The Top Drawer 24 pose at Monday's celebration. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Top Drawer 24 honored
Speeches, awards mark 12th annual gathering
WATKINS GLEN, June 5 -- Two-dozen area high school students were honored Monday night at the Watkins Glen State Park pavilion as members of the 2017 Top Drawer 24 team of outstanding student-athlete-citizens.
It was the 12th annual celebration of the region's best and brightest student-athletes -- potentially its future leaders.
Each was presented a medallion along with certificates of achievement from elected representatives during the celebration, which was attended by honorees, family, friends and coaches. The certificates were provided by the offices of Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, State Senator Tom O'Mara and Congressman Tom Reed.
The Top Drawer team was selected by a committee based on a combination of academic, athletic, and personal achievements. The 24 attend the Watkins Glen, Odessa-Montour, Trumansburg, Spencer-Van Etten, Elmira Notre Dame, Elmira, Horseheads, Edison and South Seneca high schools, along with Twin Tiers Christian Academy.
As it is every year, the evening was highlighted by speeches -- this time by former Congressman Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania, Elmira attorney Christina Sonsire, and former three-time Top Drawer honoree Matt Gill. Remarks were also issued by emcee Renata Stiehl, news anchor at WENY-TV; and by Craig Cheplick, co-founder of the Top Drawer 24 program.
The evening also saw awards presented by Mike Stamp, president of E.C. Cooper Insurance, to The Odessa File Male and Female Athletes of the Year in the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour High Schools -- Andy Fudala and Gillian Clark at Odessa, and Patrick Hazlitt and Amanda Pike at Watkins Glen.
And as in recent years, the annual Susan Award was presented as part of the evening's ceremony -- this year to Odessa-Montour student-athlete Nakiaha Robinson. The award was presented by O-M Superintendent Chris Wood, who talked Nakiaha into helping him present the award, supposedly to another student, only to present it to Nakiaha instead. Said Wood of the honoree, who has overcome two knee injuries to continue playing sports at O-M: "This student is, above all else, a role model. She sets an example not only for fellow students, but for staff members as well. Students see her hard work and kindness and recognize that behavior as something to aspire to."
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 facing adversity -- is named after Odessa File editor-publisher Charlie Haeffner's late wife, Susan Bauman Haeffner. The award was instituted in 2005, the year after she lost her battle with cancer. 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, Joe Collins, Lucy Craig and Brewster Marshall.
The third annual Lifetime Achievement Award in coaching was presented by Watkins Glen High School's Cyndy Wood to retired WGHS teacher and swim coach Kate LaMoreaux, who continues in retirement to run a summer swim program at the school. Wood, who oversees that pool, said all of the evening's younger honorees should emulate LaMoreaux, who amassed a 231-17-1 record as swim coach -- should "carry on her legacy of achievement."
Honorary Top Drawer 24 awards were also presented to Wood, to longtime Top Drawer volunteer Diane Johnson, and to Ralph Diliberto, who provides an opening speech and closing prayer at each year's celebration.
Photos in text:
Top: Watkins Glen High School's Amanda Pike receives her medallion and certificates from Top Drawer Chairman Craig Cheplick.
Second: Odessa-Montour's Sage Garrison receives her medallion from Cheplick. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Third: O-M's Nakiaha Robinson holds the Susan Award presented to her by O-M Superintendent Chris Wood.
Fourth: Top Drawer 24 emcee Renata Stiehl. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Matt Gill told the honorees that as they proceed to college, they will need to learn time management in order to devote the effort and dedication required to achieve academic and athletic heights.
"Take advantage of those who can help," he added, "and then pass along what you've learned."
And always carry yourself with the knowledge that on the playing field and in life "you will represent yourself, your family, your hometown and so much more."
Christina Sonsire told the honorees that they "are the people we will need to lead our communities, our nation and even the world. Right now we need thoughtful and compassionate leaders as much as we've ever needed them in our history."
She said she had visited with former Congressman Stan Lundine earlier in the day in Jamestown, and that he passed along this advice to the Top Drawer team: "Tell 'em to get out there and get after it."
