone, Fred Weiner, Bob Pugh, Jim Ramm, and Charles Smith; (seated) Al Leister and Rose Rubertone.  Not pictured: George O’Gorman.

The MCCC Athletic Department invites friends and supporters of Mercer athletics to attend a "Hall of Fame Celebration" on Saturday, January 18.  Six Mercer champions, including former Basketball Coach Howie Landa and five players, will be inducted into the MCCC Sports Hall of Fame.  Members of Mercer's 1972 - 73 Men's Basketball Team, which won the NJCAA National Championship, will also be honored.  The event will be held in the Physical Education Building and the Student Center on the West Windsor Campus, 1200 Old Trenton Road.

The festivities begin at halftime of a regular season game between Mercer and the Community College of Rhode Island when Hall of Fame inductees will come together on the court for a special ceremony.  (Game time is 2 p.m.)  At the conclusion of the game, guests will move to the Student Center for a reception and dinner.  Tickets are $30 and are available by calling the MCCC Athletic Department at (609) 586-4800, ext. 3741.

According to MCCC Athletic Director John Simone, the Mercer basketball program began in 1961 with the hiring of Coach Landa.  The school was located in downtown Trenton at that time and was still known as Trenton Junior College.  "The Mercer basketball program started off with great momentum, reaching the national tournament in its second season and placing sixth," said Simone.  "Plans to honor some of Mercer's greats have been on the table for years.  This event is the vision of many staff members."

The ceremony will also honor Mercer's 1972 – 73 championship team, the first East Coast team to win the NJCAA title – before or since.  "Thirty years have passed since that team put Mercer on the map.  There are still people here who remember that thrilling ride," said Simone.  "There was a great deal of interest at the college in bringing together as many members of the team and staff as we could."

The six stars to be inducted into Mercer's Sports Hall of Fame are Head Coach Howie Landa, three-time NJCAA National Coach of the Year, and four of his greatest players: Jim Cornwall, 1963 – 64 NJCAA All-American; Bobby Sands, 1968 National Player of the Year; Mel Weldon, 1973 National Player of the Year; and Connie White, 1974 National Player of the Year. Women’s basketball player Terry Dorner, a1980 NJCAA All-American, will also be inducted for leading the Lady Vikes to their first NJCAA tournament.  (As a Rutgers transfer, Dorner helped the Scarlet Knights win the AIAW women's national title.)  These six inductees will join 15 coaches and players from the Men's Soccer Team in Mercer's Sports Hall of Fame.

Coach Landa came to Mercer (then Trenton Junior College) in 1961 from Neshaminy High School, bringing with him player Jim Cornwall.  The team had late night practices in a local gym, having no facility of its own until the college moved to the West Windsor Campus in 1972.  In 1963 – 64, the Vikings took their first trip to the nationals in Hutchinson, KS.  In 1968, behind the quality play of Bobby Sands, the Vikings returned to the nationals, this time going as far as the finals before losing by two points to San Jancinto, TX, and ending the season with a 30 – 3 record.  Sands was tournament MVP.  The 1972 team, with Mel Weldon, Connie White, Jerome Young, Richie Freda and Marty Prendergast, finally brought home the trophy, beating host team Hutchinson in the title game and completing a record breaking 34 – 3 season.  Young and White continued the streak the next season with another national title.  Many of Mercer's finest went on to play quality ball at four-year schools.

In addition to Simone, the Hall of Fame Planning Committee includes: Prof. Al Leister, former athletic director; Bob Pugh, Director of Physical Education; Fred Weiner, guidance department, George O’Gorman, former MCCC sports information director; Jim Ramm, a former statistician; and Rose Rubertone, of the admissions department.  For more information, call the MCCC Athletic Department at (609) 586-4800, ext. 3741.

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