The Top Drawer 24 pose at Thursday's gathering. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Top Drawer 24 honored
Speeches, awards mark 8th annual gathering
WATKINS GLEN, June 7 -- For the eighth consecutive year, two-dozen outstanding student-athlete-citizens from area high schools were honored Thursday night as members of the Top Drawer 24.
They were presented medallions and certificates during a celebration at the Watkins Glen State Park Pavilion attended by more than 170 people -- an excellent turnout in poor weather.
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 and Spencer-Van Etten high schools -- each of which has student population within Schuyler County. Most of the honorees came from WGHS since it has the largest student population within the county.
As it is every year, the evening was highlighted by speeches -- this time from Pittsburgh Steelers scout Mark Gorscak, WENY-TV sportscaster Andy Malnoske, former two-time Top Drawer honoree Hilary Swartwood, and Glenda Gephart Phoenix, Administrator and Communications Director at the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen.
Also presented: the annual Odessa File Athlete of the Year Awards, sponsored by the E.C. Cooper insurance firm. The awards -- as they did last year, too -- went to Matt Gill (WGHS) and Morgan Shutter (O-M). Both young men are 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 -- presented each year to a Schuyler County student who exhibits sportsmanship not only on the playing field, but in the game of life -- 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 and Nicole Colunio.
This year's honoree is Felicia Johnson, an Odessa-Montour senior well known for her kind and caring attitude toward teachers, administrators and fellow students alike. She was a member of the school's varsity volleyball team, and her popularity carried her to the honor of Homecoming Queen this past fall. She was introduced at the ceremony by her school's principal, Chris Wood.
Appreciation awards were also given to three people who have provided support to the Top Drawer effort for years: longtime program emcee and WGHS Principal Dave Warren, Mike Stamp of the E.C. Cooper insurance firm, and Marie Fitzsimmons, who has been a Top Drawer committee member from the program's inception.
After the speeches, each of the Top Drawer honorees was called forward one-by-one by Brian O'Donnell, whose name adorns the Top Drawer 24 subtitle: The Brian J. O'Donnell Schuyler County Scholar-Athlete-Citizen Team. Each honoree received a medallion, along with certificates of achievement from the offices of Congressman Tom Reed, Senator Tom O'Mara and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano. O'Mara and Palmesano were both present, along with Alison Hunt, a representative from Reed's office.
Each of the three issued brief remarks, with O'Mara assuring the honorees they represent the leadership of the future "in this community and New York State and the United States of America."
Palmesano said that "it's raining outside, but the sun is shining in here because you earned it. You are the future leaders, but you are already leaders" who will "make a difference wherever you go."
Added Hunt: "You are certain to have an impact on this community."
The subsequent, longer speeches were also aimed at the honorees, urging each of them to always work hard in pursuit of their goals. Said Malnoske: "Never give up. Always fight for the dream."
Swartwood discussed character and how sports helps build it. "Be true to yourselves," she said, "and what you believe in."
Gephart Phoenix told the honorees that very likely their biggest fans are the folks in the stands who follow high school sports for the sheer enjoyment of watching young people develop their skills and succeed in competition. "Thank them," she said, "for their support and encouragement."
Gorscak said that every opportunity, every new job, should be seen "as the big time ... You have to make every dark spot bright in your life. It's an old cliche, but true: Inch by inch, life is a cinch."
By moving forward inch by inch, he said, the distance gained soon becomes a foot, and then a yard, and then a mile, "and you're on your way."
He also talked about "ripples of life. What you do every day is going to affect you and other people. Ripples of life are everywhere. What kind of ripples are you going to create?
"Do something well and give back to people," he said. "That's what I try to do.
"Give back. Create ripples."
Photos in text:
Top: O-M honoree Danielle MacDougall receives her medal and certificates from WGHS Principal Dave Warren.
Second: Odessa File Athletes of the Year Matt Gill (left, of WGHS) and Morgan Shutter (Odessa-Montour) pose with Mike Stamp, whose E.C. Cooper insurance agency sponsors both awards.
Third: Craig Cheplick, left, presents Dave Warren with a shadow box in appreciation of Dave's long service to the Top Drawer 24 program. (Photo by Don Romeo)
Fourth: Speaker Andy Malnoske, WENY-TV sportscaster.
Fifth: Keynote speaker Mark Gorscak, a Pittsburgh Steelers scout.
Below: WGHS honoree Sarah Wickham after receiving her medallion and certificates.
The selectees on the Top Drawer 24 team are as follows, by school and grade:
Kennard -- swimming, bowling, track -- 2nd year on the Top
-- cross country, indoor track, track -- 2nd year on the Top Drawer
Brittany VanAmburg -- soccer, basketball, track
-- 2nd year on the Top Drawer team
Dana Roberts -- soccer, cheerleading, track -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Cal Randle -- cross country, indoor track, track -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
Mitchell Swartwood -- soccer, basketball, baseball
-- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
-- soccer, basketball, softball -- 1st year
on the Top Drawer team
Taylor Rider -- soccer, basketball, softball -- 1st year on the Top Drawer team
For thumbnail sketches of the honorees, click here.
More photos from the Top Drawer 24 party
WGHS honoree Devon Shaw models keynote speaker Mark Gorscak's two Super Bowl rings that Gorscak has earned as a scout for the Pittsburgh Steelers -- in 2005 and 2008.
Left: Brian O'Donnell. Right: State Senator Tom O'Mara.
Honorees Katrina Swarthout (WGHS) and Mitchell Swartwood (Trumansburg) receive congratulations from Dave Warren. (Both photos by Don Romeo)
Left: Trumansburg honoree Cal Randle. Right: S-VE elementary principal Kai D'Alleva.
Glenda Gephart Phoenix delivers one of the evening's speeches.
WGHS honorees Samantha Gill (left) and Mikaela Suddaby receive their medals and certificates from Warren. (Both photos by Don Romeo)
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano addresses the gathering.
Left: Bradford's Hillary Bonning receives her medal and certificates. (Photo by Don Romeo) / Right: WGHS honoree Ryan Rondinaro.
From left: WGHS
honorees (and soccer teammates)
O-M Principal Chris Wood presents the Susan B. Haeffner
Left: O-M honoree Dana Roberts. Right: WGHS honoree Sarah Hazlitt receives her medal and certificates from Dave Warren. (Photo on right by Don Romeo)
Honoree Brittany VanAmburg, an O-M senior. (Photo by Don Romeo)
O-M seniors Lee Sidle and Sydney Eberhardt receive their
medallions and certificates from
Left: O-M honoree Morgan Stermer. Right: Speaker Hilary Swartwood, a former two-time member of the Top Drawer 24 and now a college student in Buffalo.
Left: S-VE's Taylor Rider. Right: Sarah Wickham (WGHS) is congratulated by Dave Warren. (Photo on right by Don Romeo)
Chelsea Kennard (WGHS) and Tyler Sutherland (Trumansburg) receive their medallion and certificates. (Both photos by Don Romeo)
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Odessa, New York 14869