Josh Harris with Penn coach Roger Reina
Did you hear about the owner of an NBA team who was once a wrestler?
Put aside the jokes about the perfect covering for a basketball floor is a wrestling mat. The owner of Philadelphia 76ers basketball team has made a $1 million gift to the University of Pennsylvania wrestling program where he wrestled three decades ago.
Josh Harris, a 1986 graduate of the Wharton School of Business at Penn, and his wife Marjorie are giving the seven-figure gift to the Quaker wrestling program through the Harris Family Charitable Foundation which they established.
"The gift, which will be distributed over five years, includes $500,000 of which the university will use to create the Joshua J. Harris Wrestling Assistant Coach Endowment," according to the official announcement made by Penn wrestling Wednesday. "An additional $500,000 will be applied to team travel, recruiting, nutrition, equipment and salaries, along with planned facility renovations."
Harris wrestled for Penn in the early 1980s at 118 pounds -- "40 pounds ago" as he told the Philadelphia Inquirer -- where he took on the likes of Bobby Weaver of Lehigh, compiling a record of about .500 as a Quaker. Harris first took up the sport at age 10, growing up in Chevy Chase, Md., where he placed third in a Maryland state freestyle tournament.
Harris, who also owns the New Jersey Devils, said that wrestling helped him focus on academics. "It really helped me in life."
"From an early age, wrestling taught me the virtues of hard work, grit and tenacity," Harris said. It's an honor and a privilege to be able to support Penn Wrestling as it strives for excellence. I hope that the team will achieve national prominence under Coach Roger Reina's guidance, and that more importantly, these young athletes will learn valuable life lessons through their commitment to the sport, which will ultimately enable them to lead better lives."
When asked by the Philadelphia Inquirer's Mike Jensen about where the gift would rank in the scheme of things -- no big deal, or very big deal -- Reina responded, "More than a very big deal. In addition to the strategic elements to support the program, it's also an inspiration to our student-athletes; it's an inspiration to our staff, to our alumni and recruits."
In the official announcement of the gift from the Quaker wrestling website, Reina said, "The Harris Family Charitable Foundation's support of the University of Pennsylvania wrestling team is remarkable and will provide us the valuable resources at an ideal time to accelerate the growth of our program. Josh has long referenced how he's applied the invaluable lessons he learned as a wrestler to his incredibly impressive professional career. We are profoundly grateful that he is giving back in such an impactful way. Our program will be enhanced for years to come thanks to the powerful financial commitment Josh and his foundation have made."
University of Pennsylvania's Director of Athletes, Dr. M. Grace Calhoun, expressed her appreciation for the sizable gift.
"We are extremely grateful for the support of Penn alum Josh Harris and the Harris Family Charitable Foundation as we aim big to create an unrivaled experience for our wrestling student-athletes," said Calhoun. "As we launch into our Game Onward fundraising campaign over the next several years, this gift will help enable us to obtain competitive excellence, a world-class student-athlete experience and engage our campus like never before."
First established in 1900, the University of Pennsylvania wrestling program ranks as among the nation's very first intercollegiate wrestling programs. In its 115-year history, the Quaker mat program can claim among its alumni an Olympic gold medalist, five NCAA champions, 28 All-Americans, and 64 EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) champions.