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Speakers set for 13th annual Top Drawer 24 celebration
Warwick Valley Schools AD Greg Sirico, Mountain Climber Doug Duncan & former Top Drawer members Erin & Mia Strollo will address honorees
WATKINS GLEN, May 2, 2018 -- Preparations are under way for the 13th annual Top Drawer 24 celebration at the Watkins Glen State Park Pavilion on Monday, June 4.
Among those preparations has been confirmation of the appearance of a quartet of guest speakers: Warwick Valley School District Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Gregory Sirico, Mountain Climber Doug Duncan and former Top Drawer honorees Erin and Mia Strollo.
Those speakers can talk from experience to this year's honorees -- the Top Drawer class of 2018 -- about life's challenges and rewards.
Said Top Drawer 24 Director Craig Cheplick:
"Doug Duncan shows traits of perseverance, toughness and courage that are special. And the Strollo sisters continue the tradition of former Top Drawer 24 members who have been very successful student-athletes at the college level."
That honoree is Ben Cardamone, who Cheplick said "represents this award perfectly with a career featuring success, longevity and integrity spanning three decades."
Cardamone began coaching Cross Country and Track & Field in the Elmira City School District in 1985. A teacher at Ernie Davis Academy, he has taken individuals and teams to both state and national races -- including Abbey Wheeler, a Top Drawer 24 honoree in 2016 and pictured at right with Coach Cardamone. She was an All-American in both Cross Country and Track, and earned a full athletic scholarship at Providence College.
Cardamone served for years as an assistant coach on hugely successful Elmira Cross Country and Track & Field teams, and as head coach has rung up multiple Southern Tier Athletic Conference, STAC West divisional and Section IV titles. His girls Cross Country teams won sectional crowns each year from 2002 to 2006, and the boys cross country team was a titleist in 2005. He is currently head coach of Elmira's boys and girls Cross Country teams, its Indoor Track team and the girls Spring Track squad.
Cardamone has been the STAC and Section IV track coordinator since 2003 and continues in that role.
The Top Drawer team, chosen annually by committee and to be announced later this month, is composed of outstanding high school students who come from districts primarily in Schuyler and Chemung counties. The selection process is done in stages, and starts with the beginning of each school year as committee members study prospective honorees. Now, with a month until the celebration, that process -- with healthy debate, and with an eye toward not only athletic and academic achievement, but in consideration too of personality and community involvement -- is nearly complete.
This year the slate of school districts represented includes original participants Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour along with Trumansburg, Spencer-Van Etten, Horseheads, Elmira Heights Edison, Elmira Notre Dame, Elmira City Schools, South Seneca, and Twin Tiers Christian Academy.
Leading the June 4 ceremony will be WENY-TV news anchor Renata Stiehl (pictured at right), serving for the fourth year as the program's emcee.
The evening will begin at about 5 p.m. with a social gathering -- featuring various finger foods -- and there will be a group picture of the 24 honorees snapped by parents and by a photographer from this website for publication here. Awards sponsored by E.C. Cooper will also be presented to The Odessa File Athletes of the Year from the Watkins Glen and Odessa-Montour high schools. Another honoree will be the recipient of the Susan B. Haeffner Award sponsored by The Odessa File and given annually to a high school student who embodies sportsmanship on the playing field and in life.
After the awards are presented and the pictures taken, the speeches will begin. The lineup of speakers:
Gregory Sirico, Athletic Director and Head Football Coach,
Coach Sirico is a member of the New York/ New Jersey High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame (for 12 years of service enhancing high school football in those states), the SUNY Cortland C-Club Athletic Hall of Fame, and the Warwick High School Hall of Fame.
Born April 7, 1967 to Carol and Gregory Sirico, he is the oldest of six children. Following graduation from Warwick High School, he attended Cortland State, earning a degree in Mathematics and Physical Education while playing football under the guidance of Coaches Craig Cheplick, Dennis Kaiser and Dave Murray. During those four years the Red Dragons compiled a record of 34-6 and made three consecutive NCAA appearances, including a run at the National Title in 1988. (Cortland State finished with a perfect 10-0 regular-season record, and an 11-1 record overall.) Sirico served as football captain and graduated as an All ECAC Receiver with five school records.
