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Accolades, activism keep coming for alum

Richard Lapchick could have rested on his laurels after receiving a bevy of awards commemorating his work in the area of civil rights, including a lifetime achievement award from Jesse Jackson. But, he won’t.

In the past few months, Lapchick (MA ’70, PhD ’73, international studies) has been inducted into Central Florida’s Sports Hall of Fame and the Multi-Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame. On March 1, Lapchick was named among the 20 living Americans who have most positively affected the practice of fair play in American society by the Institute for International Sport.

The honors are hardly a surprise for anyone familiar with Lapchick’s work. For 10 years, he’s been the program director at Central Florida University’s DeVos Sport Business Management Program, which focuses on business skills in pursuing a career in the sports industry. But, he’s first and foremost an activist on the issues of race and civil rights.

“I have a hard time describing to people what I do,” he laughs. “I ask them ‘Do you have a minute?’ but I think of myself as an activist first. I bring that into everything I do and everything I’ve done.”

That focus has remained consistent on a number of recent endeavors: He published his 16th book in October — 100 Campeones: Latino Groundbreakers Who Paved the Way in Sport (Fitness Information Technology, 2010) — and is working on an exhibit for the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., that commemorates black players from 1900–50 before the integration of the NBA. The exhibit is expected to open in August.

But for Lapchick, nothing has been more meaningful than the service trips he’s been taking with his students to New Orleans through the Hope for Stanley Alliance, a group he founded in 2006 that organizes the trips to help with reconstruction efforts in the city.

“We take new [UCF] students and returning students to New Orleans, where we perform a week of service rebuilding in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard’s Parish — the two most affected areas after Katrina. It’s been a life-changing experience for everybody involved including myself, my wife and my daughter,” Lapchick explains, adding that he has been on every trip — about 30 visits since its founding.

It’s all part of the big picture for Lapchick.

“Student interaction is so important,” he says. “My goal is to get people involved in whatever social issue is important to them — you regularly lay out a menu of what the social issues are and realize that not everybody is going to want to work on race relations, not everybody is going to want to work on drugs or antiviolence but just to do something to make this a better world.”

The inspiration to help create a better world was, not surprisingly, instilled in him by his father, the famous Joe Lapchick, who fought to integrate the NBA. Richard Lapchick says of the legendary Celtics player and coach of the New York Knicks and St. John’s University: “He helped integrate basketball both as a player and later as coach.”

His older sister also was heavily involved in the civil rights movement — “it was in the early 1950s before it was even called the civil rights movement,” Lapchick says.

The younger Lapchick followed suit and has been championing civil rights ever since.

“Richard Lapchick is one of the most influential people in the history of American sport,” says Dan Doyle, founder and executive director of the Institute for International Sport. “He has championed all that is good about sport and he has done so with equal measures of resolve and courage. On a personal basis, I find Richard to be one of the most admirable people I have ever known.”

Under Lapchick’s leadership of UCF’s sport management program, the program was named among the top-five programs in the country by publications such as The New York Times, ESPN the magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

“We have great students and are the only program in the country in sports management that emphasizes diversity,” he says.

For Lapchick, his work — and everyone else’s — isn’t done.

“There was a feeling when Obama was sworn in as president that this was a sign that we moved away from the need to have to keep moving forward, but the number of crimes and hate groups have spiraled since the inauguration,” he says. “We have to stay vigilant on that. The gap between men and women both in terms of income and job opportunities is still very significant. I think the whole issue of homophobia is still something we are too often afraid to engage in but it’s a huge issue. It’s hard to be optimistic about the things I’m talking about, but we have to be.”


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