The Top Drawer 24 pose at Monday's celebration. With them, near the center, is former Watkins Glen School Board President Brian J. O'Donnell. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Top Drawer 24 honored
Speeches, awards mark 10th annual gathering
WATKINS GLEN, June 9 -- Two-dozen area high school students were honored Monday night as members of the Top Drawer 24 team of outstanding student-athlete-citizens. It was the 10th annual celebration of the region's best and brightest -- potentially its future leaders.
Each was presented a medallion along with certificates of achievement from elected representatives during a two-and-a-half-hour celebration at the Watkins Glen State Park Pavilion attended by a capacity crowd of honorees, family, friends and coaches.
The group was selected by a committee based on a combination of academic, athletic, and personal achievements. The 24 attend the Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Trumansburg, Bradford, Spencer-Van Etten, Elmira Notre Dame, Elmira, Horseheads and Edison high schools, along with Elmira Christian Academy.
As it is every year, the evening was highlighted by speeches -- this time by former Top Drawer honorees Katelyn Warren (a graduate of Edison High School) and Heidi Depue (a graduate of Twin Tiers Christian Academy); by Federal Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl, and by National Football League Umpire Bill Schuster. Remarks were also issued by emcee Renata Stiehl, news anchor at WENY-TV; by Andy Malnoske, former WENY sports editor now working at a TV station in Syracuse; and by Craig Cheplick, co-founder of the Top Drawer 24 program.
Also on hand were representatives from the offices of Congressman Tom Reed and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano: Alison Hunt and Sperry Navone, respectively, each of whom brought certificates of achievement from their bosses. Certificates were also presented to the honorees from the office of State Senator Tom O'Mara.
The evening also saw awards presented by Mike Stamp, president of E.C. Cooper Insurance, to The Odessa File Athletes of the Year in the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour High Schools -- Keith Rekczis and Hailie Searles, respectively. Each is an All-Star athlete in three sports -- Rekczis in football, basketball and golf, and Searles in soccer, basketball and track. Both are also members of the Top Drawer 24 team.
And as in recent years, the annual Susan Award was presented as part of the evening's ceremony. The award -- given each year to a student who exhibits sportsmanship not only on the playing field, but in the game of life, often while overcoming adversity -- is named after Odessa File editor-publisher Charlie Haeffner's late wife, Susan Bauman Haeffner. Past winners have included Sally Wilcox, Courtney Warren, Sophie Peters, Ian Remmers, John Blaha, Devon Shaw, Sam Richardson, Ashley Tieppo, April Ruda, Nicole Colunio, Felicia Johnson, Megan O'Dell and Joe Collins.
This year's honoree is Lucy Craig, a Watkins Glen High School senior who was a member this year of the school's varsity swim team and an All-Star bowler who qualified for the State Bowling Tournament in Syracuse. She is also a Girl Scout working toward the organization's highest honor, the Gold Award, and a winner in a recent regional HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) contest that earned her a trip to Anaheim for the national competition. Lucy, also a member of this year's Top Drawer 24, hopes to become a pediatric surgeon.
Appreciation awards were also given to three people who have provided support to the Top Drawer effort for years: WGHS teacher Sam Brubaker, WGHS teacher Zack Brown, and the aforementioned TV sportscaster, Andy Malnoske.
Malnoske also presented the inaugural Top Drawer 24 Lifetime Achievement Award to longtime Horseheads volleyball coach Patti Perone, who has amassed a volleyball record at Horseheads (since 1988) and Briarcliff High Schools of 596-101. She has posted 27 championship seasons, 17 regional championships, four appearances in the state final, and one state title. She also started the Modified Volleyball program at Horseheads and is the founder and director of the Southern Tier Volleyball Club, which is a member of USA Volleyball. In her acceptance speech, she said her "true victories are the young ladies I've helped grow into successful adults."
In the speeches by Judge Schmehl and by Cheplick, the key theme was leadership, and how the group honored as Top Drawer students are, indeed, expected to be among the leaders of our country in the coming years.
Schmehl said three things go into leadership -- ethics, trust and honesty -- and that all three discouragingly seem "to be falling by the wayside. Nobody trusts anyone" in these rapidly changing times. "I implore you future leaders: do not let these traits disappear ... let ethics, trust and honesty guide you. Be true to yourselves, and you can do right and be true to others."
Cheplick said that education in our country is "under fire" because of a lack of true leadership -- a malady also afflicting our government. He said the Top Drawer honorees have a chance to right that ship, but cautioned: "Don't confuse leadership with things it is not," exemplified by those who lie or use their power to manipulate for their own ends. "Yes, you are special; absolutely," he told the honorees, but true leadership "starts with family, starts with character." He urged them to set their sights on leadership roles, but to remember that such roles, to be done properly, "need character. It's a great challenge, but I think you can do it."
