The Rev. Joseph G. Hubbert has been a part of the Niagara University athletics department for nearly two decades, and a Purple Eagles fan going back to the 1960s. He has been on hand to see many of the school’s most accomplished alumni inducted into the Niagara Athletics Hall of Fame.
Hubbert, a 1973 Niagara graduate who never played a varsity sport, never considered himself a candidate for induction. He couldn’t believe the news when Associate Athletic Director Derrick Thornton called over the summer to inform the longtime softball and basketball team moderator he had been selected as an honorary member of the 41st Hall of Fame class.
“I have been uncharacteristically – as those who have been near me at an NU sporting event can attest – speechless, and somewhat overwhelmed by the honor of induction into the Hall of Fame,” Hubbert said.
Hubbert has been a fixture on the bench at Niagara home basketball games since 2006, relentlessly rooting on the Purple Eagles, hounding referees, wearing a purple vest and twirling a purple towel overhead.
He has been the softball team moderator since 1998, and has worked with just about every team on campus at some point since becoming a professor in the religious studies department in 1993.
As a team moderator, Hubbert counsels coaches, athletes and parents and offers prayer before games when asked.
“Part of our prayer is that we do not ask God to give us a victory,” Hubbert said. “We just ask God that the other team lose graciously.”
Hubbert, who was honored as “an avid supporter and constant contributor to Niagara athletics,” said the honor was heightened when he considered the caliber of athletes inducted with him at last Sunday’s ceremony:
• Juan Mendez, the pivotal piece of Niagara’s 2005 NCAA basketball tournament team who ranks in the top five in seven all-time categories and was an honorable mention All-American his senior year.
• Barrett Ehgoetz, Class of ’05, the all-time leading scorer for Niagara’s men’s hockey program and the now-defunct College Hockey America conference.
• Milena Matijevic, ’04, Niagara’s all-time leader in singles and doubles tennis victories and a two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Most Outstanding Player award winner.
• The 1993-94 men’s swimming and diving team that won Niagara its first team championship in the MAAC.
“It’s a great honor to be inducted with these great student-athletes,” Hubbert said.
As one friend noted in a congratulatory email, Hubbert’s time in the 40-yard dash “must be a half an hour, and [his] throw from right field needs a bus to get to home plate.”
But it was Hubbert’s love for baseball that led him to moderate Niagara sports teams, though he had to settle for softball when the baseball assignment was snapped up quickly.
The Purple Eagles won a MAAC championship in Hubbert’s first year with the team. He ducked out early while proctoring a final examination to watch Niagara win an NCAA play-in game.
Hubbert’s affiliation with the rest of the athletic department grew over time. He was asked by women’s basketball coach Bill Agronin and men’s basketball coach Joe Mihalich to moderate the basketball teams in 2006, in part due to his passionate cheering from the end zone sections in previous seasons.
Niagara’s men’s basketball team won a MAAC championship in Hubbert’s first year on the bench.
Hubbert traveled round trip by bus to Bridgeport, Conn., for the Monday night championship game.
One student had seen Hubbert cheering wildly and celebrating the win on television, and commented that he was surprised to see the professor back on campus the next morning.
Hubbert proudly taught his classes, even though his voice had stayed behind in Bridgeport.
Admitting he has occasionally been warned to sit down by referees, Hubbert is firm in his belief that he will never earn a technical foul for his enthusiastic bench demeanor.
“That’s what the towel is for,” Hubbert said.
Occasionally being on the losing side has given Hubbert a greater appreciation for college athletics.
“I’ve learned being with the different teams,” Hubbert said in his acceptance speech, “that the realization of mutual support among the players and coaches and the staff – a lot of times there is no words – but you know you are there for one another and that is really a great thing.”