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Vol. 54, No. 3 • March 2017 • .pdf version
Cafarelli named Katha Quinn winner
By MALCOLM MORAN
They were having dinner the night before a game, Mike Brey and Bernie Cafarelli, the coach and his former SID, to catch up and talk about their time together at Notre Dame, when the coach had a request.
"So, Bernie," Brey said, "tell me about the award you're winning."
The word was already beginning to spread. Cafarelli, the associate commissioner for communications and external relations at the American Athletic Conference, had been named the winner of the Katha Quinn Award, named for the late sports information director at St. John's to recognize outstanding service to the media.
Cafarelli is the third woman to win the award since 1991, joining Chris Fallon of the National Invitation Tournament and Amy Early of USA Basketball. She had learned of the honor when she joined a conference call of USBWA officers and district representatives. Cafarelli, the SID representative, was instructed to join the call in progress. She soon discovered that the delay was necessary because the board had been talking about her. She joined the call and learned the news.
"Stunned disbelief," she said. "I don't feel I was worthy of the award. I'm not someone who wants to be in the limelight."
She spent 22 years at Notre Dame until the move to the American Conference in January 2016. When Brey was hired in the summer of 2000 Cafarelli met with the new coach. He had gone from his first head coaching job at Delaware to the high-profile world of Notre Dame and the complex – and more than slightly crazy – relationships of the old Big East.
They sat and talked. One hour became two, and two became three. The relationship came into focus when she asked a frank question.
"Do you have a problem working with a woman?" Cafarelli remembered asking.
"My thing was, 'Bernie, you're a pro. Let's do this thing,'" Brey remembered.
He soon discovered that her institutional memory would help him navigate through this new world. Cafarelli was a Notre Dame graduate who for eight years worked at Providence College, at the hub of the Big East universe in the formative years of the league. "She was a Big East girl, through and through," Brey said. "She knew the cities. She knew the people in the cities. She knew the media in the cities. ... She understood how to deal with the other Catholic schools."
Thanks to her guidance, a coach's potentially intimidating process had just become much simpler.
"She was like a big sister to me," Brey said. "We had the kind of relationship where she would come down and she could say, 'I know you don't want to do this, but you should do this.' I'd mess with her: 'You're like my big sister coming to see me.'"
She was often the only female in the Notre Dame basketball traveling party.
"Mike made me feel like part of his staff," she said. "I couldn't have asked for a better situation. They understood my role."
As Brey's program grew, Cafarelli's role became strikingly similar to what Katha Quinn had achieved at St. John's throughout the 1980s, when the sweaters worn by coach Lou Carnesecca became a national story and Chris Mullin and Walter Berry each became the USBWA national player of the year.
Quinn was honored at the USBWA meeting at the 1988 Final Four for her work at the 1987 Pan American Games while she underwent treatment for liver cancer. She passed away in March, 1989 at the age of 35.
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