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USA Water Polo Hall Of Famer Peter Ueberroth To Receive NCAA Roosevelt Award


Peter Ueberroth will be honored by the NCAA this January
Dec. 29, 2015

Via NCAA.com

Marking a successful career in business and sports, Peter Ueberroth will be recognized in January at the NCAA Convention with the NCAA's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award. Named after the former president whose concern for the conduct of college athletics led to the formation of the NCAA in 1906, the award is given annually at the NCAA Honors Celebration to an individual who exemplifies the ideals of college sports. Ueberroth was previously named a 1984 NCAA Silver Anniversary Award honoree commemorating the 25th anniversary of his graduation from college.

Peter Ueberroth will be recognized in January at the NCAA Convention with the NCAA's highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

The young man peered at a striped yellow ball - he had never encountered one like it before.

It was four weeks before his graduation from Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, California, and Peter Ueberroth was about to be presented with a life-altering opportunity. After swimming a few laps, a cinch given his background as a lifeguard, he fired that ball into a target, again and again.

Six decades later, Ueberroth still remembers trying that strange new sport in front of San Jose State University water polo coach Ed Rudloff. The meeting was arranged by Ueberroth's high school football coach, Ken Stanger, a former San Jose State football player who recommended Rudloff take a look at the strong-armed football and baseball player.

If not for the opportunity provided by the water polo scholarship that resulted from that tryout, the future Time magazine Man of the Year said he wouldn't even have attended college. Ueberroth's experience at San Jose State served as a springboard to a career spent at the highest levels of business and sports. Now, the 78-year-old chairman of Contrarian Group - an investment and management company - who once thought he would never don a cap and gown has honorary degrees from 11 schools.

"My parents were terrific, but they hadn't gone to college, so there was no reason for me to go," said Ueberroth, whose father had a sixth-grade education.

Ueberroth initially told Rudloff that while it was nice of him to show interest, Ueberroth hadn't taken the requisite coursework and already had a real job. But Rudloff and Stanger persisted, calling Ueberroth's parents in an effort to persuade him to give water polo a chance. Ueberroth ended up serving as captain of the freshman team for the 1955 season.

"The first water polo game I ever saw," Ueberroth quipped, "I played in."

Rudloff, now 92, speaks fondly of Ueberroth and has stayed in touch with his former pupil. Ueberroth participated in the Olympic Trials as a sophomore and led San Jose State in scoring as a junior and senior before graduating in 1959 with a business degree.

"It was obvious he was a young man that would have a high level of competence and he was also quite competitive," Rudloff said. "Every once in a while, you'll see a student who was a standout, and Peter was."

After college, Ueberroth went to work in the travel industry, using the business acumen and tenacity learned at San Jose State to found a company that eventually grew into the country's second-largest travel business. He sold it when he was given the opportunity to serve as president and chief executive officer of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee ahead of the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

Staged without government financing, the event generated an unprecedented profit of $232.5 million. Its use of corporate sponsors and a blockbuster television rights deal made it a model for future Olympic Games. And the profit was used to create the LA84 Foundation, which awards grants to youth sports organizations in California and conducts youth sports and coaching programs. In naming Ueberroth its Man of the Year in 1984, Time magazine lauded him for putting on "an extraordinary spectacle, showing what America's entrepreneurial spirit can do."

His next challenge? In 1984, he became Major League Baseball commissioner. According to MLB, Ueberroth's tenure was marked by record attendance for four straight seasons, greater awareness of crowd control and alcohol management within ballparks, and significantly improved finances. He negotiated two landmark television deals: a four-year, $1.1 billion contract with CBS; and a four-year, $400 million deal with ESPN. When Ueberroth left in 1988, all 26 of MLB's clubs were at least breaking even.

"He helped our game become more open to change, especially in the marketing and business areas, at a time when a new approach was greatly needed," current MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr. said. "I have always admired Peter for being an intelligent and insightful individual who had a remarkable career in sports and business."

Two decades after his success organizing the Olympics in Los Angeles, Ueberroth was named chairman of the board of the United States Olympic Committee. He not only excelled in his duties, but made those around him better, said Mark Lewis, NCAA executive vice president of championships and alliances. Lewis got to know Ueberroth well while serving in executive positions with the USOC and Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee.

"Peter cares about sports and our country, and he has spent much of his professional career making them both better," Lewis said. "The Olympics that we all know and watch was largely shaped by what Peter accomplished with his team in 1984. He truly transformed the way that this event is presented to the world."

Ueberroth, who today works as an entrepreneur and humanitarian, isn't finished. Amid his litany of accomplishments, which evokes the most pride?

"I haven't done it yet," he said.

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