The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Central Pennsylvania Chapter paid tribute to an elite group of high school and college football stars Sunday at their 11th annual scholar-athlete awards banquet.
Seniors from 38 different Central Pennsylvania high schools and three area colleges were honored, not only for outstanding achievement on the football field, but also for success in the classroom and for character shown through their community involvement.
Ten of those young men received $1,000 scholarship awards, including four from Blair County — Micah Dillen (Altoona), Jim Sommer (Bishop Guilfoyle), Brad Nocek (Hollidaysburg) and Johnny Franco (Tyrone). It is a special afternoon for the young men, their coaches and families, but also an important reminder of the student element of the student-athlete.
Guest speaker John Greene, a former Penn State running back and executive director of the Big 33 Scholarship Foundation, made an important point. While many of the scholar athletes in attendance hope to continue their football careers, Greene said, “You are not using your education as a back-up plan. It is your plan.”
The collegiate honorees may give us a glimpse of what lies ahead for those exceptional high school graduates. Jason Ganter earned the foundation’s award for Penn State University, after earning a business degree and spearheading the team’s Lift for Life charity event to benefit the Kidney Cancer Association.
Jason’s older brother, Jonathan, was one of the high school scholar-athletes recognized by the chapter during their inaugural banquet in 1998. Jonathan then became a football captain at Princeton and is now preparing to graduate from law school. Hollidaysburg High School alum Corey Gildea received the scholar-athlete award for Lock Haven University.
It’s easy to go to sporting events and focus on the wins and losses. Communities pride themselves on their local teams and especially their triumphs on the athletic field. But the greatest success young people achieve through competition cannot be measured in records, rankings, trophies or titles. It’s the intangible elements of sport — friendship, teamwork, goal-setting, time management, commitment and courage that are athletics’ richest rewards.
The young men recognized this weekend have enjoyed individual accolades, and sometimes team success on the gridiron. And even those athletes whose squads did not compete for a league or district championship have learned important life lessons on the football field. Those experiences will help shape their future pursuits, including those unrelated to sports.
The foundation lists as a fundamental mission to promote amateur football on all levels. But for many of Sunday’s honorees, their accomplishments on the football field will rank among the least of their achievements in life.
Kellie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears every Tuesday.