Thank you so much for this tremendous honor.
I was down in Swanson Gymnasium earlier today, and as I was looking around at all of the plaques, I still can’t believe that I am about to become the 39th member to join this exclusive club of SBS athletes and coaches that have all worn the Blue and White very proudly. And as I look at this plaque – I also can’t believe how skinny I used to be.
There were some legendary names on that wall that I was fortunate enough to know personally and to whom I looked up to very much, coaches like Marvin Goldberg and O. Floyd Johnson, and some exceptional athletes that I knew personally and cheered on like the Lockerbie brothers, and Will Harrison, and my own 1980 classmate Evelyn Scanlon. It really gives me the chills to think that my plaque will be hung alongside theirs.
Ever since I was notified that I was to be this year’s Hall of Fame recipient, I have been trying to think of what to say, who to thank, who to recognize, and who to acknowledge.
I would like to start off by first by giving thanks to God and to share two special verses from the New English Bible which every athlete ought to know.
Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Isaiah 40:31: “But those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.”
I recognize that without Him, I would have never had the ability nor the opportunity to have played in any of the sports that I participated in. Thank You Lord for looking over me, and for looking over all of my family, and for looking over all of my friends, and especially for keeping us safe. The glory truly goes to You.
I would next like to recognize my parents, William and Ondina Vega.
As many of you know, my father passed away in August of 1979 right before my senior year started. I dedicated my entire senior sports season to my Dad, and I can only hope that I made him proud. I would always say a silent prayer before each of my senior year football, basketball, and baseball games, and I would always ask not only God, but also my dad to look over me that day, to help keep me and my fellow competitors safe, and to allow me to perform to the best of my abilities. That silent moment of personal reflection would always put me in the right mindset to compete. And even though he was not there in person, I truly felt like my dad had a front row seat at all of my games that year, and you can be sure that I always wanted to do my very best whenever I knew that my dad was watching.
My dad was a big, tough old school guy who told me that I couldn’t play sports unless I was on the Honor Roll, and he meant it too. And so as much as I loved running around and playing whatever sport happened to be in season, I also made sure that I was home studying and making good grades for fear that dad would yank me off a team if I slacked off academically. It may sound like tough love, but dad was preparing me for the future and I’m so glad that he instilled a discipline in me that still lasts through this day.
Hebrews 12:11-13: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”
And my dad trained me well. Thanks Pop, for preparing me for my future. And besides, whatever love or affection my dad may not have displayed, it was more than made up for by my mom, Ondina.
My mom is currently retired and living quietly in Tampa, Florida near my brother Phillip. She’s very sorry that she could not be here today, but she sends her love and a big hello to all of you who remember her, and she couldn’t be prouder for this honor which you are giving to her little “Dieguito” today.
Many of you remember my mom as that energetic little Spanish lady that would always be in attendance at all of my ballgames. Mom was a huge SBS sports fan and one of our biggest supporters. It did not matter the sport. She was the one who used to cheer really loudly, and sometimes in Spanish.
I will let you in on a little family secret which will shed a little more light on the Energizer Bunny that is my mom. My brothers and I still argue to this day about whether or not our mom ever actually missed any of our home or Little League games. And I’m not talking about just my games. I’m talking about mine and both of my brothers. You need to keep in mind that given our varied schedules, varied sports, and varied activities, and the fact that as a single-widowed parent, that it was a physical impossibility for her not to miss a game here or there. But it tells you something about a woman whose sons truly believe that she was always there.
Next on my list are my two younger brothers Phillip and Peter. Although I’m 4 and 7 ½ years older than my brothers, it never stopped us from playing endless games of kickball, soccer, volleyball, and football in our backyard, or Marco Polo in the pool, or tag around the neighborhood, and I remember fondly our infamous Thanksgiving Day football games where I was always the designated quarterback for both teams and I had to keep it fair for both sides. If not, one of my brothers would always threaten to grab the ball, to run inside and tell mom or dad that I was cheating, and we couldn’t have any of that. It didn’t feel like sports when I was with my brothers, but more like family fun. And chasing those guys around or being chased by them instilled a love for games and athletics that I still have to this day.
For this next part, I would like to thank Dan Hickey, Class of 2004. Dan was obviously not around to see any of my games, but about a month or so ago he sent me a list of nine what he called “easy interview questions” that he hoped that I would answer. In the interest of time, I’d like to share just a few of those questions and answers with you. It will help me to recognize several other people who were extremely instrumental in developing my mind, my body, my skill sets, my personal discipline, and especially, my love of sports here at SBS.
The first question was: You played for some terrific coaches. What did you take away from each of them?
