Yale’s Brandon Sherrod accepted as member of the prestigious Whiffenpoofs singing group

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Brandon Sherrod has a decision to make on his basketball future. (Photo: YaleBulldogs.com)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH)–Brandon Sherrod, a junior on the Yale basketball team, by way of Bridgeport and Stratford High School, is currently hoping to propel the Bulldogs to a post-season tournament berth.

But now he has something else to occupy his thoughts. This week he was accepted as a member of the renowned singing group, the Yale Whiffenpoofs. How this fits in with basketball remains to be seen. Since the Whiffs are in such demand for bookings all over the globe, their members usually take a year off from college in order to perform.

Sherrod is trying to stay focused on Yale’s four remaining opponents and a chance to catch first-place Harvard, which leads the Bulldogs by one game. If they don’t get the automatic selection into the NCAA’s Big Dance, which goes to the winner of the Ivy regular season, there is a chance Yale will get into the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

But no matter how and when the Yale basketball season ends this year, Sherrod can jump into something unique, something with great tradition, prestige and opportunity.

A diploma from Yale opens many doors in later life. Being a member of the elite Whiffenpoofs means even greater opportunities for that relatively small number. It’s an opportunity hard to turn down.

This puts Yale’s mentor James Jones in a unique position. It is not rare for coaches across the country to lose players because of such things as injuries, academics, and (sad to say) legal issues. But has any coach ever lost a player who has chosen to go around the world singing rather than playing basketball? I doubt it.

One would have to go back to the late 1940′s to find a Yale basketball player who succeeded both in the game and as a musician.

Tony-Lavelli
Tony Lavelli moonlighted as a musician during his days on the Yale basketball team in the 1940′s.

Tony Lavelli, arguably Yale’s greatest shooter, who led the nation one year in total points, and for a time held the college career record for most points scored, was an accomplished accordionist. At Yale he majored in music. On a least one occasion the hook shot artist was allowed to play a few selections during halftime of a home game. After graduating he played some pro basketball with the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, but eventually he and his squeezebox became a night club act.

Who are the Whiffenpoofs?

The Whiffenpoofs are the oldest college a cappella (meaning without any instrumental accompaniment) singing group in the United States, having been founded in 1909. Its best known member was the immortal American composer, Cole Porter, who was also responsible for the words and music to Yale’s famous “Bulldog, Bulldog, Bow, Wow, Wow” song.

Another illustrious Whiff was Prescott Bush, a U.S. Senator and the father of George H. W. Bush, our 41st President, whose name seems to keep coming up in our SportzEdge articles.

The famous “Whiffenpoof Song” always marks the conclusion of the group’s concerts. It contains lines that are known just about everywhere. They are:

To the tables down at Mory’s

To the place where Louie dwells

And…

We are poor little lambs who have lost our way

Baa, baa, baa.

The song has been recorded by such varied notables as Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, and Elvis Presley, as well as the Whiffenpoofs themselves.

They’ve performed for presidents, royalty, high society, fellow students and the general public. How could Sherrod even think of turning down an opportunity for this kind of exposure? It would be stunning if he passes it by. If he becomes a Whiff, then Yale’s basketball loss would be the Whiffenpoofs’ and Sherrod’s gain.

The Whiffenpoofs of 2013 on tour in Houston, Texas, about to perform for the World Presidents’ Organization and President George W. Bush ’68, whose grandfather Prescott Bush was a Whiffenpoof of 1917. (Photo courtesy: Whippenpoofs.com)
The Whiffenpoofs of 2013 on tour in Houston, Texas, about to perform for the World Presidents’ Organization and President George W. Bush ’68, whose grandfather Prescott Bush was a Whiffenpoof of 1917. (Photo courtesy: Whippenpoofs.com)

If that happens, will he return to Yale and play basketball again in 2015-2016?

Part of that answer would come from Brandon himself. The other part is up to the NCAA, the Ivy League and Yale. They all have eligibility rules which would need to be examined.

There is also the question of what kind of playing shape would he be in after a year away from the game. Would he be able to work out while on concert tours?

What about now?

Right now, Sherrod appears to be somewhat shocked by it all. He told the Yale Daily News, “Not many people get this chance [to join the Whiffenpoofs]. I’m nervous for a new chapter in my life, but excited at the same time.”

Singing is not new for Sherrod, nor is music itself. He was vocalizing long before he was shooting baskets. As a youth in Bridgeport, he practically grew up as a member of a church choir and was a soloist in a children’s chorus at the age of nine. Meanwhile, he was learning to play the piano, drums and saxophone.

Here comes basketball

He didn’t start to play basketball until he was an excessively overweight ninth grader, when he tipped the scales at an overwhelming 315 pounds. By his senior year he was down to 235 pounds distributed over a 6′-6″ frame, and was playing great basketball for Stratford High School. Though still living in Bridgeport, he attended schools in Stratford under a special program for urban students called Open Choice.

As an outstanding student, he earned the nickname of The Scholar. But he was also a distinct success at Stratford High School on the basketball court as well as in the classroom. His teams went 19-6 in 2008, 22-1 in 2009, and a perfect 24-0 in 2010.

In 2008, the Red Devils were the CIAC Class M winners. Then in 2010, after moving up to Class L, they won another championship. Brandon averaged 15.4 points per game and was named the Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year.

His coach at Stratford was Paul Dudzinski, who described Sherrod as a “renaissance man.” He gave him another nickname, “The Ambassador.” That was in recognition of the good image he gave the school through his athletic skills, musical performances, and acting ability in school plays.

After Stratford High School he attended Choate-Rosemary Hall in Wallingford as a post-graduate student, in order to improve his preparation for college. Then he entered Yale.

His ambitions

Singing and basketball are not his only interests. Although he wants to play pro basketball, his number one goal is to become mayor of Bridgeport, his home town. That’s why he picked up yet another nickname, “The Mayor.”

“We’ve had a pretty bad history of mayors,” he told the Connecticut Post a few months ago. “I still think a lot of change could come to Bridgeport. And Bridgeport has a lot of potential. We’re right on the water, we have access to New York, there are a lot of highways, a lot of land, and a lot of jobs can be created through that. The downtown area needs to be revamped.”

One of his close friends from Bridgeport is Dominique Langston, a high school hoop opponent who went to Kolbe Cathedral, where he twice received all-state honors. Langston, who played freshman basketball at Quinnipiac then transferred to Southern Connecticut, described Sherrod as being “passionate about making a difference.”

The situation today

There are a lot of unknowns now in Brandon Sherrod’s future. Answers will come soon enough to questions such as these:

1) Will he get a chance to play post season basketball in March in either the NCAA or NIT tournaments?

2) Will he take a year off from Yale to go on a concert tour singing with the Whiffenpoofs?

3) Will he stick to basketball and try to play professionally on some level for a while?

4) Will he become the Mayor of Bridgeport?

Whatever path Brandon Sherrod, The Ambassador, The Scholar, or The Mayor, chooses, he is bound to succeed.

Stay tuned. The story of Brandon Sherrod has just begun.

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