All Time Best: Jewish Baltimore Has No Shortage of Sports Legends
By David Snyder
From Johnny Unitas and Cal Ripken Jr. to Ray Lewis and Michael Phelps, Baltimore certainly has no shortage of sports legends. The same also can be said for Jewish Baltimore. Whether in lacrosse, tennis, boxing or golf, among other sports, our city has seen scores of Jewish athletes produce legacies that cement them as among the very best. Here, in chronological order, is the JT’s list of the 10 best of all time.
A two-time All-American at Pikesville High School, Jesse Schwartzman arrived at Johns Hopkins University with every intention of starting in goal — or, at the very least, splitting time with incumbent keeper Scott Smith.
He started only two games his freshman year in 2004 but spent the rest of his college career making up for lost time.
“When I finally got the opportunity to be the everyday starter, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder. I wanted to prove that not only could I play [but] that I should have played the year before,” Schwartzman said.
From his sophomore season on, Schwartzman started every game.
In 2005, he helped propel the Blue Jays to an unbeaten record and the school’s first national championship since 1987. In the title game’s final minute, he stifled a last-ditch scoring attempt to preserve a 9-8 win over Duke University. As a senior, Schwartzman was in the net for another title, again a one-goal victory over the Blue Devils.
“The great thing about Jesse was, when you lay down on your pillow at night, you knew he was going to be one the better players on the field,” Hopkins head coach Dave Pietramala said. “He answered the bell at the most critical moments. The really talented ones do that. When it mattered most, Jesse really thrived.”
Schwartzman amassed more than 500 saves for Hopkins and had an almost unmatched ability to vocally coordinate the defense and prevent scoring opportunities.
Schwartzman was intense — and never short on charisma.
“Jesse brought a little bit of character to the field,” said Pietramala. “After he made a big save, he wanted to dance and jump around a little bit. … That’s what made him a very good goalie. He was confident in his abilities and backed that up on the field.”
That confidence has not waned. This spring, Schwartzman, 27, will enter his seventh season as the starting goalie for the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse. The team has made the playoffs in each of the past six seasons, and Schwartzman is a five-time all-star.
Despite a couple blips, he’ll always cherish his time in college.
“There might have been a couple little things that I would have changed, but all in all it was as good as advertised,” Schwartzman said. “Every week you have a target on your back. Everyone wants to beat Johns Hopkins.”
For someone who preferred passing the ball over shooting it, Tamir Goodman sure had a knack for scoring boatloads of points.
In his sophomore and junior seasons — his only two years at the Talmudical Academy of Baltimore — the kippah-donning Goodman averaged more than 31 points per game and helped lead his team to a 52-11 record that included two Metro International Basketball Conference titles.
His coach remembers having to repeatedly will his point guard to shoot.
“That’s the one thing people don’t know about Tamir. If he had his way, he’d stand out there and distribute the basketball,” said former TA coach Harold Katz. “He’s the most reluctant 20-point scorer I’ve had in my career. I’d have to beg him. I said, ‘If you don’t shoot, we’re not going to win.’”
Still, Katz lauded his former player for being able to balance scoring on his own and incorporating his teammates into the offense.
Katz said Goodman would lead teammates into scoring opportunities when they weren’t even aware they were open.
His proclivity for passing was derived in part from an appreciation of unselfish basketball that started well before he ever put on a high school jersey. As a boy, he studied some of basketball’s best assist men.
Diagnosed with dyslexia, Goodman was told by a doctor that God made up for his reading deficiencies by granting him pristine vision on the court, which enabled him to see passing lanes and decipher defenses.
“Probably my favorite part of the game is just uniting everyone on the court, getting everyone the ball,” Goodman, 30, said.
Invited to the Capital Classic, an annual all-star game that pits Baltimore- and D.C.-area high school players against top prospects from around the counry, Goodman earned MVP honors without making a shot. Naturally, he posted eight assists.
In the latter portion of his high school career, Goodman orally committed to the University of Maryland, a marriage that Baltimore sportswriter John Eisenberg learned early on would never work due to Goodman’s adherence to the laws of Shabbat.
