Frank Ingrassia ’75 ’16P only played sandlot sports growing up. Nothing organized, just the neighborhood kids getting together every day to play ball. Fast-forward a few decades to when Ingrassia’s eighth-grade son, Peter, unexpectedly needed a soccer coach so the club travel team could continue to play. Ingrassia volunteered having only experienced soccer through the eyes of a spectator watching his two older children play.
“I decided to put my hand up and become the coach. We kept the team going, and he played through his senior year in high school,” said Ingrassia, who ended up leading youth soccer teams for more than 20 years, coaching five of his seven children.
Ingrassia decided to raise his hand again when an opportunity arose and chose to support Lehigh University Athletics. With a generous $1.5 million commitment, he and his wife, Elizabeth McCaul, established The Ingrassia Family Men’s Head Soccer Coach Endowed Fund. The men’s head soccer coach position has been held by Coach Dean Koski since 1991.
Ingrassia, a Lehigh University Board of Trustees member, first learned of the need to endow the coaching position from Joseph Sterrett ’76 ’78G ’03P ’05P ’07P ’09P, Murray H. Goodman Dean of Athletics, who spoke at the April 2018 board meeting.
“Joe talked about the possibilities of using philanthropy to help the sports program. When he mentioned the soccer program, it was kind of like a light went off in my head. It is something that I have had a lot of passion about. I always enjoyed being a soccer coach,” said Ingrassia, CEO of Clever Devices Ltd., adding that Elizabeth was immediately on board with the idea. “It was a great time of my life. A great way to bond with my kids and get to know their friends as well. It was an immensely rewarding experience.”
Recalling all of the years their children played soccer and four other sports, McCaul, CEO, Promontory Europe, Promontory Financial Group, remarked, “Playing sports was a huge foundation for them. It formed the basis for many friendships, for physical development, and for learning team dynamics. It was a big part of their social life. Having their dad as their coach will carry with them their whole lives.”
The endowed fund adds permanent resources to the athletics department that already contributes significantly to the overall financial costs of providing a high quality, developmental student-athlete experience.
“Our trustees are ultimately charged with the responsibility for guiding this institution. Having a trustee invest in the people or the educators who go by the title of ‘coach’ says a lot about the importance of sports at Lehigh and sports as a partner in the educational process,” said Sterrett. “It provides evidence to students, alumni, and the recruiting world that coaches are having an educational impact and are valued by the university.”
Just as endowed chair positions are proven to attract and retain great academic faculty, endowed coaching positions attract and retain great athletic faculty and staff. The Ingrassia gift can also make available other resources that can be used to hire additional staff, recruit soccer scholar-athletes, and purchase performance-building and student-development technology.
As Lehigh’s 15th head soccer coach, Koski will enter his 28th season in fall 2019 with the most wins of any soccer coach in program history with a career record of 233-202-64. During his tenure, he has guided the Mountain Hawks to two Patriot League Tournament championships (2000, 2015), a Patriot League regular-season championship in 2006, and four NCAA tournament appearances. He has helped develop four All-Americans, 22 First Team All-Region selections, 45 First Team All-Patriot League selections, and 45 Second Team honorees. In addition, four players, Andrew Mittendorf ’99, Kevin Jackson ’00, Adam Williamson ’06, and Adam Welch ’10, were drafted by Major League Soccer franchises.
Koski’s success relies on maintaining stability and consistency in what the program offers. Targeted recruiting efforts, experienced and caring staff, and the development of scholar-athletes to their full potential are at the core of the team’s advancement.
“We want to make sure that when we bring student-athletes into this program they are going to experience a very exceptional four years. In order for them to do that, we have to do right by them by making sure that we are coaching, developing, leading, and mentoring them well. That is something that I feel very strongly about. That is all part of our mission and vision, and I want that to be continued without compromise,” said Koski.
Lehigh soccer stand-out and management major Mark Forrest ’19 chose the university because of the strong balance between athletics and academics. On his men’s soccer roster web page, Forrest describes Koski as “phenomenal” and someone who really knows how to treat and talk to his players.
“Coach Koski genuinely cares about the success of his athletes on the field and in between the white lines, but equally as much in the classroom and, ultimately, what they do when they leave Lehigh. He is tasked with bringing in boys to Lehigh and turning out men, and he does that so very well,” said Forrest ’19, whose sports accolades as the team’s forward include being named to the 2018 All-Atlantic Region First Team and receiving his second straight Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year award.
Koski said that the Lehigh soccer program receiving this gift is a signature moment in his career.
“I am genuinely humbled that the Ingrassia family felt strongly enough about the men’s soccer program and, hopefully, me and my staff and the players here that they were willing to make this kind of commitment,” said Koski. “It speaks volumes about perhaps their experiences as soccer moms and dads when their kids were younger and what those experiences meant to their kids. Being both a college soccer coach and a dad who coaches his kids in club soccer, I get it. I understand it. I am very, very humbled by it.”
At one point, Ingrassia ended up coaching three of his kids on club teams simultaneously, which, he said, “was a lot.”
“As the next generation of kids came up, I got involved in coaching them from a very young age. Literally at 4 years old, watching them was like watching bees chase a honey pot. They were all chasing the ball,” recalled Ingrassia. “I was working with them as very young kids and trying to impose the rules and the disciplines of playing positions.”
Throughout the years several of his teams won championships. McCaul noted that her husband’s teams always won the sportsmanship award and that Frank considered it the best award to win.
“We really emphasized being a sportsman. I always said it was more important to win the sportsmanship award than win the championship title,” said Ingrassia, who coached in a variety of capacities. “We probably won more sportsmanship awards than we did titles. We thought it was critical to always play the game well and play the game the right way.”
Ingrassia believes that what is learned on the playing field about being an honorable person and being fair and compassionate is transferable to the way you lead your life. These are tenets that his peers recognize him by, especially in his commitment to his alma mater.
A first-generation college student and scholarship recipient, Ingrassia credits his Lehigh experience as a time of personal growth. Starting out as an engineering major, he was able to learn how to dissect a problem and try to solve it. Switching to finance, he said he continued to use the engineering thought-process, which has served him well through his entire business career. For more than 30 years, Ingrassia worked in leadership positions on Wall Street at both Standard and Poor’s Financial Services LLC and The Goldman Sachs Group.
Appreciating the importance of receiving a valuable Lehigh education, he and McCaul have been benefactors of both a scholarship and a professorship at the university, helped fund the Linderman Library renovation, contributed to the global initiatives fund, and supported unrestricted opportunities through the Lehigh Fund.
Members of the university’s top giving societies—Leadership Plaza, the Tower Society, and the Asa Packer Society—Ingrassia feels it is critical to give back to the university that has given so much to him.
“I would love to see Lehigh continue to educate students like they educated me … help our country and the world become a better place. All of that requires lots of money,” he said. “I would urge people to focus on the campaign that Lehigh just launched. Be generous. Think about all the good things that have resulted from their Lehigh educations as they make those important decisions.”
“It is an honor to be able to give back to the school,” said McCaul, who earned a degree in economics from Boston University.
Looking ahead to fall semester 2019, she said, “We are looking forward to seeing great soccer and having the students and the coaches and the whole program benefit.”
Story by Dawn Thren ’21P