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Big Red spirit shines through 'CU in Central Park'

Although a torrential downpour put an early end to the festivities, the first-ever CU in Central Park event (a picnic and softball game) held in the heart of Manhattan July 25 was a Big Red success.

Posing for a photo with the Big Red Bear

The Big Red Bear and Marie-Jouvelle Aubourg '06 pose for a photo during the CU in Central Park picnic and softball game July 25.

About 125 alumni and family members from the New York City metro area and beyond attended, representing class years from 1954 to the present (along with about two dozen potential future Cornellians, the youngest a month old).

The event, held on Central Park's Great Lawn ball field No. 8, was sponsored by the NYC Cornellians-Young Alumni group along with several other partner New York City-based alumni organizations. It was scheduled to run from noon to 5 p.m., but heavy rain began shortly after 3 p.m.

"Everyone came really excited and jumped right into everything with picnics and blankets," said Marie-Jouvelle Aubourg '06, social co-chair for the young alumni group and the event's lead organizer.

Two teams played seven innings of softball, with Team 1 winning 8-5, the game ending just a few minutes before the rain began. Teams were composed of 11 alumni each representing a range of ability levels and from class years 1964 through 2011.

Alumni on picnic blankets

Alumni gathered July 25 in Central Park for the CU in Central Park event, sponsored by NYC Cornellians-Young Alumni and several other NYC-area alumni groups.

The Big Red Bear made a rare New York City appearance, striking out during his one turn at the plate and pitching a bit as well, said Ashley Barry '07, sports chair for the alumni group. "Getting the Big Red Bear was a bit of a logistical challenge," she added.

"The softball game was a friendly yet competitive game that got everyone involved, even those completely new to the game," said James Janowski '08, who pitched for Team 1. "It fostered Big Red camaraderie while serving as a catalyst in making new friends."

The picnic "was a great way for a bunch of alumni from my fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi, to meet up with all their families," said David Chipurnoi '00, noting that many of his friends have recently had children. Young and older alumni from his fraternity, along with two current undergraduates, also came to the event, "which allowed the current students to meet alumni and us alumni to hear updates about the chapter at Cornell," he said, and it also allowed his friends to "reconnect and introduce their children to the Cornell experience."

James Janowski '08 at bat

James Janowski '08 takes a turn at the plate. He also was the pitcher for Team 1, which won the seven-inning softball game 8-5.

CU in Central Park has been several years in the making. Aubourg had long envisioned creating a picnic event that would bring together Cornellians of all ages to unwind and mingle in a casual social setting. But the idea didn't take off until she connected with Barry, who had been planning a Cornell alumni softball game. Together, their ideas became one big event that quickly generated a lot of advance interest. In fact, the weather forecast likely kept attendance down; more than 250 alumni had indicated that they were interested in participating.

The Cornell spirit was evident throughout, Barry said. "One of the softball players came with a 10-foot Cornell banner, and he said, 'I was just so excited that I had to make this, it took me a week to make.'"

Many of the softball players were thrilled to be playing in front of family members and friends. "Some of the older players, their spouses were sitting on the benches, cheering them on," Barry said.

Organizers pose with handmade banner

From left, Marie-Jouvelle Aubourg '06, Elyse Richardson '06 (chair of NYC Cornellians-Young Alumni) and Scott Pesner '87 hold a banner handmade by an alumnus for the event.

Refreshments included watermelon and bottled water, and all alumni in attendance received a specially designed button featuring the name of the event on a Central Park background.

Scott Pesner '87 pronounced the day a success. "While I expected a lot of younger alumni, the picnic attracted a cross-section of alumni, from some current students to alumni from the '50s, '60s and '70s," he said. "It was great to see so many alumni bring their young children for a picnic in the park, and the visit from the Big Red Bear made us all feel like kids and brought a real feeling of the Big Red spirit."

"With more 18,000 Cornell alumni living in the five boroughs, it's difficult to find an event that can bring everyone together," Pesner said.

"This is something we want to grow," Aubourg said. "Alumni from all years attending showed interest in having this again -- a casual-style event for alums in the city. We hope to grow this event to become a New York City staple."

alumni wait it out in the rain

Heavy rain ended the event shortly after 3 p.m., though a handful of alumni stuck it out for a while, hoping the downpour would be short lived.

Organizers were proud of the broad coalition of NYC area alumni groups who sponsored the event. Partner groups included the umbrella group NYC Cornellians along with the Cornell Black Alumni Association, Cornell Gay and Lesbian Association, the Cornell Jewish Connection, Cornell Latino Alumni Association and the Cornell Asian Alumni Association.

"We really wanted to get a good mix of the diversity that's embodied within Cornell University but specifically in New York City, and we wanted to make sure we reached out to everyone," Aubourg said. "You don't always hear about everything that's going on in the city, so we tried to tap through all of our markets."


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