During an informal conversation with university officials, Eisenberg began to grasp that the school — through ignorance more than insensitivity — did not comprehend the level of Goodman’s religious devotion.
“The whole tone was sort of, ‘We can work this out, right? He’ll adjust,’” Eisenberg recalled. “I remember telling them, ‘No, he will not adjust. You’re going to have to adjust — not him. These are his beliefs; this is what he’s going to do.’”
Goodman accepted a scholarship from Towson University, which was willing to make the scheduling concessions that Maryland would not. As a freshman starter, he averaged six points and four assists per game. The following year, however, the Tigers hired a new head coach, who reduced Goodman’s playing time. They didn’t see eye-to eye, and Goodman left Towson early in his sophomore year and embarked on a seven-year pro career in Israel, becoming the first-ever Orthodox pro basketball player.
When injuries forced Goodman into retirement in 2009, his first coach at Towson, Mike Jaskulski, told the The Baltimore Sun, “I don’t think I ever had as much confidence in a player running the team as a freshman as I did in Tamir.”
Michele Uhlfelder’s competitive spirit emerged at a very young age, and, in large part, she has her older brother, Joel, to thank.
When other girls were out on the playground, Uhlfelder was mixing it up with the boys in tag football, dodgeball — whatever.
“[My brother] said, ‘I don’t really care if you’re a girl or a boy, let’s go play.’ He didn’t treat me like a girl,” Uhlfelder said. “So, growing up, all of those societal norms and things that hold girls back, I never knew what they meant. Luckily it was a blind spot for him. He just wanted to play. He would throw a ball at me so I learned how to catch it.”
A 1987 graduate of Pikesville High School, Uhlfelder would go on to be a standout on attack for the University of Maryland’s lacrosse team, which finished as national runners-up in 1990 and 1991. In ‘91, her senior season, she was selected as the National Offensive Player of the Year and earned first-team All-American honors.
Although a college championship eluded her, Uhlfelder made two U.S. Women’s Lacrosse World Cup rosters, and both teams brought home the gold in 1997 and 2001.
All the sports that Uhlfelder played as a child contributed to her prowess in lacrosse. Basketball helped her become comfortable maneuvering in tight spaces and forced her to gain strength in both her right and left hands. Racquetball provided a crash course in depth perception. Pitching in baseball and softball aided the accuracy of her lacrosse shot, and football gave herexperience passing and catching on the run.
On the lacrosse field, she was constantly at work. Goalie Jess Wilk, Uhlfelder’s teammate at Maryland and on the U.S. squad, regularly faced her in practice.
“She was very skilled, very smart and had a remarkable shot,” Wilk said. “Her shooting touch around the [goal] was very, very good. She was going to battle on every single possession and every single shot.”
Wilk also said that her teammate’s combination of accuracy and power set her apart from other attackers. “Most people either had one or the other — she had both,” Wilk said.
When her playing career ended, Uhlfelder, now 43, seamlessly transitioned to coaching. Currently, she is the head coach of the women’s lacrosse team at Occidental College in California — and is still as competitive as ever.
In tennis, there are multiple ways to compensate for a lack of pure power or electrifying speed. Elise Burgin seemingly mastered all of them.
The 5-foot-4 Burgin, a 1980 Pikesville High School graduate, utilized immense mental preparation and a full repertoire of shots to move her opponents around the court to the places she wanted them to go.
Burgin achieved a Women’s Tennis Association ranking as high as eighth in doubles and 22nd in singles. She won a combined 16 WTA titles and, in 2003, was inducted into the U.S. Tennis Association Mid-Atlantic Hall of Fame.
Unlike today’s tennis stars who scout their opponents through video archives, Burgin relied on a notebook stuffed with observations from every match she played.
“I kept copious notes,” Burgin said. “It was more about my opponent’s tendencies, strengths, weaknesses and what happened in the match.”
Burgin would also contact past opponents of the players she was scheduled to face in order to glean additional information. Still, she explained, part of the challenge in tennis is that matches are constantly evolving.
“You could have all the knowledge in the world, [but] as a tennis player you have to absolutely react in the moment,” Burgin, 51, said.