"Right now" said Sonsire, "more than ever," there are opportunities in life, but "you have got to go after them, take life by the reins ... Let your voice be heard. It doesn't have to be loud or often, but thoughtful and compassionate."
She related the story of a student from her high school days, when she attended Elmira Notre Dame. His name was Joel Stephens, a remarkable athlete proficient in football, basketball, baseball and wrestling. Off the field, he was "soft spoken, and when he spoke, it mattered." Stephens was diagnosed with cancer at 22, and passed away -- but when he was sick, he told a gathering this: "Don't be sad for me. Use this as an inspiration" to embrace life and live it to its fullest.
"Get after it," said Sonsire. "Don't make excuses."
Jim Gerlach said that in his 12 years of government service on the state level and 12 years in Congress, he had picked up some life lessons. Among them:
1. Find your passion. Nobody enjoys going to work every day to a job they don't like, but if you find one you like, it doesn't seem like work "and you become really good at it."
2 Be persistent. Give your all to whatever that passion might be.
3. Be honest -- both with yourself and with others. This builds credibility, and from credibility comes respect.
4. Be civil. He said that if he was subjected to the kind of town hall meetings Congressmen face today, "I'd probably walk out. There is no reason not to be civil. If you can't be, don't say anything."
5. Read, read, read, read, read. Education is a lifelong process.
6. Be a leader -- not just a team leader, or a leader at work, but with your friends, too. If someone had stepped up recently in an incident involving drinking at Penn State, Gerlach said, a young man who died there might not have.
7. Appreciate those who really care about you. Nobody achieves success without someone helping them along the way.
From top: Matt Gill, Christina Sonsire and Jim Gerlach. (Sonsire photo by Don Romeo)
The selectees on the Top Drawer 24 team are as follows, by school and grade:
Elmira Notre Dame
Twin Tiers Christian Academy
Thomas A. Edison
Elmira High School
Horseheads High School
For thumbnail sketches of the honorees, click here.
More photos from the Top Drawer 24 party
Left: Notre Dame's Molly Craig after receiving her medallion. Right: Elmira High School's Daniel Fedor shakes hands with speaker and former Congressman Jim Gerlach.
Left: Elmira honoree Charlie Mahon is congratulated by speaker Jim Gerlach. Right: Odessa-Montour honoree Sage Garrison.
Watkins Glen's Emmie Bond is congratulated by Top Drawer Chairman Craig Cheplick. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Left: Spencer-Van Etten's Anthony Chiusano is congratulated by Craig Cheplick. Right: Spencer-Van Etten honoree Daniel Deppe. (Photo on left by Don Romeo)
Left: Ralph Diliberto, who delivered a message to the honorees: Be Good Samaritans. Right: South Seneca's Emily Lavarnway, left, and Skylar Shaulis.
Left: Odessa-Montour's Nick Sgrecci shakes hands with speaker Ralph Diliberto. Right: Horseheads honoree Jenna Richmond receives her medallion and certificates.
Left: Notre Dame's Mackenzie Maloney shakes hands with Sam Brubaker, a member of the Top Drawer committee. Right: Trumansburg's Samuel Ives.
Left: Watkins Glen honoree Hanley Elliott, left with her sister Mikayla, herself a former Top Drawer honoree. Right: Notre Dame's Pat Brown.
Odessa-Montour honoree Nick Sgrecci is congratulated by Top Drawer Chairman Craig Cheplick. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Left: Elmira honoree Daniel Fedor. Right: Horseheads honorees, from left, Cameron Murray, Jenna Richmond and Tatum Benesh.
Left: Watkins Glen's Jacob Carocci receives his medallion and certificates. Right: Trumansburg's Samuel Ives is congratulated by Top Drawer Chairman Craig Cheplick.
From left: Honorees Mackenzie Maloney of Notre Dame, Darren Smith of Twin Tiers Christian Academy, and Jacob Carocci of Watkins Glen.
Left: Spencer-Van Etten honoree Anthony Chiusano. Right: Horseheads' Cameron Murray is congratulated by speaker Matt Gill.
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