By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – Maggie Simpson is a thriving Cal student-athlete, a musician starting her own business while taking on her second sport in Berkeley.
A major reason why she has been able to maximize her time in Berkeley is because of an essential group in the campus community, a collection of people generous with their time, energy and pocketbook.
They are part of the backbone of Cal Athletics, and they were rightfully honored earlier this week at the annual Bear Backer Luncheon at the Claremont Hotel Club and Spa.
“Even if it’s a smile, even if you donate a hundred dollars, that means that I’ll wake up the next morning and I’ll know that if I decide to take upper division Differential Equations, I will get tutored by the university,” Simpson said as the luncheon’s guest student-athlete speaker. “I can take risks with my life. I can take risks with my business. I can join the University Chamber Orchestra. I can play my music and know that I’ll have people there to support me in whatever I choose.”
The annual luncheon is a way for the Cal athletic community to express its gratitude for those alumni, fans and community members who support the 30 sports teams on campus. Coaches and student-athletes from different teams were on hand, as well as several members of the department’s administration and staff.
The highlights of the day are the awards, given to a handful of Bear Backers in different categories for their special contributions to Cal’s athletic department. This year, the “Bear of the Year” Award was given to longtime supporter David Eckles, who last summer issued the “Eckles Challenge” by making a one-time donation of $500,000 to be spread across 14 sports and then asked others to give as well. More than 1,100 fans and donors ended up taking the challenge for a total exceeding $420,000 raised.
The Bear of the Year is presented to an individual who demonstrates outstanding contributions toward the continuing excellence of Cal Athletics.
“It’s not what this university can do for you – they already have,” Eckles said. “They’ve given you a great education and they put 30 athletic teams for us to view and support. It’s more what we can do for the university.”
The Golden Bear of the Year Award, which is given to someone who partakes in significant volunteer endeavors, went to Nick Brereton. A 1970 Cal alum, Brereton was heavily involved in last year’s project to have lights and a new scoreboard installed at Evans Diamond.
“To say that he’s just involved with our capital projects is an understatement,” Cal baseball coach David Esquer said. “He just cares about the Cal baseball program. What Nick Brereton has done for our baseball program a lot of times goes unnoticed. You’ll go to a baseball game and you’ll see those lights and the scoreboard, and we couldn’t be more thankful for his work.”
Former Cal rower Andy Rogers, who is now the president of Friends of Cal Crew, was named Cub of the Year. The award is presented to a young alumnus with significant volunteer service.
“Any athlete who walks into the Cal boathouse and is willing to do the work, upon graduation leaves with life skills, confidence, a core group of lifelong friends and a world-class athletic education,” Rogers said. “I believe this is true for all Cal sports, and why I continue to buy in for Cal Crew.”
Cal men’s crew coach Mike Teti says his program must raise about $1 million each year to continue to perform at a championship level, a task Rogers leads successfully.
“If you know Andy, I think you understand that there is nobody who loves Cal more,” Teti said. “He’s basically working for Cal Crew 24-7, and does it for free. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award.”
The Cal Spirit Recognition Award went to Bob Calonico, the director of Cal’s marching band. Calonico has been directing and arranging the marching band since 1995. The band, which has about 255 members, plays approximately 150 Cal athletic events each year and has made guest appearances at the San Francisco Giants World Series parades, the San Francisco Symphony and Wheel of Fortune television show, among others.
“You are essential members of our Cal family,” Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour told the luncheon crowd. “You pick us up when we’re down. You encourage us to be resilient. And you show your gratitude to our student-athletes for how they represent this university by contributing your time and money to support their pursuit of excellence.”