That’s where Burgin’s arsenal of shots came into play. The left-hander was capable of creating unorthodox spins from both her forehand and backhand sides, as well as her serve. She also used a precise understanding of angles to keep her opponents uncomfortable and out of position. A solid net game and a strong overhead enabled her to put away points when the opportunities arose.
“Elise was not the fastest. We both were sort of ‘Baltimore slow,’” joked ESPN tennis analyst Pam Shriver, a former doubles teammate. “She was an all-court player who understood there are a lot of different shots you could use. … She kind of kept her opponents off balance. It wasn’t always easy to get a rhythm against her.”
Shriver was one of several doubles players who benefited from Burgin’s ability to communicate on the court — arguably the most important quality of a successful tennis tandem.
In addition to overtly discussing shot selection, strategy and positioning, Burgin emphasized the importance of non-verbal communication. She could sense when her partner was pressing and knew that those were the moments where she needed to take her game to a higher level to take stress off her cohort.
“There are going to be ups and downs. You’ve got to keep each other on an even keel,” Burgin said. “Sometimes you play with volatile people … [so] you have to know how to handle personalities. You get to be part psychologist. … With my game, I needed to be able to think my way out of situations.”
For the first nine years of his career, Steve Stone was a middle-of-the-road pitcher with a pedestrian 78-79 record.
But any player is capable of one miraculous, inexplicable season — and that’s exactly what Stone had in 1980, his second year with the Orioles.
Relying heavily on his curveball, as well as “mental gymnastics,” Stone tallied 25 wins and a 3.23 earned run average en route to winning the American League Cy Young Award, which is bestowed upon the league’s best pitcher.
“It’s almost like he said, ‘I’m gonna throw this curveball until someone learns how to hit it,’ and that year, nobody learned how to hit it,” said ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian. “That was a magical year for him. That [kind of season] just doesn’t happen often in this game.”
It took a bit of good luck (or bad luck depending on your perspective) for Stone to crack the starting rotation.
In spring training, manager Earl Weaver slated Stone as the team’s fifth starter, which, in those days, meant he would likely see the majority of his action out of the bullpen. However, injuries to Dennis Martinez and Mike Flanagan opened up a slot for Stone, who never looked back.
Stone, now 65, honed his game between the ears, using positive thinking, meditation and self-visualization to the point where, before each game, he was actually imagining himself getting hitters out.
“I told myself that when the situation was tougher, I’d concentrate better,” Stone told Baltimore sportswriter John Eisenberg in his book “From 33rd Street to Camden Yards.”
Stone’s 25-win campaign accounted for nearly a quarter of his total wins as a major leaguer, and it remains the record for most victories in a season by an Orioles pitcher.
“It’s your basic baseball — good luck explaining it,” Eisenberg said. “These things do happen in baseball more than any other sport. Things just work right. The stars align. He’s obviously a talented guy … but that year things really went right for him.”
When asked about Johns Hopkins defenseman Mark Greenberg, ESPN lacrosse analyst Quint Kessenich said bluntly: “He’s one of the all-time great Hopkins players. Nationally, he’s one of the better defenders ever to play. It’s pretty simple and not debatable. If you saw him play in that era, there weren’t many people who would question what a player he was.”
Between 1977 and 1980, Greenberg was a four-time All-American (twice as a first-teamer) and was a vital cog in Hopkins’ national championships of ‘78, ‘79 and ‘80. He was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1995.
His style of play was ahead of its time. At a physically imposing 6-foot-5 and a lean 200 pounds, Greenberg habitually pursued and pestered attackers all over the field. Once a position that relied heavily on positioning and body control, Greenberg flipped the script and became an attacking defender. He constantly challenged the player he marked with aggressive, aggravating stick work.
“I strategically would harass a player so that they would play my game, and I wouldn’t have to react to them. They would react to me,” said Greenberg, a Pikesville High School graduate.
As early as his freshman year, Greenberg was tasked with guarding the opposing team’s top offensive threat.
“The plan at Hopkins was, ‘OK, who’s the best scorer? Greenberg, you have him.’ Then, that guy would cease to exist for the rest of the game,” said 105.7 The Fan sports radio host Steve Davis.
