Heart, soul and skill for the game

It was a night for cham­pi­ons, the 27th an­nu­al North­east Sports Awards Ban­quet, where star ath­letes and their coaches were called one by one to the po­di­um to be re­cog­nized for their prowess in high school sports.

  Out of uni­form, the boys in ties and the girls in fancy heels waited shyly with hunched shoulders and hands clasped in front of them as their achieve­ments were read aloud. Yet, you knew that each of them, when they un­coiled those muscles, could run with the grace of a gazelle, leap like they had springs in their feet, or crush a base­ball with the swing of a bat.

  Most of the Pub­lic and Cath­ol­ic League ath­letes brave enough to ap­proach the mi­cro­phone Wed­nes­day night thanked the North­east Times and the Frank­ford North­east Rotary Club, spon­sors of the ban­quet, for the hon­ors. Some went on to thank their coaches and fam­il­ies for un­waver­ing guid­ance, and a few thanked God for giv­ing them the tal­ent.

  The key­note speak­er, Dr. John Gi­an­nini, head men’s bas­ket­ball coach at La Salle Uni­versity, told the high school coaches to “nev­er for­get how crit­ic­al you are to your kids. Of­ten, you are one of the first per­sons who be­lieved in them.”

  And for those about to gradu­ate to col­lege ca­reers, he offered this ad­vice on how to man­age the new­found free­dom: Know when to have fun, and when to be ser­i­ous.

  A good edu­ca­tion mat­ters, he said. Over a life­time, “your ath­leti­cism will leave you. What you learn, you’ll al­ways have with you.”

  The ban­quet at Cannstat­ter’s at 9130 Academy Road drew up­wards of 150 people and cel­eb­rated the value of hon­est com­pet­i­tion, good sports­man­ship, the need for ment­ors and mak­ing good grades. When the stu­dents ap­proached the po­di­um for their plaques, many of their par­ents sneaked up, too, with cam­er­as at the ready.

  For the news­pa­per, the night was the pay­off for a three-mem­ber team that had been work­ing since Novem­ber to se­lect the win­ners and pull the pro­gram to­geth­er. And it was a time, too, for Rotary pres­id­ent Mar­garet Kelly to speak with pas­sion and au­thor­ity about that or­gan­iz­a­tion’s ser­vice pro­jects around the globe.

  For a table filled with girls soc­cer play­ers from Frank­lin Towne Charter, who had earli­er that af­ter­noon de­feated Cent­ral High, 2-1, to end that team’s 10-year win streak, it was a time to feel in­vin­cible. They had just cap­tured star­dust in a cup and were to be for­giv­en for their lack of mod­esty in the mo­ment.

  “Put us in the pa­per,” one girl said, and I prom­ised we would.

  You had to cheer, too, for stu­dents like Kev­in Nelms, the male schol­ar-ath­lete of the year, who car­ries a per­fect 4.0 grade point av­er­age at Arch­bish­op Ry­an High School and will head off to Penn State with hopes of be­com­ing an en­gin­eer.

  And who wasn’t ap­plaud­ing Soft­ball Coach of the Year Dave Schafer and an­oth­er award win­ner, pitch­er Erica Ragazzo­ne, both of Saint Hubert High School, who kept their eyes on the ball des­pite know­ing their school was tar­geted for ex­tinc­tion, and then won a last-minute re­prieve.

  Per­haps it was Ur­sula Coyle of Little Flower High School (and Cath­ol­ic League Girls Soc­cer Play­er of the Year), who summed it up best. She said her coach, Markos Pit­taoulis, also an award win­ner, had giv­en his play­ers some ad­vice that took her awhile to be­lieve was true.

  What had he told them?

  “The game is all in the heart.”

Lil­lian Swan­son is ex­ec­ut­ive ed­it­or of the North­east Times. She can be reached at 215-354-3030 or lswan­son@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at lswanson@bsmphilly.com.

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