The UConn Club recognizes former UConn student-athletes who have achieved success in their chosen careers with the Red O’Neill Award. The Club also recognizes achievements of contributors to the University of Connecticut Division of Athletics with the A.J. Pappanikou Outstanding Contribution Award. The Don V. Ruck Award honors a UConn student-athlete who displayed extraordinary commitment to community service or significant leadership in a sudent-based volunteer group. Another award, rarely given, is the Crystal Award for Athletics and University service.
Past Annual Awards Ceremony programs are available by clicking here.
The Red O’Neill Story
The Red O’Neill Award is given annually to UConn graduates who have gone from the athletic fields to distinguish themselves in their chosen careers.
The development of an award in Red O’Neill’s memory did not occur accidentally. For two years, a UConn Club committee researched various possibilities. Despite the many alumni considered, all signs pointed to the Redhead as the man who combined the highest attributes of character, leadership, athletic ability, and later, a successful career.
As an outstanding athlete, Red had to overcome the severe handicap of a silver plate in his right arm, the result of a World War 1 wound.
Senior football captain Martin “Red” O’Neill was the school’s first All-American candidate, leading the 1923 and 1924 teams. As legend has it, his career started in 1922 during a loss to Springfield College. A Connecticut Agricultural College (now UConn) player was injured and the coaches could find no one to replace him among the reserves. Someone spotted O’Neill watching the games from the stands and called to him to join the game. He threw on a uniform and stepped into the lineup, where he would remain for three seasons.
The 1924 squad is down in the annals as one of the school’s finest. The team finished 6-0-2, winning the New England Conference Championship. The Aggies were said by The New York Times to be among the best teams in the country and the team defense finished first in the nation. The team gave up only 13 points all season and only three in the final seven games.
As a student, Red O’Neill was brilliant, getting top honors. After graduation in 1925, he went to Yale Medical School. As a surgeon, he was well-known. In his later years, he was known for his work in obstetrics. He gave 23 years of his life to medicine before passing away in 1953.
2023 Recipient of the Red O’Neill Award
The 2023 Red O’Neill Award recipient is James Penders, Sr. Jim is a 1966 UConn graduate and a member of the UConn baseball team. He scored the winning run against Holy Cross to send UConn to the 1965 College World Series. In 1969 he became the coach of East Catholic High School in Manchester, CT. His tenure there was 43 years, retiring in 2012, with over 600 victories. Under his leadership, East Catholic reached the state finals eight times and earned the state championship title four times. He was honored with the 1996 National High School Coach of the Year Award. Jim Sr. was elected to the 2013 Fairfield County Sports Commission UConn Hall of Fame.
Jim Penders, Sr. comes from a baseball family – His father, Jim, was the head baseball coach at Stratford High School from 1931 to 1968 and won four state championships. He is the father of UConn Baseball coach James Penders, Jr. and former St. Edwards University Baseball coach Rob Penders, and Mike Penders.
To attend the April 25th, 2023 Awards Ceremony for Jim Penders, Sr., click here.
The A. J. Pappanikou Outstanding Contribution Award
The UConn Club’s A. J. Pappanikou Outstanding Contribution Award is bestowed upon an individual who has made a significant contribution to the University of Connecticut Division of Athletics. The awardee need not be a graduate of The University of Connecticut. The award is named in honor of Dr. A. J. Pappanikou, distinguished Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology in the Neag School of Education. Dr. Pappanikou “Pappy”, himself a recipient of the The UConn Club’s Outstanding Contribution Award, has played a major role in the development of UConn’s intercollegiate athletics programs as Connecticut’s NCAA Faculty Representative, generous donor, and longtime member of The UConn Club Board of Directors.
The Don V. Ruck Award
The Don V. Ruck Award honors a UConn varsity student-athlete who, beyond their intercollegiate athletics involvement, has displayed extraordinary commitment to community service or significant leadership in a student-based volunteer group. The specific traits of leadership and volunteerism were a hallmark of proud UConn alum Don Ruck, the guiding spirit and founder of the UConn Club.
Don Ruck was an important student leader on UConn Storrs campus. Following graduation from UConn in 1952, Don Ruck was responsible for launching the first support group and fundraising arm of UConn Athletics – the Alumni “C” Club. The first “C” Club Awards Dinner, now The UConn Club Awards Ceremony, was staged in March of 1954 with Ruck as the visionary leader of that event.
Ruck enjoyed an outstanding 60-year career in public relations, highlighted by his appointment at age 40 in 1968 as the first Vice President in the 52-year history of the National Hockey League (NHL). Through all his years of professional success, Don Ruck contributed more than 60 years of behind-the-scenes volunteerism and service for his alma matter, as well as significant financial contributions as an athletics donor.
The Crystal Award
The Crystal Award is bestowed on rare occasions to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to the University of Connecticut and its athletic programs. While the awardee’s support of the athletic programs is an important criteria, his/her contributions to the University as a whole is the distinguishing characteristics from the other UConn Club awards.