In his freshman season, Greenberg drew the assignment to stop Cornell attacker Eamon McEneaney, a Hall-of-Famer who was notorious for getting in the face and trash-talking with the defender who checked him. In both meetings between Cornell and Hopkins, McEneaney never uttered a word.
At a Hall-of-Fame dinner years later, Greenberg ran into McEneaney.
“I approached him and said, ‘I was always told you were mouthy and you’d get in my face and get in my head. Why didn’t you do that?’” Greenberg, now 54, recalled saying. “He said, ‘I didn’t want to [tick] you off — you were bigger than me.’”
Lacrosse players will tell you that there’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than surrendering goals only to lose the ensuing face-off.
If that’s the case, Jerry Schnydman was an expert in demoralization.
A face-off guru at Johns Hopkins University from 1963 to 1967, the 5-foot-1 midfielder used his God-given lack of height as leverage to ensure that the Blue Jays were gaining extra possessions in every game.
“Not many people knew a whole lot about facing off. I tried to develop it into an art,” said Schnydman, a senior on Hopkins’ ‘67 national championship team and a 2003 inductee of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
Schnydman said his coaches didn’t spend much time on face-offs, so he became his own coach, constantly watching film of his technique and working to develop wrist strength to improve the quickness in his hands. He also perfected drills that honed his ability to scoop ground balls — another huge aspect of winning the possession battle.
In his three varsity years, Schnydman collected upward of 125 ground balls per season.
He was a do-it-all midfielder with enough grit to take on the throngs of players who were bigger and enough quickness and cleverness to dart through defenders, attack the net and set up his teammates for scores.
Schnydman, now 68, adapted his game to the players who were around him. As a sophomore, he took more of the onus as a goal scorer. Later, surrounded by stronger attackers, he thrived in the role of distributor.
“I always thought of myself as a team player. … I would just hustle,” said Schnydman, who also won a high school championship in his senior season at Baltimore City College high school. “I would say my skills were pretty good, but my hustle was probably better. The only thing I ever wanted to do was to win.”
In today’s game, many college lacrosse teams employ a face-off specialist, whose only job is to take the draw and then sprint off the field. Schnydman, on the other hand, never came off it.
“What differentiates Jerry is he was a really great player, too,” said Davis of “The Fan.” “What’s lost on him is he could score his share of goals, and he was very good at feeding his teammates. He had to be dealt with.”
Many golfers play their whole lives trying to master the challenges and nuances of the game. Evelyn Glick seemingly figured them out in a matter of months.
At 30 years old in 1941, with only about a year of golfing experience under her belt, Glick won the women’s club championship at Woodholme Country Club in Pikesville. Forty years later, at 70, she won it again.
In between the two country club titles, she played a whole lot of golf — and she played it really well.
Glick, a native of the Eastern Shore who moved to Baltimore after marrying husband Maurice, captured 12 Maryland State Amateur, 11 Baltimore City and four Mid-Atlantic Amateur championships. She won countless other titles throughout the country and is a member of the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame and the Maryland Women’s Golf Association Hall of Fame.
She once led legendary golfer Babe Didrikson Zaharias for 15 holes in an exhibition match. Zaharias, who could hammer the ball upwards of 280 yards, broadcast to the gallery that she couldn’t believe she was losing to someone she constantly outdrove.
Glick’s greatest asset on the course, whether it was driving off the tee, chipping onto the green or holing out a long putt, was her pinpoint accuracy — something she worked at for hours every day, every season of the year.
Fellow golfer and longtime friend Richard Kress remembers examining Glick’s clubs before she bought a new set.
“The middle of every club head was worn out the size of a nickel. That was the only spot in the club that was hit,” Kress said. “You may see that on a touring professional, maybe not even that. It was incredible.”
Even as Glick advanced in years, the accuracy never left her. Once, Kress picked Glick up from her assisted living home — long after she had stopped playing competitively — and brought her to the Mount Wilson Road field where she practiced throughout her life. Glick, who passed away in 1998 at 87, was in her mid-80s at the time.
