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The Top Drawer 24 pose at Monday's celebration.

Top Drawer 24 honored

Speeches, awards mark 13th annual gathering

WATKINS GLEN, June 5 -- Two-dozen area high school students were honored Monday evening at the Watkins Glen State Park pavilion as members of the 2018 Top Drawer 24 team of outstanding student-athlete-citizens.

It was the 13th annual celebration of the region's best and brightest student-athletes -- and possibly 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 Warwick Valley Central School District Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Greg Sirico; Adirondacks peaks climber and distance bicyclist Doug Duncan; and former Top Drawer honorees Erin Strollo and her sister Mia. 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 -- Curtis Harris and Kennedey Heichel at Odessa, and brothers Aaron and Gabe Planty, along with Hannah Morse, at Watkins Glen.

And the annual Susan Awards for Sportsmanship in Life were presented as part of the evening's ceremony -- this year to Simeon Stearns of Twin Tiers Christian Academy, and to Odessa-Montour senior, valedictorian and role model Hailey Perraut.

Stearns was born with a hole in his heart and has faced life-threatening surgeries since then, and yet has managed to play sports -- coming back recently from such a surgery to compete in basketball. He was introduced by his school's athletic director, Sam Thomas, who gave Simeon a big hug.

Perraut received her award from O-M Superintendent Chris Wood, who had asked her to help Odessa File editor Charlie Haeffner photograph the evening's events. It was only when Wood was describing the honoree during his presentation speech that she realized she was the receipient. (Some of her photos proved very helpful in the presentation of this article.) Said Wood of Perraut: she is "a role model" who "sets an example for her peers and for younger students. She is very mature and highly motivated."

The award is given each year to one or two students who exhibit sportsmanship not only on the playing field, but in the game of life, often while facing adversity. It is named after 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, Brewster Marshall and Nakiaha Robinson.

The fourth annual Lifetime Achievement Award in coaching was presented by Watkins Glen High School teacher Zach Brown to longtime Elmira track and cross country coach Ben Cardamone, who has won division, league and state titles and sent student-athletes to national competitions.

Cardamone, said Brown, is "a coach like no other" who has "taught athletes to be disciplined not only in sports but in life." In an emotional speech, the honoree recounted his career and said he received help and inspiration from coaches when he was growing up, and help from talented assistants during his coaching career. "All of you are getting ready to take the next step in life's journey," he told the Top Drawer 24, and then said "commitment" would be the key to future success. "You've been good in high school, but now you'll have to dig deep down and say, 'I'm gonna be better.'"

Honorary Top Drawer 24 awards were also presented to Twin Tiers Christian Academy Athletic Director Sam Thomas, to annual program emcee Renata Stiehl, and to soccer coach and Top Drawer committee member Zach Sarno.


Photos in text:

Top: Top Drawer 24 Chairman Craig Cheplick and Watkins Glen High School honoree Hannah Morse.

Second: Susan Award winner Simeon Stearns of Twin Tiers Christian Academy receives a hug from award presenter Sam Thomas. (Photo by Hailey Perraut)

Third: Susan Award winner Hailey Perraut of Odessa-Montour High School receives her trophy from O-M Superintendent Chris Wood.

Fourth: Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ben Cardamone of the Elmira school district.


The speeches:

Erin and Mia Strollo, in a tandem speech in which they alternated accounts of their experiences in high school and college, told the honorees that as they proceed to college, "adaptability" will be a key in whether or not they succeed at that next level. Both went from three-sport standouts to a soccer program at Nazareth College in which they needed to prove themselves anew, and learned to do so by adapting to the needs of the team. Said Mia: "Adaptablity allowed me to make a difference." Added Erin: "It allowed me to overcome challenges I faced."

They also pointed to time management as key in balancing academics and athletics. That trait and others learned as student-athletes "can benefit you in many ways in your life," said Mia.


Doug Duncan told of his experiences climbing the Adirondack peaks, racing motorcycles and motocross, and how he learned to listen to "Mother Earth" to help him through challenging times in his physical endeavors.

He said we derive energy from food, water, sleep, other people and Mother Earth-- and that the last is the only one of the five consistently available.

He also discussed "critical mass," a point at which matters both physical and societal break through with force -- such as in the Me Too movement that has brought so many male leaders to account for abusing women.

Duncan said that often it is "cool kids" who start a movement that gains critical mass, and he challenged "each of you to let go of traditional American thinking" and become creative leaders who break norms such as that broken by Me Too. "From here on out, it's up to you."


Top Drawer co-founder Craig Cheplick, in introducing the keynote speaker, told the evening's student honorees that "you're a special group. You've heard that. But what's next? Are you gonna be a good student? Are you gonna be the best teammate you can be?"

He said selfishness is no winning formula: "You don't win when that happens."

He told the 24 Top Drawer honorees that "Now is the time to help others. Are you gonna help the less fortunate? Are you going to stand up to the bully and the abuser?"

Be the best you can be, he said -- now, in college and, "when the time comes, be the best parents you can be."


Greg Sirico, the keynote speaker, is a member of the New York/New Jersey High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, the SUNY Cortland C-Club Athletic Hall of Fame, and the Warwick High School Hall of Fame. He said he is "lucky to be working with young people every day" in his Warwick roles as Athletic Director and football coach.

