The phrase student-athlete and the word mensch are commonly used but rarely to describe one person. Mensch, a Yiddish word, means “a person of integrity and honor.”
According to the many people who know Oceanside native Jay Fiedler, both those terms accurately represent the three-sport high school star (football, basketball and track), the Ivy League quarterback and track athlete at Dartmouth College and the undrafted free agent who fashioned a 10-year career as a QB in the National Football League.
Fiedler, 47, who holds a degree in engineering sciences, never gave up on his dream to play in the NFL and now mentors young people through his Prime Time Sports Camp and the Sports Academy at Brookwood Camps, was presented with the Jewish Sports Heritage Association’s first-ever lifetime achievement award at Temple of Israel of Lawrence on Jan. 6, which included a painting by Richard Wallich.
The Great Neck-based Jewish Sports Heritage Association chronicles and celebrates the involvement of Jewish men and women in sports. Another part of its mission statement reads that “the deeds of the past shall inspire the achievements of the future.”
Fielder, whose professional football career included six NFL teams and a season in NFL Europe, connected his life’s journey with a nod to the Jewish people’s ongoing endurance against obstacles to survive. “My road to becoming a starting quarterback in the NFL was not an easy one, I had to work hard and persevere, something the Jewish people know well,” he said.
After being with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1994 and 1995, he did not play in 1996 and played for the Amsterdam Admiral in Europe in 1997. He returned to the NFL in 1998 with the Minnesota Vikings and was with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1999. He found sustained success with the Miami Dolphins from 2000 to 2004 as he lead the Fish to 10-plus win season in three out of four years, two 11-5 records, two playoff appearances and a division title. In 2005, he was with the Jets and ended his career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in ’06.
Former Oceanside varsity football coach Frank Luisi has known Fiedler since the honoree was 13. Calling his former player a “Renaissance man,” Luisi said: “He always held himself to a very high standard. The guy never makes excuses and is looking to make it better for the next generation. He is a role model for kids.”
Fiedler’s impact goes beyond his athletic skills. Estelle Henner, of Hewlett, has known the Fiedler family for roughly 10 years and said her nephew Jake Zuckerman, 21, has blossomed under the tutelage of Fiedler and his brother, Scott, at the camps. “Jay and Scott create a learning environment that helped Jake with his social skills,” she said. “They do all they can to help others.”
Alan Freedman, the executive director of Temple Israel of Lawrence and the director of the Jewish Sports Heritage Association, has also known Fiedler for many years dating to the 1988 Maccabi Games — the Jewish Olympics. “We are losing at halftime, our center fouled out and this 16-year-old young man elevated his game and we won the bonze medal,” Freedman recalled about the U.S. team defeating Israel at the games in Chicago.
Proclaiming that Sunday “Jay Fiedler Day” in the Town of Hempstead, Supervisor Laura Gillen presented Fiedler with a town proclamation. “Sports is a great way for communities and different groups to come together,” Gillen said, adding that Fiedler’s “history is quite impressive.”