Lenti's Endowed Scholarship a Preview of DePaul's 'Scholarship Derby'
April 30, 2014
CHICAGO – The smile that spread across Eugene Lenti’s face said it all as the Hall of Fame DePaul softball coach was surprised last Sunday with the announcement of an endowed scholarship in his name.
This was a preview of what promises to be a lively competition as DePaul Athletics launches it’s “Scholarship Month” program May 1.
For 31 days, Blue Demon athletic programs will engage in a scholarship awareness and funding initiative spearheaded by Athletics Development. The alumni team that generates the most scholarship gifts will receive first prize---50 percent of the Athletic Department’s on-line auction revenue.
Lenti and his softball program claimed the Scholarship Month title last year while women’s basketball came in first two years ago.
“Anytime you win a title, you want to repeat as champion,” Lenti said. “Our softball program wants to win everything regardless of what it is.
“I know women’s basketball won this competition in 2012, and we took it away from them last year. They’re going to work hard to get it back. It’s going to be like Ali-Frazier III.”
DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto smiled at the thought of this “scholarship derby.”
“May is a really fun month as a lot of former student-athletes compete against each other,” Ponsetto said. “This gets their adrenaline starting to flow again as they go against other DePaul teams for scholarship money. You hear about all the fun plans and ideas they concoct.
“I am so proud of all of them for recognizing the importance of paying it forward. Having gone to DePaul as a student-athlete and appreciating that wonderful experience, it means so much that our alumni find it in their hearts to make sure other students have that same opportunity.”
It was an emotional moment at Sunday’s Senior Day/Alumni Day banquet when former Blue Demon Michelle Cahill walked up to the microphone and made that special announcement of the Eugene Lenti endowed scholarship for softball.
“I kept looking at his face during the banquet, and he had no idea,” said Cahill, a standout from 1987-90. “When I went up to talk, I looked at him and he broke into that Eug smile. He made sure to thank me afterwards and told me how much he appreciated it.
“This says so much about Eug’s legacy over the last 33 years. It’s a testament to the program he has created and the tradition he has built.
“You see it in all the alumni who return every year for the alumni game and the Alumni Day event. He has created a culture of excellence on the field which is enhanced by the strong family atmosphere that permeates throughout DePaul from Jeanne on down.
“It is so appropriate for Eug. I mean, you can’t think of DePaul softball without thinking of Eug.”
With more than 1,200 career wins, Lenti is the fifth-winningest active coach in college softball. He has guided the Blue Demons to the NCAA tournament in 15 of the last 17 years, advancing to the Women’s College World Series in 1999, 2000, 2005 and 2007.
That 2005 season was extra special as his beloved White Sox would win the World Series later that year.
Lenti was the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) National Coach of the Year in 1999 after leading DePaul to a program record 54-14 season. He was inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame in 2008.
The Blue Demons have been honored with conference coach or coaching staff of the year accolades 11 times and were named coaching staff of the year for the Mideast Region three times. Lenti has produced 25 All-Americans and 18 Academic All-Americans.
This season, his team has gone 36-8, 16-0 in the BIG EAST Conference and clinched the league’s regular-season title. DePaul takes an 18-game winning streak into its non-conference showdown with Northwestern at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Cacciatore Stadium.
“When I found out on Sunday, I was totally shocked by it,” Lenti said. “I had a feeling something was up when Jeanne called all the alumni up to the front. When Michelle stepped to the mike and made the announcement, I was really surprised.
“It’s a tremendous thing and I really feel honored and humbled by it. Everyone did a good job keeping it a secret, and I am very proud of this endowed scholarship.
“It is one of the first endowed scholarships for the softball program, and it’s something that will help the university with the cost of scholarships. It puts us on the right track to lessen the onus on the university. This is also a great way for alumni to give back to the softball program.”
The multitude of familiar faces in the banquet crowd was a reminder to Lenti about his impact on the program.
“I’m proud of the significant amount of alumni who come out to our Senior Day and alumni event,” Lenti said. “There are alumni that come back from different parts of the country, and we even have some alumni parents returning. On Sunday, Bree Brown’s mom and dad came here all the way from Texas.
“It makes me feel like we’re doing all the right things and putting an emphasis on what’s important in life. Not only do the student-athletes appreciate everything that we’re doing for them at DePaul, but their parents do as well. Those parents have always been a big part of our success.”
Lenti’s highly competitive nature is tempered by a Vincentian viewpoint on life.
“We keep things in perspective by knowing what is important, and softball is fourth behind God, family and school," Lenti said. "We get to know our players personally through practices, games and more importantly, activities off the field.
“I have a vested interest in each student-athlete that enters the program. We enjoy being together, and each team has a different dynamic. But we are still a family that laughs, cries and plays together."
He has been described by his former players as "passionate, dedicated, motivated, driven, fearless, a champion, and someone who makes life a little brighter."
And now, his endowed scholarship will help open the doors to the DePaul softball experience for future Blue Demons.