He discussed "the power of influence," and how each of the honorees, through their hard work and achievements, have attained that power -- which "can affect the behavior, thoughts and acts" of others. It is "the ability to lead."

"I hope you go out and take with you the power of influence," he said, and left them with this assurance:

"I appreciate the great things you're going out to do" in the world of college and in careers beyond that.

Speech photos:

From top: Former Top Drawer 24 honorees Mia (left) and Erin Strollo of Nazareth College; mountain climber and bicyclist Doug Duncan; Top Drawer 24 Chairman Craig Cheplick; and keynote speaker Greg Sirico.


The selectees on the Top Drawer 24 team are as follows, by school and grade:

Watkins Glen

12th Grade:
Isobel Scheffey -- soccer, indoor track, track -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Ryanna LaMoreaux -- soccer and basketball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

11th Grade:
Hannah Morse -- soccer, basketball, tennis-- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Kai Sutterby -- cross country, track -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team


12th Grade:
Jacob Shelley
-- baseball, basketball, soccer -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

South Seneca

12th Grade:
Skylar Shaulis
-- soccer, basketball, track -- 2nd year on the Top Drawer team
John Zajac --golf, basketball, baseball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team


12th Grade:
Curtis Harris
-- soccer, basketball, tennis-- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Billy Tague -- soccer, swimming, tennis -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

11th Grade:
Kennedey Heichel
-- soccer, basketball, track-- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Olivia Grover -- soccer, basketball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

Elmira Notre Dame

12th Grade:
Isabel Milazzo
-- tennis, basketball, softball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

Spencer-Van Etten

12th Grade:
Mackenzie Grube -- soccer, basketball, track -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

Twin Tiers Christian Academy

12th Grade:
Sarah Proper
-- soccer, basketball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Nicholas Noteboom -- soccer, basketball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

Thomas A. Edison

12th Grade:
Olivia Thresher
-- volleyball, tennis -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

11th Grade:
Hunter Farley -- football, tennis -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

Elmira High School

12th Grade:
Alexus Boorse -- soccer, basketball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

11th Grade:
Emily Saltsman
-- volleyball, softball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Zack Middaugh
-- football, basketball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

Horseheads High School

12th Grade:
Allison Richmond -- basketball, softball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Abigail Clark -- soccer, basketball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Nathan VanBrunt -- basketball, lacrosse, golf -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team

11th Grade:
Michael Limoncelli -- baseball, basketball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team



For thumbnail sketches of the honorees, click here.


More photos from the Top Drawer 24 party

The Odessa File Male and Female Athletes of the Year were honored before the evening's speeches. From left: Keynote speaker Greg Sirico; Odessa-Montour Male Athlete of the Year Curtis Harris; Watkins Glen High School Female Athlete of the Year Hannah Morse; O-M Female Athlete of the Year Kennedey Heichel; WGHS Male Co-Athletes of the Year Gabe and Aaron Planty; Athlete of the Year Award sponsor Mike Stamp of E.C. Cooper Insurance; and speaker Doug Duncan.

From left: South Seneca High School Athletic Director, teacher and basketball coach Heather Mott, who introduced speaker Doug Duncan; honoree Olivia Grover of Odessa-Montour; and O-M honoree Kennedey Heichel with her boyfriend, Josh Updyke. (All three photos by Hailey Perraut)

From left: Top Drawer 24 honorees Billy Tague of Odessa-Montour, Mackenzie Grube of Spencer-Van Etten, and Jacob Shelley of Trumansburg.

From left: Watkins Glen High School honorees Isobel Scheffey and Kai Sutterby; and Edison honoree Hunter Farley.

From left: Horseheads High School honoree Alli Richmond; and Top Drawer Chairmn Craig Cheplick with honoree John Zajac of South Seneca.

From left: Honoree Abigail Clark of Horseheads High School; Top Drawer Chairman Craig Cheplick and Horseheads honoree Michael Limoncelli.

Left: Spencer-Van Etten's Mackenzie Grube receives her medallion. Right: Twin Tiers Christian Academy's Sarah Proper.

From left: Emcee Renata Stiehl of WENY-TV; Ralph Diliberto, who offered the Invocation and Benediction; and Zach Brown as he introduced Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ben Cardamone.

Left: Horseheads High School honoree Nathan VanBrunt. Right: Odessa-Montour honoree Kennedey Heichel shakes hands in the awards receiving line with Ralph Diliberto, who offered the Invocation and Benediction.

From left: Notre Dame honoree Isabel Milazzo; Susan Award winner Hailey Perraut, who also served as Odessa File photographer; and Watkins Glen honoree Isobel Scheffey.

From left: Elmira High School's Emily Saltsman; Watkins Glen's Ryanna LaMoreaux; and South Seneca's Skylar Shaulis, the evening's only two-year honoree.

Left: Mike Stamp of the sponsoring E.C. Cooper Insurance agency poses with Watkins Glen High School Athletes of the Year Hannah Morse, Aaron Planty (with plaque) and brother Gabe Planty. Right: Odessa-Montour Top Drawer 24 honoree Curtis Harris.

From left: Twin Tiers Christian Academy honoree Nick Noteboom; Edison honoree Olivia Thresher; and Elmira High School honoree Zack Middaugh.

© The Odessa File 2018
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869