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Howie Landa Court Unveiled at Mercer County CC Amid Friends, Fanfare and Fun
 September 28, 2012

West Windsor, N.J. -- They came from across the country to pay tribute to a coach they continue to respect and cherish 25 years after his retirement from Mercer County Community College in 1987. It was Howie Landa's day on Sept. 15 when the college unveiled his name on the basketball court in the West Windsor campus gym.

As several speakers noted, when future Mercer students ask about the name on the court, they will learn the storied history of Mercer's basketball program under Coach Landa -- when the Vikings went to the national tournament six times and won the national title twice (1973 and 1974).

Landa, a resident of Henderson, Nevada, who attended the event with his daughter and son-in-law, Davida and Beau Mentley, teared up at many points in the emotion-packed ceremony.

"It isn't about Howie Landa. It's about all of you," he told the crowd. "I was only as good as the players who played for me. You are the ones who put my name on this court. I am in 12 Halls of Fame, but this is the greatest honor of all."

Long-time Trentonian sportswriter George O'Gorman served as master of ceremonies for the lively event. "This is a fitting testimony, a legacy for future generations. He was an iconic coach and he put Mercer on the map. He was a coach who coaches came to see."

Many of the approximately 200 guests who attended the ceremony are now coaches themselves - in men's and women's basketball at the college level, high school level, and in youth basketball leagues, as well as in other sports.

Landa Committee Chair Al Leister, who served as MCCC athletics director during much of the Landa era, noted that Landa's standards for excellence are ones the college continues to strive for today. "But excellence costs. So we truly appreciate your support and for showing your respect and love for Howie Landa." The committee continues to accept contributions to reach its goal of $50,000.

President Patricia Donohue noted that the event celebrated what is best about Mercer - coaches, faculty and staff all working together to mentor and guide students to better futures. "We have a deep and lasting commitment to our student athletes,” she said. “We understand the role of athletics in molding young people into responsible, take-charge adults… who know how to manage their priorities, work as a team and pursue their goals with determination.”

According to current Athletics Director John Simone, the MCCC athletics program has never been stronger, with nine intercollegiate teams and 153 participating athletes this year.

Other committee members include Bob DiFalco of the MCCC Board of Trustees, who presented proclamations from the New Jersey Legislature and the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders, and Landa assistants Charles Smith and Bill Panella. Also on the committee are current Basketball Coach Howard Levy and Academic Counselor Fred Weiner.

Three players shared their recollections of the Landa era: Mel Weldon, a First Team All-American and MVP of the 1973 championship team; Deitra Primas-Johnson, who played for the women's team from 1978-1980 and recalled Landa's pivotal role in promoting women's sports back when Title IV was in its infancy; and Rich Freda, another player on the championship team.

Another highlight was the unveiling of two paintings by MCCC Fine Arts Professor Mel Leipzig, Landa's long-time colleague and friend. In an homage to Landa's impact on the next generation of coaches, Leipzig created a large-scale painting depicting three current young MCCC coaches. A second painting that Leipzig presented as a gift to Landa captured a famous photo of Landa himself as a young coach with the current young coaches in the background.

The Landa Tribute Fund continues to accept donations, which can be made online at www.mccc.edu/landa, or by calling the Foundation Office at 609-570-3659. Donations by check may be made payable to the MCCC Foundation and mailed to: MCCC Foundation c/o Finance and Accounting, P.O. Box B, Trenton, NJ 08690. (Those contributing by check should indicate that the funds are for the Landa Tribute.)

Photo Caption: MCCC recently paid tribute to former men’s basketball coach Howie Landa by engraving his name on the basketball court in the West Windsor campus gym.

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