For Brandeis, support from former tennis player Jonathan Cordish '90 and his wife is a 'net' gain
By Emily Evans
When the time came for former Brandeis tennis star Jonathan Cordish ’90 and his wife, Melissa Fishman Cordish ’90, to make a significant gift to their alma mater, choosing the project was about as easy as an overhead smash to an open court.
The couple recently made the lead gift to support the indoor tennis court refurbishment project at the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center (photo below).
“This gift has real meaning to me, and I’m tremendously proud to be able to help deserving students-athletes in this way,” says Jonathan, who was nationally ranked throughout his Brandeis career (photo below left). “You spend a lot of time with your coach and teammates as an athlete, and those relationships have a huge impact on your college years. My wife and I are so grateful for our Brandeis experience, and for me the tennis team was a big part of that.”
Jonathan expects that the gift will not only help the tennis program at Brandeis, but will provide a boost to the University as well. “This facility refurbishment helps the tennis team today and in the future,” he says. “It will help the school recruit better student-athletes, improve its perception and reputation, and gives prominence to Brandeis as a leader in athletics.”
Ben Lamanna, who is in his 11th year as coach of the Brandeis men’s and women’s tennis teams, expects the gift will provide an immediate boost to the program. “Resurfacing our indoor courts will accelerate our player development and help us schedule home matches against other nationally ranked teams,” Lamanna says. “Because Jonathan enjoyed his experience as a student-athlete so much, he cares about the experience of our current players. We are incredibly grateful for the Cordish’s generosity.”
Jonathan began his college career at the University of Pennsylvania, but soon realized he wanted a more intimate athletic and academic experience. He knew Tom Foley, Brandeis’ tennis coach at the time, and believed Brandeis would be a better fit – on the court and off.
Jonathan and Brandeis Athletics Hall of Famer Noel Occomy ’89 led the tennis team during one of its most successful eras. The Judges advanced to the NCAA Division III National Team Championships in 1989 (they haven’t been back since), and Noel won the national singles title in 1988. Both participated in the individual national championships on multiple occasions.
Jonathan and Melissa flourished in the classroom as well. Melissa graduated cum laude with a degree in political science. An English and American literature major, Jonathan graduated summa cum laude, and credits the critical thinking and analytical abilities he learned at Brandeis with supporting him throughout his careers in both creative and business-oriented fields.
“My Brandeis education was wonderful preparation for how to think, argue, write and persuade effectively,” he says.
Jonathan now serves as the director of finance of The Cordish Companies, a fourth-generation family business based in Baltimore that focuses on real estate development, gaming and lodging, entertainment management, and private equity holdings. He works closely with his father, a former collegiate lacrosse standout, and his two brothers, both of whom were also college tennis players.
“Playing a sport fosters real discipline,” Jonathan explains. “It’s important to be part of something that’s bigger than yourself – it keeps you humble. Playing tennis was the first step in my path to becoming a mature adult.”
Jonathan is thrilled to be able to use his lifelong passion for tennis to inform his philanthropy. He says that there are countless opportunities for fellow alumni to support Brandeis in ways that align with their own personal interests.
“I think of Brandeis as a big tent. There’s a mind-boggling breadth of research being conducted and progress being made under the tent, so there are an awful lot of ways to get involved,” he says. “Whatever your interests are – academics, athletics, creative arts or something else entirely – it’s possible to support Brandeis in a way that is personally gratifying and rewarding.”