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Speakers set for 14th annual Top Drawer 24 celebration

Pittsburgh Steelers Scout Mark Gorscak will return, as will former honoree Emily Lavarnway; 2 coaches honored for Lifetime Achievement

WATKINS GLEN, April 26, 2019 -- Preparations are under way for the 14th annual Top Drawer 24 celebration at the Watkins Glen State Park Pavilion on Monday, June 3.

Among those preparations has been confirmation of the appearance of two guest speakers: Pittsburgh Steelers Scout Mark Gorscak, who has delivered the keynote at three earlier Top Drawer celebrations; and 2017 honoree Emily Lavarnway.

Both can talk from experience to this year's honorees -- the Top Drawer class of 2019 -- about life's challenges and rewards.

Said Top Drawer 24 Director Craig Cheplick:

"This year's team features the multi-sport student athlete. Many will be continuing their careers as one- or even two-sport student athletes at the Division 1 and Division 2 levels.

"Emily Lavarnway continues the tradition of former members who excel at the college level. The last several years have featured speakers who have been one- or two-sport academic All-Americans.

"Mark Gorscak is a favorite at this event and brings the passion and excellence always associated with the iconic Pittsburgh Steeler organization.

"Both Lifetime Award winners represent great schools and communities and exemplify the standards of the award: longevity, success and integrity."

Those Lifetime Award honorees are Tom Jansen of the Horseheads School District and the late Jack Guinan of the South Seneca School District.

Tom Jansen:

Coach Jansen started his coaching career in 1987 at Horseheads. He eventually became a three-sport coach: cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track. He is a retired Health Teacher from the HCSD and currently is in his 32nd year as a coach for all three sports.

Jansen has in the course of his career coached sectional champions, state qualifiers, and a state champion -- in addition to many other athletes who have gone on to perform at the next level. He has earned a reputation of being a dedicated, caring, and knowledgeable coach within the community.

Over his career, he has had many health complications -- countered by his desire for running and coaching, which he views as medicine for his health. Many individuals would have put their coaching careers on hold if faced with similar health complications, but Jansen, in the words of one school official, "continues to make an everyday difference to our track athletes."

One admirer, when told of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Coach Jansen, said "perseverance" sums up his career. Said another coach, Fred Seither: Coach Jansen is "very, very well respected in the track community in the area." He added that Jansen's former athletes "respect him still to this day."

John E. "Jack" Guinan:

John E. “Jack” Guinan dedicated more than 40 years to the students and athletes at South Seneca Central School before passing away in 2011 at the age of 77.

A graduate of Ithaca College, where he was a standout athlete, Guinan began his teaching career at Interlaken Central School in 1962, and arrived at South Seneca Central School 1969. He taught physical education and health and was a coach in both boys and girls basketball, softball and golf. At the time of his death, he was also the school's Athletic Director.

Guinan won six Section V boys basketball titles with a record of 307-73. He was 113-58 as girls basketball coach. He captured three Section V softball crowns with a record of 153-17. And he coached the golf team to four Lakes Region golf titles with a 32-5 record.

Upon his death, South Seneca Superintendent Janie Nusser said: “I cannot begin to describe the goodness of Jack Guinan ... He was an outstanding coach and teacher. He set an example for young people and held them to high standards, but he did so with kindness and compassion. He was generous with his time and of himself.”


The Top Drawer team, chosen annually by committee and to be announced in late May, 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 little more than 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 3 ceremony will be WENY-TV news anchor Renata Stiehl (pictured at right), serving for the fifth 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. Two other honorees will be the recipients of the Susan B. Haeffner Award sponsored by The Odessa File and given annually to one or two high school students who embody sportsmanship on the playing field and in life.

After the awards are presented and the pictures taken, the speeches will begin. The speakers:


Pittsburgh Steelers Scout Mark Gorscak

Mark Gorscak is starting his 25th year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is an area scout whose focus is mainly in the South, but he has scouted the whole United States in his career. His team has been to four Super Bowls in his career, winning in Super Bowls XL and XLIII.

Gorscak previously spoke three times at Top Drawer celebrations -- in 2011, 2013 and 2016 -- and was a huge hit.

A high school and college coach for 16 years, he saw sideline action first at Perkiomen (Pa.) Prep School, and followed that with coaching assignments at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), Dickinson College (his alma mater), Gulliver Prep (Fla.) High School, and two tenures at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.

In 1987, between stints at Weber State, he became the first general manager of the Pittsburgh Gladiator in its inaugural season of the Arena Football League. Additionally, he has been an athletic administrator at Dickinson College and Weber State.

He graduated with a degree in psychology from Dickinson and received a master’s degree in sports administration from St. Thomas University in Miami, Fla. In 2010, he was inducted into the Mid Mon Valley Hall of Fame.

Gorscak has also served as the Starter for the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine and can be seen on the NFL Network. Also, ESPN the Magazine profiled him in the 2010 NFL Preview magazine as one of the 90 Faces of the NFL.

He is a native of Donora, Pa., and currently resides in Pittsburgh.


Former Top Drawer honoree Emily Lavarnway

Emily Lavarnway, of Ovid, was a member of the 2017 Top Drawer 24 team. A daughter of Tom and Kathy Lavarnway and the youngest of seven children, Emily was a 2017 graduate of South Seneca Central School and currently attends SUNY Geneseo, majoring in both Communication and Sociology, with a minor in Conflict Studies.

Emily has enjoyed participating in a variety of sports beginning with soccer in the 4-Town Program in southern Seneca County and was consistently a three-sport competitor throughout her years at South Seneca. In 8th grade, Emily competed for the first time at the state level for outdoor track and field in the Long Jump. She subsequently returned to state-level competition with her basketball team, the Lady Falcons, winning the championship in 2016 and reaching the Final Four in 2017. She won the state title for small schools in outdoor track and field in the Pentathlon in 2016, and returned for a NYS Federation win in 2017, the best pentathlete in the state. She garnered more than 12 Section V titles.

As a student athlete at SUNY Geneseo, Emily has been an NCAA competitor as a member of the women’s basketball team in 2018, and as a member of the 2018 outdoor track and field team, placing third in the Heptathlon and becoming an All-American. In 2019, she competed in the Pentathlon for NCAA indoor track and field. She has also garnered three SUNYAC titles and holds the SUNY Geneseo record for the Pentathlon.

Emily is well-rounded and grounded, with a large group of supporters to motivate, inspire and encourage her as she seeks her life goals and travels her own path to success.


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 honorees Tom Jansen and Jack Guinan; WENY-TV anchor Renata Stiehl; keynote speaker Mark Gorscak; and speaker Emily Lavarnway.




© The Odessa File 2019
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869