I will begin with John Engstrom. John was the very first varsity coach that I ever played for at SBS. He was my varsity football coach, and he set the standard that I held all of the others to. He was tough, yet fair, made us run a whole lot, and he ran a very organized and disciplined practice, and he had a fiery young assistant coach by the name of “Gustafson” who I was also very fond of.
I will never forget the pre-game speech that he gave to us before the very last game of my senior year. He told the seniors that for almost all of us, this would be the very last time that we’d ever have football pads on in an organized football game, and you know what, he was right. He told us to leave everything that we had on the field, and that regardless of the scoreboard, to never regret the amount of effort that we would give in our final game.
I was a WR and DB, and I actually had one of my best games ever. I ended up catching five or six passes that day, I was in on a bunch of tackles, and I also intercepted a pass, which ended up setting the SBS record at the time. But what I remember most was that it was definitely the last time I ever wore football pads. I did give it everything that I had, and I felt like I could walk away feeling a sense of pride in accomplishing what Coach Engstrom had asked. It felt good to have given that effort, and it helped me establish a personal mindset that still exists today. When I need to dig down deep and give it something extra, I know that I can do it, because I’ve done it before.
My basketball coach was Thom Brownworth, the SBS Senior Master. I played varsity basketball for Thom for two years, but what first comes to mind, isn’t a specific game or a specific play, but rather having to run “steps” inside of Swanson Gymnasium. He was training us for the games ahead, and we would run up and down and up and down those steps until our thighs burned so bad that we could feel them pulsing. But what I took away from Thom, was more from Thom “The Man”, than from Thom “The Coach.”
We used to travel to play other small schools on the East End of Long Island by SBS van and usually in some pretty nasty winter weather. I remember he’d always have a ton of crazy stories, or funny anecdotes, or corny jokes that helped make the time pass, and most of all, I remember feeling safe. We were a close knit team, we always looked out for each other, and it all stemmed from Thom’s calm and kind demeanor.
The next question was: Looking back after 30 years, what was my favorite part about being a Stony Brook athlete?
The real answer is that as many memories that I have of all of the sports that I played, the one thing that I loved doing more than anything else was competing side-by-side with my friends and teammates. I love that SBS gave me so many opportunities to represent the Blue and White, and I can assure you that my memories would be blank if I didn’t have so many names and faces to go along with all of the highs and all of the lows of being a competitive athlete.
I could never do the list of names justice, but I have vivid memories of competing alongside fine athletes like Jon Davis, Chris Stephens, Steve Biasetti, Dean Borkowski, Pete Leftheris, Frank Bruno, Chris Matthews, Billy Strong, and the Whitney Brothers, and it is their names (and many others) that I think about when I look back on my SBS athletic career.
And finally: Where has life taken you since you left campus?
The literal answer is that I live in Miami, Florida, but I’ve taken a very circuitous route to get there, both literally and figuratively. The short answer is that I have been married for sixteen years to my wonderful, kind, caring, and beautiful wife Nicole, and we have been fortunate to have lived and traveled all around the world (US, South America, Caribbean, Europe, Asia).
I have seen things in person that I first learned about in Judy Ouland’s & Milton Hostetter’s history classes, and I have been fortunate to have made many friends along the way that I’ve been able to keep very near and dear to my heart.
As I told the 2010 Senior Class during a talk I gave to them last winter, I left SBS not knowing where my journey would take me, nor exactly what our school motto,“Character Before Career,” truly meant, and yet over the years I have found myself defining and re-defining its meaning many, many times along the way. I actually get it now, and I know that with God in your life, and that with Character in your heart, that there is no stopping you from having an incredibly fulfilling life adventure.
Thankfully, I had a wonderful foundation here at SBS, and as much as I may have learned in the classroom, I learned just as much as a competitor, as a teammate, and as a friend to others in the world of athletics.
I would like leave you with this final thought.
Although many chapters in my life have already been written, I feel like there is still a lot more of my life’s journey that has still yet to come. I hope that those pages will be filled with my relationship with God, with lots of adventure, with a ton of fun, and with all of my friends and family around me, and especially with my beautiful wife and partner in life Nicole, to whom I dedicate this plaque to.
Nikki didn’t attend SBS, so she was not able to see any of my athletic achievements in person, but you can bet that she’s heard all of the stories, some of the stories might be a little more true than others, but it is with her love and her devotion to this energetic and crazy husband of hers that I feel like I can run marathons or jump over buildings or swim across oceans.
Thank you once again to the entire SBS community for all that you’ve done for me, for all that you’ve done for my family, and for this tremendous Hall of Fame honor which you’ve given to me today. I will cherish it more than you know.
God Bless You All!