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A Leg-Up for AthleticsThe New Brewers Fund

Zander Mrlik ’13 earned All-American honors on the soccer field, but he says one of his most memorable experiences as a Vassar athlete came on the baseball diamond after what he called “my worst pitching performance of my senior season.”

“We needed to win one game of a double-header to make the Liberty League playoffs for the first time in school history,” Mrlik recalls. “I lost the first game by giving up a home run in the final inning, but my younger brother, Johnny [’16], pitched eight dominant innings in the second game and his best friend, Connor Cucalon [’16], delivered a clutch save to propel us into the playoffs.”

Mrlik says the disappointment he felt after losing the first game vanished when the team clinched the second one. “As soon as we recorded the final out, our whole team stormed the field and we were soon joined by a large crowd of Vassar baseball alumni who had come back to watch the game,” he says.

Such emotionally charged moments, shared by teammates, coaches, and alumnae/i, bond Vassar athletes for the rest of their lives, says Mrlik, now an investment banking analyst in San Francisco. Vassar recently recognized the important role athletics plays in the social and intellectual development of many of its students by launching the Brewers Fund.

The new initiative will raise money to support student-athletes, coaches, and staff in a variety of ways, including athletic training services, the enhanced webcasting of events, leadership development programs, equipment, travel expenditures, and other improvements. “About 20 percent of our students compete on varsity teams; that’s a greater percentage than any other activity on campus,” says Cathy Baer, Vice President for Alumnae/i Affairs and Development. “We recognize the need to provide funding for all of our athletics programs on a more comprehensive basis, and the Brewers Fund will help to accomplish that.”

The Department of Athletics and Physical Education is teaming up with the Office of Alumnae/i Affairs and Development to engage in the effort with former Vassar athletes and parents of current and former members of Vassar’s 23 varsity teams and four varsity club teams. Donors can either make a gift to the entire athletics program or target a specific team. The targeted gifts will send 80 percent of the donation to the chosen team and 20 percent to the general Brewers Fund to support facilities and services that benefit all student-athletes.

All-American swimmer Julia Cunningham ’17 says she and other student-athletes were gratified to learn about the new fundraising initiative. The Brewers Fund will only enhance what is already a supportive environment for student-athletes here, Cunningham says. “When I was being recruited, I connected quickly with the coaches and some members of the team,” she says. “It was a brief visit, but it elevated Vassar above the other schools.”

Vassar athletes Ethan Zohn ’96, Lynn Janovsky ’86, and Andy Jennings, Vassar’s longtime men’s soccer and women’s golf coach.

Michelle Walsh, Director of Athletics and Physical Education, says the establishment of the Brewers Fund is an acknowledgement of the contributions student- athletes make to the college and of the unique skills they acquire by being part of a highly competitive team.

Over the past three years, Cunningham has become one of the most successful athletes in Vassar history, earning All-American status in the 200-yard butterfly in 2015 and again in 2016. Being a member of a varsity team has profoundly enhanced her college experience, Cunningham says, but she thinks the college could be doing more to support its athletics program, and she says she’s confident the Brewers Fund
will help achieve that goal.

Former athletics director Andy Jennings, Vassar’s longtime men’s soccer coach and women’s golf coach, says it’s no accident that more than half of the college’s varsity athletes are recognized every year for their academic achievements. “Over the past 35 years, I have watched hundreds of young men and women develop and evolve into incredible citizens,” Jennings says. “Their participation in our sports program has been instrumental in that, but I always felt we could and should do more. Finding the resources to help our students realize their full potential is not easy, but the Brewers Fund will be a significant means of helping us achieve this.”

“A liberal arts education provides space for students to learn two critical life skills: how to learn and how to lead....Athletics play a key role within that educational space, providing unique opportunities for students to learn and to lead outside the classroom.” — Michelle Walsh

The launch of the Brewers Fund has drawn support from the Board of Trustees. “Generosity and excellence are both distinctive Vassar traits,” says Anthony Friscia ’78, P’15, chair of the board’s Development Committee. “Our alumnae/i, parents, and friends have been incredibly generous to our college through the years. The Brewers Fund gives us all an opportunity to provide support specifically to our student-athletes who are pursuing excellence in the classroom and on the field.”

Cunningham agreed, noting a number of alumnae/i from the Vassar swimming community reached out to her when she competed in the national championships. “The Brewers Fund is a great expression of the connections those of us who are involved in Vassar athletics have with those who have gone before us,” she says. “It’s a great way for all of us to remain a part of the team.”

Mrlik says he plans to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Brewers Fund. “It’s another important step in the continuing evolution of Vassar athletics,” he says. “I’m excited about the opportunity for former Vassar athletes and others in the Vassar community to help push our teams to the next level.”

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