He returned to his alma mater, Warwick, as a teacher and coach in 1993. He has served as the school's director of health, physical education and athletics since 2007, and has been the head football coach from both 1996-2005, and 2013-present.
Sirico resides in Warwick, New York with his wife, Lori Sirico, and three children -- Gregory (17), Dominic (14) and Julia (14).
Doug Duncan, Mountain Climber & Founder of Peaks for Pets
Doug Duncan, 50, has a long history of motorcycle and motocross racing, and extensive experience in climbing mountains in the Adirondack range.
Duncan, of Elmira, was operating street and ice-racing motorcycles by the time he was 16, graduated to large street racers by 21, and won his first Motorcycle Road Race at 25 -- after sustaining a back injury a couple of years earlier playing hockey.
More victories came as the years progressed, as did another injury -- a compound fracture of a wrist that temporarily ended his Road Racing. He entered motocross racing after that, tried his hand again at Road Racing, then retired from racing at 32.
He later took up long-distance bicycle riding, for example riding annually on a 94-mile excursion to Sodus Point, NY.
Then, at age 41, he discovered hiking, which became a passion.
He tackled the Adirondack Winter 46 -- climbing the 46 peaks of the Adirondacks in a single winter season. Says one website: "Only those who are in excellent physical condition properly equipped and skilled in winter techniques should attempt this."
At the age of 47, he hiked the Catskills extensively, and at 48 and 49 biked "to an extreme."
At age 50, he completed his 10th annual Sodus Point bicycle ride, completed his second round of the Winter Adirondack 46, became the fifth person to complete the NEU8 (Northeast Ultra) Summer climbs (hikes on eight challenging paths, trails and ranges), and, with hiking partner Jim Wallace of Mountain Venture Guides, completed the Cranberry 50 (a 50-mile trail around Cranberry Lake that includes mountains, ponds, rivers and other wilderness features) in under 24 hours -- something never done before.
Meanwhile, he and Wallace worked pets into the equation by forming Peaks for Pets -- raising money for the Chemung County SPCA by encouraging pledges tied to their achievements on the hiking and climbing trails.
Former Top Drawer honorees Erin & Mia Strollo
Sisters Erin and Mia Strollo -- both student athletes at Nazareth College -- were members of the Top Drawer 24 while students at Horseheads High school, Erin in 2014 and Mia in 2016.
Erin (pictured top right) has played soccer at Nazareth for four years, including as captain. She has been a defensive mainstay for the Golden Flyers, earning Empire 8 Conference all-star honors and All-East Region honors from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
While in high school, she was a standout in soccer, basketball and lacrosse, helping the soccer and basketball teams to three league titles each and the basketball team to four straight Section IV titles.
She was named Horseheads High's Female Athlete of the Year in 2014.
Mia (pictured bottom right), a nursing major, played soccer at Nazareth for the second straight year this year after a rookie season that saw her play in 19 games. While in high school, she played five seasons of varsity soccer, and also excelled in basketball and lacrosse.
Like her sister, she was named Horseheads' Athlete of the Year, the award coming in 2016. Her soccer honors included all-state status, team MVP and first-team Southern Tier Athletic Conference all-star.
After the speeches, each of the evening's 24 honorees will be introduced, with their achievements and future plans outlined. Each will be presented a Top Drawer 24 medallion, and plans call for presentation of Certificates of Achievement from the offices of Congressman Tom Reed, State Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano.
Ralph Diliberto, a teaching assistant and volunteer strength trainer in the Watkins Glen School District, will present the invocation and benediction.
The honorees will be encouraged to invite as many people as they wish: friends and family who can share in the celebration. The event is also open to the public. There is no charge.
Photos in text: From the top: Lifetime Achievement Award winner Ben Cardamone with former Elmira standout runner Abbey Wheeler; WENY-TV anchor Renata Stiehl; keynote speaker Gregory Sirico; speaker Doug Duncan, and former Top Drawer honorees and speakers Erin and Mia Strollo.
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