Schuster, in his 16th year in the NFL, outlined his climb to that level of football -- through high school officiating, then Division 3, Division 1AA, and Division 1. He said he's the guy "in the middle of the field, getting run over" by large players, "and I've had six knee surgeries because of it." His role: to "deal with the players and control the game. I don't throw a lot of flags." And in a reference to the Deflategate controversy involving the inflation level of footballs, he said that despite handling footballs in the course of a game, "I can't tell you what a half a pound" difference feels like. "Five pounds, sure."
He said among his favorite players have been the now retired Ray Lewis and Brett Favre; that his least favorite coach "is now at Michigan" (Jim Harbaugh, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers); and that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is "a different cat."
Warren described the demands of being a two-sport athlete at Keuka College, where she is an occupational therapy major while also playing volleyball and softball. Success at academics and in two sports, she said, requires "concentration and determination."
Depue, who attended Corning Community College this year, is transferring to Summit University in Clarks Summit, Pa., where she plans to play soccer. She has a career goal of becoming part of an organization "that changes lives for the glory of God" since she has learned through her high school and college years that "my success has grown out of my relationship with Christ."
After the speeches, each of the Top Drawer honorees was called forward one-by-one by Brian O'Donnell to receive their medallion and certificates of achievement. O'Donnell -- a former principal and former Watkins Glen School Board president -- has had a key role in the Top Drawer 24 program since its inception. As in keeping with previous tradition, he also posed with the honorees in their group photo, and took them on a walk away from the pavilion before the speeches to impart some wisdom to them. As is also tradition, what he said remains a mystery to all but the students.
Photos in text:
Top: The three honorees from Horseheads High School. From left: Amanda Schiefen, Benjamin Clark and Mia Strollo.
Second: Federal Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl, one of the evening's speakers. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Third: WGHS senior Lucy Craig receives the Susan Award from Andy Malnoske.
Fourth: WGHS teacher Sam Brubaker, right, receives an appreciation award from Top Drawer 24 co-founder Craig Cheplick. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Fifth: TV sportscaster Andy Malnoske, left, receives an appreciation award from Cheplick.
Sixth: NFL Umpire Bill Schuster, one of the evening's speakers.
Seventh: Speaker Katelyn Warren, a former Top Drawer 24 honoree.
Bottom: Horseheads volleyball coach Patti Perone receives her Lifetime Achievement Award from Andy Malnoske. (Photo by Don Romeo)
The selectees on the Top Drawer 24 team are as follows, by school and grade:
Elmira Notre Dame
Elmira Christian Academy
Elmira City Schools
Thomas A. Edison
For thumbnail sketches of the honorees, click here.
More photos from the Top Drawer 24 party
Left: S-VE's Morgan Brock, right, is congratulated after receiving her award. (Photo by Don Romeo). Right: Honoree Olivia Colón of Trumanburg.
Left: Honoree Amanda Chercok (WG) gets a congratulatory hug from Ralph Diliberto, who presented the evening's invocation and benediction. Right: Elmira's Jordynn Kurcoba is congratulated by NFL Umpire Bill Schuster, one of the speakers.
Honorees McKenzie Slaven (left) of Edison, and Sierra Barr of Elmira.
Left: O-M's Callie Stillman is congratulated after receiving her medallion and certificates of achievement. (Photo by Don Romeo) Right: Watkins' Glen honoree Madison Gates.
Bonning of Bradford is congratulated.
(Photo by Don Romeo)
Left: O-M honoree Charles Sidle (Photo by Don Romeo) Right: Emcee Renata Stiehl hugs longtime WENY-TV co-worker Andy Malnoske.
The evening's main speakers, Federal Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl, left, and NFL Umpire Bill Schuster flank Odessa File Athletes of the Year Keith Rekczis of Watkins Glen High School and Hailie Searles of Odessa-Montour. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Heidi Depue, a former Top Drawer honoree.
Left: Spencer-Van Etten honoree Megan Holman. Right: Notre Dame honoree Allegra Dawes arrives in the rain, which soon stopped.
Left: Watkins Glen honoree Ian Chedzoy receives his awards. Right: Honoree Emily Vincent of Elmira Christian Academy.
Edison honoree Josh Cosgrove receives congratulations
and his awards from Zack Brown,
Watkins Glen honoree Brandon Gould receives congratulations
from speaker Bill Schuster
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869