t hasn’t always been a slam dunk for Ray Rankis.
For more than 30 years, Rankis—best known to legions of Baruchians as the coach of men’s basketball—has been a jock of all trades, the go-to guy in the College’s Athletics Department. In addition to coaching men’s basketball, women’s tennis, and women’s cross country (a team he created), he’s served as facilities manager, recreation and intramurals director, sports information director, assistant athletics director, associate athletics director, and, most recently, director of athletics. He’s also been an integral member of Baruch’s Division of Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS), where until his retirement this year he oversaw upward of 20 classes per semester and grew the CAPS roster with such popular classes as Fitness for Older Adults and Women’s Bodybuilding & Conditioning.
No doubt, Rankis has been a key player in the steady transformation of Athletics at Baruch. Not only has he seen the department grow from a three-man operation in the early 1980s to today’s seven-person team, he’s witnessed a metamorphosis of the College’s sports and recreation facilities that has been nothing short of miraculous. For decades, Athletics struggled with inadequate facilities, including an undersized 78′-by-46′ basketball court on the sixth floor of Baruch’s historic 17 Lexington Avenue building.
But since Fall 2001, with the opening of Baruch’s almost-city-block-long William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus (NVC) on 24th Street, Athletics has had a spacious, three-floor, state-of-the-art home: the Athletic & Recreation Complex (aka the ARC). The move is one of the highlights of Ray’s professional life. “Thanks to the ARC, the teams have won many championships,” he says.
Rankis has been on the front line of many of those championships. But more important to him than winning has been the chance to be a positive influence, a friend, and a father figure to hundreds of student-athletes since he started at Baruch in 1983. “I have known Ray for many years,” says his colleague Ron Aaron, a professor of student development and counseling and a devoted Baruch Bearcats fan. “Ray should never be thought of in terms of wins or losses. He’s the guy who is always there for others, listening, counseling, and supporting. His players love him, and his colleagues feel no differently.”
In 2000 our first CUNY Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) Men’s Basketball Championship. I remember this win so clearly: We defeated York College/CUNY at the College of Staten Island. After each of the playoff games, I had the privilege of driving our volunteer basketball statistician, Burt Beagle (’56), and our backup point guard, Trevor Brookins (’00), home to the Bronx. It was on my way; I live in Westchester County. While driving with them after the championship game, I looked over at Burt and realized just how important this win was to him. Burt was involved with Baruch Athletics since the mid-1950s, when he was an evening-college student. To me, Burt epitomized everything good about Baruch and Baruch College Athletics. We three basked in the glow of finally winning the Dutch Shoe (the basketball trophy). It is a long ride from Staten Island to the Bronx, but it didn’t seem a long ride that night.
The men’s soccer team’s post-hurricane CUNYAC Championship. Our team clinched the 2012 championship in an exciting 3-2 comeback win against Brooklyn College on Randall’s Island. We had so many fans supporting us. When you take into account that earlier that week our region was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, it was impressive and moving to see so many people travel to the championship game. I think we all welcomed the distraction, and we were rewarded as the team won, despite initially trailing 2-0. It was a very cold night at Randall’s Island, but the championship warmed us up.
My first game as men’s basketball coach in November 1983. We were matched against York College of Pennsylvania and losing by 20 at halftime. It was a tough game, but I found myself distracted in the second half by statistics legend and alumnus Burt Beagle (right), who was keeping all the stats by himself. This was before Stat Crew software was invented, and it was like watching a magician at work. Burt had a way of remembering numbers, and I felt privileged to watch him work. Not many people can do what he did by himself at a basketball game. These days, it takes three people to keep all the basketball stats.
Baruch’s second men’s basketball CUNYAC championship in 2015. That game was one of the most exciting I have ever seen: Baruch won in double overtime against Brooklyn College in front of a large, supportive crowd at City College’s Nat Holman Gymnasium, and it was broadcast nationally on ESPN3. It was a shining moment for the entire Athletics Department and my last as Baruch athletics director. It felt good to go out on a winning note.
Any men’s basketball game Baruch hosted at Xavier High School on 16th Street. I remember our equipment manager, Ralph Sirianni, pushing his equipment cart from Baruch to each game at Xavier, where we rented their gym for our “home” games from 1984 to 2001. Those were certainly different times for Athletics. I remember how excited we were when Xavier gave us a cabinet to store our basketball equipment in the recesses of their basement. This meant we didn’t have to transport a dozen basketballs from Baruch for each game. In those days, the little things made a difference.
Opening night at the new Athletic & Recreation Complex (ARC) in 2002. Men’s basketball played SUNY New Paltz in the first-ever athletics event in Baruch’s new building, the Newman Vertical Campus. I was so happy that we didn’t have to walk crosstown to Xavier to play a game. Now, we just had to go down one flight of stairs to our gym. Good times! We won that night, which made it even more special, seeing how far we had come.
Forming alumni family connections: During the annual Men’s Alumni Basketball Game this January, Tony Siano, the father of one of our current assistant coaches, Gary Siano, said to me, “Look at all these people here today. That is you. You’ve created this family atmosphere—everyone coming back and being comfortable with one another.” That night I was so proud of our ‘basketball family’: so many former players and assistant coaches back at Baruch after so many years. Knowing that their connections go beyond the court—many former players help current players get jobs and internships, for example—is among my happiest, warmest realizations.
Playing NYU men’s basketball (1999). The NYU team arrived on a charter bus to travel half a mile. Meanwhile, we walked as a team from Baruch to Xavier High. This memory’s significance is twofold: (1) It reminds me that for years Baruch played colleges and universities that had so many more resources than we had; and (2) It’s an even stronger reminder that I loved what I was doing.
Winning Baruch’s first CUNYAC baseball championship at Old Yankee Stadium (2001). To beat the College of Staten Island in a one-game playoff with the backdrop of that historic location—what a moment. My other favorite Baruch baseball memory: our CUNYAC championship in 2009. We were not a very good baseball team in 2008 but came back strong the following year to win, thanks to the leadership of current coach and good friend Jose Torres.
Baruch’s first CUNYAC women’s softball championship (2010). Due to the weather, Baruch was forced to play and win three games in one day. The women worked so hard to pull off the improbable win against the College of Staten Island, recognized as one of the best teams in our region. And to boot, we had to win these games at CSI’s softball field. There was no stopping the Bearcats: we steamrolled past the competition on their home field. That win reinforced how far Baruch Athletics had come.
Baruch’s capacity for excellence against the odds. We have no soccer fields, no baseball field, no softball field, and no tennis courts. With all that, we have found a way not only to persevere but to excel.
On behalf of BCAM and Baruch College, we wish Ray a happy, healthy retirement.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Neves is Baruch’s director of sports information.