The UConn Storrs campus will soon be home to a new monument that honors alumni and coaches who have been part of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The monument will be located on Hillside Road, just north of the famous Jonathan statue and across the street from Fairfield Way. It has been fully constructed, along with surrounding landscaping, and will soon be completed when the names of 50 members of the UConn community who have competed in the Games are added.
Once finished, a formal dedication ceremony will take place during the 2021-22 academic year. Following the ceremony, the monument will be illuminated every night, and the names of future Olympians with UConn ties will be added as they qualify for their respective teams.
The concept for the monument came from Andy Bessette ’75 (CLAS), who was a hammer thrower on the 1980 United States Olympic Team. He currently serves as a member of the UConn Board of Trustees and is Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of the Travelers.
Bessette saw similar acknowledgements at other college campuses and at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He then worked with Director of Athletics David Benedict to make the UConn monument a reality.
“UConn has such a storied history of great athletes, whether they go on to the professional ranks or remain world-class amateurs,” says Bessette. “It should be celebrated in a way that can inspire anyone who has a dream of being an Olympian or Paralympian. I hope that all student athletes – no matter where they are from, what they look like or what sport they compete in – will see the monument as a reminder that they can come to UConn and strive to achieve their dreams.”
In coordination with the Division of Athletics, the monument was designed and constructed by the Office of University Planning, Design and Construction – Site Planning & Landscape Architecture.
UConn’s Olympians have won a cumulative 27 gold medals, a silver medal, and seven bronze medals. They have represented 14 different countries and Puerto Rico, and participated in 15 different Olympic and Paralympic sports.
There’s no doubt that many Husky fans will quickly recognize the names of many of the Olympians, including 17 women’s basketball players who have played in the games, highlighted by Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi, who have each been part of five gold medal-winning teams for the United States, and Ray Allen, a gold medalist for the 2000 U.S. men’s basketball team.
But UConn’s Olympic history goes much deeper than that. It started at the 1952 Helsinki Games with Frank Dooley, who was a swimmer for the United States. Dooley competed collegiately as an undergraduate at Ohio State, but later earned his law degree from UConn.
Amazingly, 69 years later, there were 16 Olympians and a Paralympian with UConn ties at the recent Tokyo Games.
The vast majority of UConn’s Olympians are from the Summer Games, but there is a history at the Winter Games, too, with four athletes qualifying. Phylicia George competed in both Summer and Winter for Canada – in track and field in the 2012 and ’16 Games, and then in the bobsled event at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, where she won a bronze medal. UConn’s first Paralympian was former men’s basketball student-athlete Steve Emt, who competed in wheelchair curling for the United States in 2018.
In addition to Dooley, UConn Law is also represented by recent graduate Donn Cabral, a steeple chase athlete in the 2012 and ’16 Games, who earned his undergraduate degree at Princeton.
Coaches are also part of the UConn Olympic legacy with Geno Auriemma, who led the United States to gold in women’s basketball as the head coach in 2012 and ’16 and as an assistant in 2000. The beloved men’s basketball coach Dee Rowe was an assistant coach on the 1980 U.S. men’s basketball team, and former student-athlete Jennifer Rizzotti was an assistant coach for the gold medal U.S. women’s basketball team in the recent Tokyo Games.
These and other UConn Olympians will now be acknowledged with the completion of the new monument, to always serve as a symbol of pride and motivation for the entire UConn community.