As much as he was one of the unforgettable athletes in the history of Yale University, former lacrosse and football star Jon Reese never forgot about his alma mater, either. The school's lacrosse stadium is proof of that.
If there's a competition to be the most like mythic Yale athlete and humanitarian Frank Merriwell, Jon Reese must be winning it. Like Merriwell, Reese has legendary athletic accomplishments. In 1989 he captained Yale to its only Ivy football title in an 18-year span. This is the season he played a critical game against Cornell with a broken jaw, inspiring Coach Carm Cozza to dedicate a chapter of his memoir to him.
As good as he was in football, Reese was even better in lacrosse. A midfielder, he set the NCAA scoring record in 1990 while leading Yale to the NCAA semifinals, earning first-team All-American and Ivy Player of the Year honors. Seventeen years after playing his last game Reese still holds nine Yale scoring records, and can be considered Yale's greatest lacrosse player of the Ivy era.
Six Yale alums are currently enshrined in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame. While it's difficult to compare statistical performances over decades, in terms of All-American and similar honors, as well as team titles won, Reese compares favorably with this group and must be considered a likely future Hall of Famer.
Reese's impact on Yale lacrosse can be measured by the team's success during his time there. After taking the first Ivy League title in 1956, Yale would not win another until Reese's sophomore season, in 1988. After repeating as champions his junior and senior seasons, they have not won one since.
"My brother and I came from a modest background," Reese says simply. Growing up in West Babylon, New York, Jon and Jason Reese learned lacrosse from their father Walter, a high school lacrosse and football coach who had captained Syracuse's lacrosse team. Jason preceded Jon at Yale, graduating in 1987, and was a fine goalie there, still ranked on the all-time Yale career saves list. As kids "we built a lacrosse cage out of two by fours," remembers Jon. "I'd be standing in the backyard about 20 feet away, taking shots. I couldn't hit him. He made me a better shooter."
When it came time to choose a college Reese was recruited by "Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, and UNC in lacrosse, and [schools such as] Boston College and UCLA in football," he remembers. Syracuse "offered me a six-year scholarship, guaranteeing my graduate school," but "I wanted to play two sports in college, and my brother was at Yale. I could get to play with him for one more lacrosse season." Reese's father, though a Syracuse alum, "knew what Yale meant," and "tried to let me make the decision."
Arriving at Yale "with my brother going to be a senior, it was a great transition," says Reese. He balanced athletics and academics "by the seat of my pants. It certainly wasn't easy." With athletics dominating his time "it was difficult to take full advantage of the incredible faculty that Yale offers." But for his future it was the "network you acquire while you're there" that was important.
Graduating with a degree in psychology in 1990, Reese went to Wall Street, starting at Lehman Brothers in sales and trading. Moving to HSBC Securities he rose to become fixed income managing director. Then September 11th happened. "I lost my best friend," he remembers, and started looking for "something more fulfilling." At this point fate intervened.
"After leaving Wall Street following the events of September 11th, as I was beginning my journey for the next calling, I received a call from [Yale Athletic Director] Tom Becket asking if I would be available to coach the lacrosse team as a result of an unforeseen last-minute coaching vacancy," says Reese. Named interim associate head coach "at a point in my life of such pain and uncertainty, to be asked to return to my 'home' in their time of need, was the most incredible blessing that my family and I could have received. I felt like I had a message and what a perfect place to share."
In addition to lending his considerable lacrosse expertise to coaching, Jon and Jason Reese are funding the renovation of Yale's Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium, now known as Reese Stadium. "It was a no-brainer," says Jon. "Yale gave us a lot, and we were raised to give back." When completed it will be "the best lacrosse facility in the country," says Jon.
Jon's also found his next calling. "One of my closest friends from junior high school, Paul Neville, founder of Kid Fitness (www.kidfitnesstv.com), came to me (again at a time when I was looking for something to focus my passion on) and needed help," he says. "I offered to take over and run the company."
Kid Fitness is a multi-media approach to combating childhood obesity through educating children to make healthy choices. "It's a neat model," says Reese. There's an award-winning television series, populated by a "super health hero and his animal friends on a tropical jungle set," geared towards two to eight year olds.
There's also a "Kid Fitness for Schools" program, which has just been implemented in the New York City public schools, affecting about 250,000 children. "There's government pressure, and P.E. takes a lot of money," says Reese. And Kid Fitness is a "great way to reach children." The program recently had an event at Shea Stadium before a Mets game, with over 11,000 children participating.
The program is expanding but "we need corporate help," says Reese. "I believe that this effort could help hundreds of thousands of children learn to live healthier lives."
— Stephen Eschenbach