Feature Story: Tom Cassidy's love and appreciation for Stony Brook University
Sept. 3, 2014
Stony Brook, N.Y. - Note: This story appeared in the Bryant gameday program
There are people who have a deep love and affection for their university, and then there’s Tom Cassidy.
Cassidy’s association with Stony Brook University and the surrounding community extends back nearly 50 years, and it’s still going strong.
The Setauket resident has multiple degrees from Stony Brook and works at the university, and one of his greatest joys is Seawolves intercollegiate athletics. Cassidy, a passionate sports fan, is a season-ticket holder for Stony Brook football and men’s and women’s basketball.
Cassidy, a 1971 Stony Brook graduate who became a season-ticket holder when the university joined Division I in 1999, actually played football for Stony Brook during his collegiate days. That’s remarkable, given that his only experience with the sport had been two-hand touch on the playgrounds of New York City.
Cassidy grew up in Stuyvesant Town, a neighborhood on the east side of Manhattan. He attended Cardinal Hayes in the Bronx and was on the swimming team, competing in the 100-yard breaststroke. He wanted to play high school football, but his parents, Hugh and Betty, cautioned him against playing the sport because it might hurt his chances to join the police department.
"My parents wanted me and my brothers to do whatever we were good at," he said. "Going to college was a privilege. Sports were OK as long as education was the priority."
Tom’s parents moved the family to Stony Brook in 1966, beginning the family’s association with the university and community. Hugh, who retired as a deputy inspector for the New York Police Department, was one of four Cassidy men to earn degrees from Stony Brook.
Stony Brook University was only nine years old at the time, but the school was up-and-coming. More importantly, the school was affordable. "My brothers and I were first-generation college students," Cassidy said. "There were a lot of students from the city. Stony Brook was an exciting place to be. It certainly was a smaller school. There was no hospital, and though it’s hard to believe, the student union was state-of-the-art."
Tom, the second of four brothers, worked as a lifeguard at a beach near Stony Brook and played football games in the neighborhood. In one game, he caught a pass in stride for a touchdown. An opposing player, who figured Cassidy made plays like that all the time, asked him to try out for a semi-pro team called the Long Island Giants. But just before the first exhibition game in Allentown, Pa., Cassidy got a call from a friend asking him to join Stony Brook’s club team. "Should I play with people my age or against the Allentown steelworkers? It was an easy decision," Cassidy said.
Cassidy, who joined the Stony Brook club football team as a junior in 1970, earned his bachelor’s degree in history a year later. He spent 20 years in the New York State Attorney General’s office, investigating Medicaid fraud. In 1978, he earned a master’s degree in economics, matching his older brother, Hugh III, who also earned two degrees from Stony Brook. Cassidy eventually returned to the university to become a clinical associate professor in the School of Social Welfare.
Cassidy’s playing career may have ended years ago, but his passion for football hasn’t waned. He became reacquainted with football when his stepson and stepdaughter attended Boston College. "I bought season tickets to BC games," he said, “but I always wished Stony Brook could capture that kind of atmosphere on Saturdays during the fall."
Cassidy’s vision was rewarded when Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium was completed in time for the 2002 season. Chad King’s season-opening 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown electrified the crowd, Cassidy included. "Ever since that game, I’ve been hooked on Stony Brook football," he said. "I really look forward to Saturdays during the fall. My wife and I have made friends with people in my section."
Cassidy’s enthusiasm for Stony Brook athletics is shared by many -- including Dr. Francis L. Brisbane, Dean, Dr. Suzanne Velazquez, professor Marvin Colson -- and numerous colleagues in the School of Social Welfare.
Cassidy is a member of the Touchdown Club, the fundraising arm of the Stony Brook football team.
“It means a lot to me to be a part of this club,” he said. "Sam Kornhauser [director of the Touchdown Club] does a great job. His ability to reach out to so many people has made me do the same. It’s very simple; I try to do whatever I can to let people know how important it is to support the football student-athletes at Stony Brook. As long as I’m able, I will be a member of this club. I’ve encouraged my children and neighbors to do the same."
Cassidy is the founder of the Stony Brook University Alumni Golf Classic, which has raised more than $300,000 for scholarships. He enthusiastically continues to support the Stony Brook’s Alumni Association. "I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to be associated with a great university," he said. "Stony Brook is a place that gives students an outstanding, affordable education."
As one might expect, Cassidy will be in East Hartford for this season’s game against Connecticut. Not surprisingly, he expects to be with 10 to 20 other people who will be wearing red.
When asked, Cassidy calls himself the 'Accidental Stony Brook Football Player.' But his love and appreciation for the school have been no accident.