The next time you head to Yates Field House for intramural dodge ball or brag about Patrick Ewing’s (CAS ’85) and John Thompson Jr.’s 1984 basketball championship, you might want to stop for a moment and thank Francis X. Rienzo.

Rienzo was Georgetown’s director of athletics, and then senior director of athletics, for 27 years, from 1972 to 1999. In that time, he oversaw a large expansion in Georgetown’s intercollegiate and intramural athletics programs, particularly the birth of women’s athletics. Georgetown became coed the year Rienzo arrived.

Rienzo’s long career at Georgetown began quietly. After coaching track and field and teaching at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens, N.Y., for several years, Georgetown hired Rienzo in 1969 to rebuild its recently disbanded track team. Three years into Rienzo’s coaching stint, then-Director of Athletics Robert Stigholz resigned, and Rienzo was asked to step in on an interim basis. That appointment quickly turned into a permanent position, although Rienzo humbly maintained that all he wanted to do was coach track.

“When I came to Georgetown in 1969, my major goal was to revitalize the track program,” Rienzo told THE HOYA in 1999. “I had a second goal, which was to get away from administration.”

But once he became firmly entrenched in the administration of Georgetown’s athletics, Rienzo sought to develop a union between academically focused students and student-athletes. The construction of the $7.9 million Yates Field House in 1979 was perhaps Rienzo’s biggest push toward that goal.

“The goal that I established for myself was to see if we couldn’t make the athletic program as excellent as the academic programs at Georgetown,” Rienzo told THE HOYA in 1999. “It was my feeling that a university such as Georgetown needed to pursue athletics with the same dedication and intensity as education.”

Five years before Ewing and Thompson cut down the championship nets in Seattle – in some ways a product of Rienzo’s expansion of the athletics department on the Hilltop, Rienzo, David Gavitt of Providence, John Kaiser of St. John’s and Jake Crouthamel of Syracuse met to discuss the formation of a new basketball conference. The four concluded that a new conference was needed among their smaller, independent and mostly Catholic schools because NCAA scheduling rules for independent teams meant playing inferior opponents in basketball, the lifeblood of these non-football schools. The four men took a bold step forward and, with Villanova, Seton Hall and Boston College, founded the Big East conference.

That high level of competition made the Big East one of the premier basketball conferences in the country, attracting top-caliber players and coaches and laying the foundation for the current success of the conference in developing excellent basketball programs.

Besides his successful administrative legacy, Rienzo also saw Georgetown as a home for his family and its growth. “Georgetown became the principal location for the physical, psychological, emotional growth of my entire family,” Rienzo said. “Not only is it where I worked, but my wife and children became a real part of Georgetown.”

His four children, Francis (CAS ’89), Teresa (CAS ’90), Cecilia (COL ’93) and Matthew (COL ’97) have all graduated from Georgetown, but Matthew has not left Georgetown athletics yet. He has been an assistant lacrosse coach at Georgetown for six years, working with the defensive unit that has become one of the nation’s best. He started on the team for three years and was twice named Most Valuable Player. During his sophomore season, Georgetown advanced to its first NCAA tournament.

After retiring from Georgetown in 1999, Rienzo continued to give back to the university that he and his family called home for 30 years. After the death of his wife of 35 years, Joan, Rienzo established a scholarship at Georgetown in her memory. The scholarship benefits socio-economically disadvantaged minority student-athletes competing in sports other than basketball, football or track and field.

Some view the pursuit of athletic excellence as a distraction from the university’s academic focus. Rienzo showed that the nationally competitive athletes that come from Georgetown do not have to define the school’s goals in athletics.

Yates Field House and a need-based scholarship are two lasting additions to Georgetown that will benefit students for years to come. Big East basketball gives alumni and current students a source of pride and another way to feel connected to the school they love.

Frank Rienzo was a sportsman – not a dean, not a provost, not a president – and he has dedicated his life to making Georgetown better for its students through what he does best.

Thanks, Frank.

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