“Of course she couldn’t hit the ball very far, but the whole pile of balls [landed] in one little area,” Kress recalls. “She could hardly walk, but you put a club in her hand … maybe they were all going 50 yards, but they ended up together.”
HYMAN “LEFTY” STERN
The tales of sheer natural athleticism that encompassed Lefty Stern are endless.
A 1926 graduate of Baltimore City College high school, Stern was the epitome of an all-around athlete, racking up 11 varsity letters in football, basketball, baseball, wrestling and boxing.
The star halfback of City’s single-wing offense, Stern possessed the ability to either plow through the defensive line using the brute power of his sturdy 5-foot-8 frame or call on his arm strength to unleash a 50-yard pass. On the baseball diamond he patrolled the outfield and used his cannon arm to wring up runners on the base paths.
Those who knew him said that once he signed up for a tennis tournament at Patterson Park, having barely ever played the game. (In fact, he was lent a racket.) Stern went on to win the tournament. He took on the intramural boxing champion at City and knocked him out. His punch, many said, was like the kick of a mule.
“Lefty was the finest athlete this town ever produced,” said friend Bill Lewis, an athletic director for more than 35 years in the Baltimore City school system. “You name it, he could play it.”
His strength could, in large part, be chalked up to his role in the family business. The Sterns owned an ice delivery company, and Lefty, from the time he was a teen, would travel the city hauling large blocks of ice on his shoulders.
Stern’s commitment to helping his family financially prevented him accepting one of the countless scholarships offered to him out of high school. He did play a year of professional basketball as a guard for the Baltimore Orioles of the American Basketball League. He also played a year of minor league baseball for Salisbury of the Eastern League.
However, in his late 20s, debilitating arthritis — likely caused from his years of lugging ice — cut short his athletic career. Still, his legendary performances earned him a spot in the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame and the Maryland Old Timers Hall of Fame. He was also the first athlete inducted into the Baltimore City College, Easterwood Boys Club and Jewish Educational Alliance halls of fame.
Outside of sports, Stern, who died in 1993 at 86, is remembered as a polite, humble gentleman. On the fields and courts it was another story.
Said son Barry Stern: “He was a very rugged guy, and he had to be.”
From 1926 to 1938, Jack Portney stepped into the ring 165 times; he emerged victorious in 150 of those fights.
“He is the best southpaw fighter ever to come out of Baltimore,” said Frank Gilbert, a past president of the Baltimore chapter of the Veteran Boxing Association Inc.
After emigrating from Russia as a child, Portney apparently learned how to fight out of necessity. Hawking papers, Portney, The Baltimore Sun once wrote, was constantly defending himself from some of the bigger newspaper boys who sought his corner.
“There’s no other way to say it. If you came from one of those tough, blue-collar, Baltimore neighborhoods, you learned from a young age to put up your hands and defend yourself,” Gilbert said.
At 15, he began to formally pick up boxing and entered the ring for the first time as a 5-foot-5, 125-pound featherweight. And, although he was blessed with a strong chin, Portney made certain to do everything he could not to get hit.
“Back then, they taught defense,” Gilbert said. “He was a decent puncher. He set everything up by throwing jabs. [But], as far as avoiding getting hit he [mastered] feigning, slipping and blocking.”
Portney’s ability to dart around the ring contributed to the fact that despite losing 15 matches, he never hit the canvas. Portney was never knocked out in a fight.
Later in his career, Portney beefed up and fought in the welterweight division. He won the Southern Welterweight Championship and ascended as high as No. 3 in the world in that class. Discrimination against lefty fighters kept him from a shot at the welterweight title.
He retired from boxing at the age of 28, having knocked out somewhere between four and six world champions — depending who you ask. In 1976, he was inducted into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame.
“They always said what a decent, intelligent man he was,” Gilbert said. “The only thing he was upset or bitter about was that he never got a chance to contend for a world title — and I don’t blame him. I would’ve been ticked off myself.”
Read Best of the Rest
This list could have been a book, which makes the topic even more fun and open to a healthy debate. Who are we forgetting? Let us know email@example.com.
David Snyder is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org