In Search of George Santos’ Illustrious College Volleyball Career

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NEW YORK — You’d think such a decorated former student athlete would be…recalled. University of Michigan undergraduates are still proud of Tom Brady, after all; even the youngest Tar Heel can brag about Michael Jordan.

But when I asked two young women who had come to watch the Baruch College men’s volleyball team play at St. Joseph’s College Tuesday night what they thought of local college volleyball legend George Santos, they looked at me blankly. Fair enough; perhaps Santos’ fame was before their time.

Yet though. You would think that a school’s administrators would jump at the chance to announce their involvement with the school. But no. At Baruch College Athletic & Recreation Complex on the east side of Manhattan, the first walls one sees as a visitor are featuring floor-to-ceiling heroic 8-foot-tall action photos of swimmers, basketball players and tennis players of yesteryear. And yet: nowhere in this shrine is there any trace of the would-be volleyball star who became a congressman from New York’s 3rd district.

After losing his mother in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, then graduating from New York’s prestigious Horace Mann, but long before he made a name for himself on Wall Street, he survived an assassination attempt and started a charity animal rescue that has saved thousands of dogs and hundreds of cats (and certainly not perform in drag or allegedly steal thousands of dollars by letting a dog die), Rep. George Santos (RN.Y.) said he went to Baruch College in New York on a volleyball scholarship. According to his resume, he graduated summa cum laude from Baruch, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system and NCAA Division III, in 2010.

“We went to play against Harvard, Yale, and we killed them. We were champions in the entire northeast corridor. All the schools that came up against us, they were shaking back then. And it’s funny. I was the smallest and I’m 6-2,” Santos told WABC radio show “Sid & Friends in the Morning” in 2020. “It was a good time. I sacrificed both of my knees and had some really nice knee replacements, knee replacements while playing volleyball. That’s how seriously I took the game. He also mentioned that he chose volleyball over basketball because it was “easier”.

So how could an athletics department just pass up the opportunity to brag that Santos played volleyball here on this same campus, before Forrest went from tragedy to the upper echelons of the American dream and to the lower house of Congress? What, I wondered as I walked through the dusty halls of the ARC under construction on Tuesday night, would become Santos’ sporting legacy, if the school hadn’t even thought to include him in the 2009 and 2010 men’s volleyball team photos hung. the corridor of the ARC in their modest black frames? Were his contributions already lost to history?

The school media office said no one currently involved with the team was available for an interview about Santos’ career, and the athletic director did not return a request for comment. But some of the people who participated in the program during the legendary run described by Santos could surely help keep the memories of his contributions to the sport alive.

“George Santos never played for Baruch men’s volleyball,” Vincent Cruz, 33, who played center from 2010 to 2012, told me.

“There was no one with that name playing on the team,” said Eryk Kowalski, the team’s middle and back tackle between 2008 and 2011.

“I know all the players I’ve coached. Men’s side and women’s side. I communicate with most of them,” said Allison Stack, head coach of the Baruch men’s volleyball team. Bearcats from 2007 to 2013. “This gentleman never tried, never trained with us.

“There was a George Chave, and there was a Santos Rivera,” said Jonathan Tuwaidan, 35, the team’s setter, outside hitter and libero from 2007-2010. “But not from George Santos.”

No George Santos? Was his legendary courageous sacrifice (of his knees) on the altar of Bearcat victory really just…a legend?

“Baruch has no file on George Santos or George Devolder [another name Santos has used] born July 22, 1988, graduated 2010, enrolled at Baruch College,” Suzanne Bronski, director of public relations at Baruch, wrote to me in an email. In other words, she added, “there is no record of this person… frequenting Baruch, and therefore, [was] not a student-athlete on any of Baruch’s sports teams.

To clear up the confusion, I tried to contact Santos directly, but neither he nor any representative responded.

Alumni of Baruch’s volleyball program, however, were more than happy to fill me in, calling Santos’ descriptions of his time at Baruch “blatant lies,” “shameful,” and “obviously false.” For starters, “NCAA Division III does not allow athletic scholarships. Only academic,” said Stack, the coach. (Also, according to Stack, volleyball is not easier than basketball.)

And further: “We beat Harvard, but we never faced Yale,” Kowalski said. Yale, he points out, doesn’t even have a men’s volleyball team.

Cruz, meanwhile, noticed that Santos described his position in the team as “the striker” – which is not a real position in volleyball. And according to Tuwaidan, 6-foot-2 would have been far from the shortest guy on the team in the late 2000s. “At the top elite schools, like the big Division I schools in California, 6 -1, 6-2 – pretty short,” Tuwaidan said. But at Baruch, “6-2 is still quite big. I am 5-11 years old, and I was a of the shortest guys on my team. Baruch’s current Libero, Jonathan Liao, a rambling and dynamic senior, is listed on the team’s official roster at a compact 5-foot-5.

On Tuesday night, Liao jumped and dived alongside five of his brothers on the pitch while 13 other players cheered from the bench. All were seemingly oblivious to the blaze of national attention their legendary volleyball lineage has brought them recently. So did the fifty or so fans scattered around the arena who cheered the team on to a relatively professional loss in straight sets.

But that was the other weird thing, according to Kowalski. Graduating from Baruch and playing volleyball there, “that’s an accomplishment,” Kowalski said. “But it’s not something you would think anyone would lie about, like it was some kind of medal of honor.”

“He doesn’t know enough about the sport to even fabricate a clever lie,” Cruz said.

“Having said that, I’m more than happy to extend an invite to him to play in an alumni game the next time we have one. I think we’d all get a kick out of it.

New York Republican George Santos, accused of fabricating details about his past, began his new job in Congress on January 3. (Video: Michael Cadenhead/The Washington Post)

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