The athletics department at Brandeis University announced that it will create a new award in honor of Martin Zelnik ’61. It will be presented at the end of the year awards ceremony, to two non-recruited athletes, according to a BrandeisNow article, with the first award being presented in spring 2022.
“The honoree is someone who makes a significant contribution to a varsity team or teams through spirit, enthusiasm, and work ethic to improve their own skills and those of their teammates, epitomizing the camaraderie and loyalty of a Brandeis student-athlete,” said the article.
The award comes from a gift from Zelnik, who was a Renaissance man at Brandeis during his time here. Although he was not recruited, Zelnik played five sports during his time at Brandeis: tennis, his primary sport; fencing; basketball; football and soccer. With him on the team, Brandeis held a 30-3 record between 1959 and 1961. He later was the coach for the first varsity women’s tennis team at Brandeis.
According to Lauren Haynie, Director of Athletics, “the Martin Zelnik Award pays tribute to student-athletes who fly under the radar during the recruiting process … It also recognizes those who realize that they want to pursue playing a varsity sport once they are on our campus. Our coaches and department value the contributions of student-athletes that have a unique path in joining our programs.”
After his graduation from Brandeis in 1961, Zelnik studied architecture at Columbia University. He then founded his own firm, Panzel Associates, in which he is still involved today. He also taught interior design at the State University of New York/Fashion Institute of Technology, and co-authored three design publications. Zelnik was inducted into the Brandeis Hall of Fame in 2006. He is currently semi-retired, though remains active in community action in zoning in New York.
According to an interview with BrandeisNow, when asked what originally attracted Zelnik to Brandeis, he said his attraction was two-fold. “My initial awareness of Brandeis was when I was a camper-waiter at a sleep-away camp in the Pocono Mountains: Camp Onibar! The head waiter was Julie Bernstein, a distinguished labor attorney and Brandeis benefactor later on in his life. He had attended and recently graduated from Brandeis – class of 1957. Julie would hold court in the waiters’ bunks, infusing our innocent minds with discussions about civil rights, social justice, the ACLU, and why we should all apply to Brandeis. That waiter’s bunk produced 5-6 future Brandeisians!” His second factor was a basketball match between Brandeis and New York University (NYU), where Brandeis, despite being a small school, defeated NYU.
According to Zelnik, at Brandeis he “developed a work ethic that morphed later in life into architecture grad school at Columbia while working part-time and starting a family.” His advice for Brandeis student-athletes is that they should “follow [their] hearts academically and athletically.” “Take advantage of every activity you can while at Brandeis. If you love a sport and are competitive at it, pursue it for the pure love of playing the game,” he said.