Give Another Hoya!

Jan. 12, 2007

By John Gearan
Holy Cross Magazine

In a pickup game, she reverse-cuts smartly toward the hoop, reaching out with her right hand to cradle a pass whipped from a teammate. She has made that move thousands of times without incident. This time the whirring ball cracks her index finger.

"Never broken a bone before," says Sherry Levin '84, her finger wrapped tightly on a metal splint. "Maybe my nose got bent once or twice, but I never sat out."

Indeed, Levin had never missed a game. Not at Newton North High. Not at Holy Cross through 103 hoop battles playing for her Zen Master of Hustle, Togo Palazzi '54. Not during countless summer leagues, tournaments, hoop camps and clinics.

Nowadays, Ms. Levin--Holy Cross' leading lady in career scoring--is playing pickup astride the teenagers she coaches at Worcester Academy. She may be slightly more brittle at 44, but remains very fit. Her girls are amazed when Coach Levin unhesitatingly dives to the hardwood for a loose ball.

Little wonder Levin has come full circle and ended up coaching the game that she describes as her "passion."

That she would be an extraordinary athlete seemed evident early on. Her dad, Haskell Levin, owned an office equipment company and held season tickets for all the Boston games. You name the big event and Sherry had a ringside seat: Bobby Orr in flight, winning the 1971 Stanley Cup for the Bruins; the Celtics triple-overtime victory over Phoenix; Carlton Fisk's dramatic 1975 World Series homer; and on and on.

Sherry excelled in soccer, leading the junior high boys teams to victory. She ran track, even medaling in the Maccabiah Games. She attended summer camps and year-round clinics near and far--emerging as a Newton (Mass.) North basketball sensation.

At Holy Cross, she was an absolute wonder woman. Recall that she played in an era when college women still used the same big ball as the men and the three-point shot had not been adopted. Levin scored 2,253 points, leading the talented Lady Crusaders to an amazing 82-21 record. By comparison, Ronnie Perry '80, the College's men's career leader, scored 2,524 points in 109 games. Sherry hit double figures 101 times. She shot 81.5 percent from the foul line. Most importantly, Palazzi, with Levin as his go-to gal, put Holy Cross women's basketball on the Division 1 map, laying the foundation for Billy Gibbons' highly successful program.

Hearing a classic Togo pep talk at a schoolgirl clinic, Levin became a true believer. After her dad overheard someone at a game saying Togo was taking over the Holy Cross women's program, Sherry called Palazzi to express interest in becoming a Lady Crusader. "I was just going to call you," Togo replied nonchalantly.

"I had full scholarship offers from Boston College and Boston University," Levin explains. "But I trusted Togo and I believed in his passion. You go with your heart."

Levin accepted Holy Cross' first full athletic scholarship to a woman. She became a rarity--an athlete of Jewish faith at a Catholic college gaining All-America honors (1984 Kodak First Team District 1, First Team Jewish All America).

"In my entire experience at Holy Cross, I never heard a negative or rough remark about my faith. Everyone was supportive. I received notes of encouragement from Father (John E.) Brooks who came to all our games, as did Father (Earle) Markey, Father (Francis) Miller and many others on the faculty."

"We completely bought into Togo's message. He'd tell us every time we put on our uniforms that we were representing ourselves, our families, our college," says Levin. "He told us if we gave it our very best, we'd never look back with regrets. A team reflects its coach, and we reflected Togo's fire."

Longtime fans from the days when Togo played the Worcester Auditorium flocked to the Hart Center. So did Sherry's dad and mom, Leona, and sister, Nancy, other family and friends and members of the Jewish community. So did hoop lovers who were being won over by the women's game.

Today, Levin spreads Togo's gospel as revealed to him by his Old Testament coach, Buster Sheary, who molded the 1954 NIT champs.

She learned her lessons well. In her first five seasons at Worcester Academy, Levin elevated the program to Class A competition with a remarkable 104-21 record. Last season, she inspired her girls to an undefeated 24-0 campaign and Worcester Academy's first New England girls' prep school championship.

Levin's career path is studded with such success stories. She became a stellar analyst on the national and regional scene (Fox Network, ESPN, NESN), with celebrity sidekicks like Cheryl Miller, Nancy Lieberman, Ann Meyers and Mimi Griffith. She handled play-by-play as the UConn women won the 1995 NCAA championship. She interviewed the game's giants like Pat Summit and Geno Auriemma. For the past 15 years, she has run her own summer camp at Brandeis University. She has produced TV shows for the PGA Tour. She has chaired the United States program for the Maccabiah Games.

When her daughter Marcia was born in 1996, Sherry modified her nonstop schedule. A budding fourth-grade singer and actress, Marcia is always at her mom's side. She goes to her mom's games and her mom is there for all her stage performances. Marcia performed impressively as the Lion in a recent production of the Wizard of Oz. Now a single mom, Sherry acknowledges her schedule and career goals are being tempered by her desire to be with Marcia. They live next door to Sherry's parents in Newton and near her sister's family.

Her decision to coach came quickly when she accepted an assistant's opening at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Soon Worcester Academy, wanting to upgrade its girls program, came knocking. In 2001, Pat Smith '95--a former Holy Cross football standout and then the Hilltoppers' athletics director--offered Levin a job as event coordinator and head basketball coach. Charde Floyd, whose father Ernie '84 is a College Hall of Famer and Levin's classmate, played for the Hilltoppers. Eddie Reilly '76, a former Holy Cross hoopster, succeeded Smith as athletics director. Levin, who entered a comfort zone with all those College connections, knows the job allows her the flexibility to spend more time with her daughter.

Now in her sixth season, Levin has levitated Worcester Academy from doormat to powerhouse and has college programs wooing her. "I love the kids. I love coaching. Worcester Academy is a great fit for me," Levin enthuses.

When she needs advice, Coach Sherry still calls on Coach Togo. He has been there beside her always. At her wedding. At temple ceremonies when Marcia was named. There when she was inducted into the Holy Cross Hall of Fame (1989) and the Newton North Hall of Fame (2005).

This autumn past, Sherry and Togo shared another special moment. They embraced, their eyes glistening with memories and mutual admiration. Moments later Levin walked across a stage to applause as she entered the portals of the New England Basketball Hall of Fame where Palazzi already resides. Her favorite coach and his favorite player, together again and evermore.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

John W. Gearan '65, was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Woonsocket, R.I., with his wife, Karen Maguire, and their daughter, Molly.