4 Former Eph Hoopsters Team Up to Remember & Honor Former Assistant Coach Frank Zoltek

2015 Coach Z All-Stars (left to right): Mike Nogelo, Manny Benjamin, Mike Holland & Brendan McGuire
2015 Coach Z All-Stars (left to right): Mike Nogelo, Manny Benjamin, Mike Holland & Brendan McGuire

BROOKLYN, NY -- Four highly competitive, talented, but retired collegiate athletes having dinner well after their careers are behind them can sometimes lead to crazy discussions. That is exactly what happened when four Eph men's basketball standouts: Manny Benjamin '01, Mike Holland '99, Brendan McGuire '98 and Michael Nogelo '98 met up for dinner two years ago in Brooklyn.

It was Brendan McGuire, the lawyer who has fought terrorism and the narcotics trade the last 10 years as a member of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, who threw out the idea that the Eph quartet should do a Tough Mudder race together. The Tough Mudder is possibly the toughest of all of the obstacle course races. It is an incredibly demanding 10-12 miles.

That night in Brooklyn, Benjamin and Holland immediately said they were in, but it took Nogelo a moment longer to agree. He freely admits he only agreed after he realized the other three were instantly, fully committed.

Competing in the Tough Mudder in 2014 went out the window, however, when one of the lawyers in the Eph quartet had to be in court for a trial and two wives voiced opposition to the men competing in a race that included electrical shocks. Say what?

That's how the 2015 Rugged Maniac in Brooklyn became the next target for this band of Eph hoops brothers. The Rugged Maniac is only 3.1 miles, but it does have 28 obstacles to test the mettle of the racers.

It's ironic that McGuire the original mastermind behind this effort was perhaps the least prepared, stating, "My wife just delivered our second child so life was a bit foggy. And I've not trained for this thing at all. I confirmed there would be an ambulance on site."

The 28 Rugged Maniac obstacles include such features as running, jumping, climbing over objects, a giant slide, scurrying through tunnels, leaping over fire, and more. See twenty-six of the Rugged Maniac's obstacles.

The race was held at The Aviator Sports and Events Center on Saturday, June 27 in Brooklyn.

The Ephs might have fielded the tallest team in the competition with Mike Holland at 6' 7", Manny Benjamin 6' 6", and Brendan McGuire and Michael Nogelo checking in at 6' 5".

1998 NCAA Third Place (left to right) #44 Brendan McGuire,
Mike Nogelo, Grant Farmer (purple shirt), Harry
Sheehy '75 &
Frank Zoltek

A by product of testing their mettle together as a team was that the Ephs would compete as the Coach Z All-Stars in tribute to former Eph men's basketball assistant coach Frank Zoltek.

"We did the race to have fun, to have a motivation to get in shape, to have an excuse to re-connect with each other, and also to honor someone who is still an important person in all of our lives," said Nogelo. "Coach Z inspired all of us as people and as players at Williams, and I was lucky to remain close friends with him after graduating from Williams. Coach Z passed away suddenly in 2005 at the age of 63. I will never forget his intensity, character, humility, and sense of humor, among other things. I was so lucky to know him and call him my friend, and he made me a better person."

Further, the Ephs committed to raise money for The Frank Zoltek Memorial Scholarship Fund at Drury HS.

Frank Zoltek served as an assistant basketball coach for the Ephs in the 1990s when Harry Sheehy '75 was the head basketball coach.

A native of nearby Adams, Mass., Zoltek made a name for himself as a basketball player and coach in the Berkshires. After starring at Adams Memorial HS he was one of the best basketball players ever at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) in North Adams. He was also a standout baseball player at both schools.

Zoltek fashioned a remarkable coaching career at St. Joseph's HS, Drury HS, and MCLA in North Adams. He led Drury to four Western Mass. titles before joining Sheehy's staff.

"The Frankie Passion for Coaching Award" was created to honor the memory of Zoltek and was established in 2007. "The Frankie" is awarded annually to the top coach in Berkshire County.

Annually Drury HS presents The Frank Zoltek Memorial Scholarship Award.

Frank Zoltek's Lasting Impact on the Eph Quartet

It was not coincidental that the four Ephs chose to test themselves physically as a way of honoring the memory of Frank Zoltek.

Mike Holland, now Associate General Counsel for Tilden Park Capital Management in New York City, after serving five years as an Enforcement Attorney at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, noted, "Coach Zoltek played a crucial role for the highly successful teams we had in the late 90s. He had tremendous passion, determination, and grit, not to mention a great basketball mind, and we, as players, benefited from his coaching and friendship. For me personally, Coach Z (along with coach Sheehy) taught me the values of competing every minute of every day and never settling for anything other than your best. And he'd let you know where you stood in his eyes too. A subtle nod or tap on the shoulder from Coach Z at the end of a good practice was validation of a job well done."

Mike Nogelo's son
Lucas - a future
Rugged Maniac

"Few people have been as influential on my life as Z," added McGuire. "He personified so many exemplary qualities and was such a gifted teacher of young men. I will forever be grateful to him because he was the first person in my life to tell me that my best was not good enough, plain and simple. And he told me that it was up to me to decide if I was actually giving my best and if I determined that I was, he would shake my hand and ask me to leave the gym. A tough thing for an 18-year old to hear but its impact on me to this day has been immeasurable."

Manny Benjamin, now a Diplomat at the United Nations, working for the Permanent Mission of South Sudan, stated, "Z was a remarkable coach with a unique way of communicating that had a profound effect on my life that still resonates today."

The Coach Z All-Stars finished the course in one hour's time. "I have no idea what place we were in – the idea for most teams was to finish and have fun, not to place in a certain place or beat a certain time," said Nogelo. "Having said that, we want to go back next year and do it a little more competitively. One of us had some back issues and the rest of us finished in good shape except for some gravel in our knees and shins from crawling through muddy gravel. We were all very glad we did it and want to do it again. It was a great way to re-connect with those guys and to see wives/girlfriends/fiancées and kids."

WATCH the Eph quartet finish their Rugged Maniac race zooming down the last slide into a pool of water.

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