SOURCE: National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)

INDIANAPOLIS, IN (March 12, 2018) — Marissa Walker, a student-athlete at Waterford (Connecticut) High School, has been selected the 2018 national recipient of the “National High School Spirit of Sport Award,” and Cecelia Egan of Riverside (Rhode Island) St. Mary Academy-Bay View has been selected the 2018 national recipient of the “National High School Heart of the Arts Award” by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).

SPIRIT OF SPORT AWARD

The “National High School Spirit of Sport Award” was created by the NFHS to recognize those individuals who exemplify the ideals of the spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics.

As a youngster at Quaker Hill (Connecticut) Elementary School, Walker was an exceptional athlete with natural talent who appeared to have a very bright future.

That changed forever on February 2, 2009, when the then-nine-year-old Walker was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma and had a massive tumor on her left knee that needed to be removed. To address that, she underwent 10 weeks of chemotherapy followed by “limb salvage” at University Hospital in New Jersey where doctors removed 70 percent of her femur. Despite numerous days in the hospital and an additional 18 weeks of chemotherapy, Walker remained upbeat and certain that she would continue to play the sports that she loved.

While soccer and basketball were no longer participation options for her, pitching a softball was something that she could still do. Impressively, she pitched her Waterford North Little League team to the district championship game less than two years after her diagnosis. 

The expandable prosthetic joint and femur that was designed and placed in Walker’s leg had to be adjusted every two to three months as she grew – a total of 23 times. After each lengthening, weeks of grueling physical therapy followed. The prosthetic piece broke when she was in sixth grade, which necessitated another surgery to replace it. Two years later, that expandable joint broke, which resulted in yet another surgery in which the doctors placed a permanent titanium rod in its place. Despite three more surgeries during her high school career, Walker has continued her determination to return to the field.

Walker was chosen captain of the 2018 Waterford High School softball team. Despite the many surgeries and thousands of hours of physical therapy, she is expected to pitch this spring and to contribute in a very strong program and conference.

Since 2010, Waterford High School and division rival Stonington High School have joined to compete in an annual softball game known as “The Play for a Cure Game” – an event that has grown in attendance and fundraising every year. Walker has been part of that game since its beginning – from throwing out the first pitch in 2010 to being the game’s winning pitcher in 2015.

Academically, Walker has been a high honor student since middle school, earning the Rotary Student of the Year Award in 2013. She was selected to the National Honor Society as a junior, elected to Class Council all four years of high school and is the Key Club secretary. Walker plans to pursue a medical career in pediatric oncology – a career she knows all too well from observing as a patient – and now wants to help others who will deal with the same struggles that she has faced.

According to her uncle Andrew Walker, who also is the Waterford High School head softball coach, “Marissa did not want pity early on and still doesn’t. I’ve witnessed her struggle up close … the tears, the heartache, the disappointment and the frustration. Her inner strength and resilient spirit is what makes her so special … her love of competition … her love for her teammates … and her love of the game. Cancer may have taken away her ability to run like the wind as she did in third grade, but it couldn’t touch her soul, her spirit or her heart. Marissa Walker is a winner even if she never steps on the field of play again because her ‘spirit of sport’ can never be taken away; it is a permanent part of her.”

About the Award

In addition to the selection of Marissa Walker as the national award recipient, the NFHS National High School Spirit of Sport Award Selection Committee chose eight individuals for section awards. Following are the 2018 National High School Spirit of Sport section winners:

Section 1 – Marissa Walker, student-athlete, Waterford (Connecticut) High School

Section 2 – Molly Skaggs, student-athlete, Sandy Hook (Kentucky) Elliott County High School

Section 3 – Mark Russell, football official and president of Huntsville City Council, Huntsville, Alabama

Section 4 – Bryce Ladwig, student-athlete, Plymouth (Wisconsin) High School

Section 5 – Alexander Schellpeper, former student-athlete, Stanton (Nebraska) Community Schools

Section 6 – Austin Denton, student, Albuquerque (New Mexico) La Cueva High School

Section 7 – Luis Fernandez, student-athlete, Indio (California) Shadow Hills High School

Section 8 – Clayton Auzqui, student-athlete, Clearmont (Wyoming) Arvada-Clearmont High School

Nominations for this award were generated through NFHS member state associations and reviewed by the NFHS National High School Spirit of Sport Award Selection Committee composed of state association staff members. While the national winner will be recognized June 29 at the NFHS Summer Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, the section winners will be recognized within their respective states and will receive awards before the end of the current school year.

The National High School Spirit of Sport Award was started in 2008. Including this year, 11 individuals and three teams have been chosen national award recipients.

The previous award recipients follow:

2008 – Tammy Dufford, cheerleading coach, Evergreen (Colorado) High School, and Megan Bomgaars, cheerleader, Evergreen (Colorado) High School

2009 – Dakota Dana, student-athlete, Afton (Wyoming) Star Valley High School

2010 – Tori Clark, student-athlete, Roselle (Illinois) Lake Park High School

2011 – New Kensington (Pennsylvania) Valley High School Softball Team and Umpire Bill Dithrich

2012 – Jacob Goldberg, student-athlete, Fort Lauderdale (Florida) Pine Crest High School

2013 – Magoffin County High School, Salyersville, Kentucky, and Logan County High School, Russellville, Kentucky

2014 – Zach Pickett, student-athlete, Shingle Springs (California) Ponderosa High School

2015 – Grace Cummings, student-athlete, Madison (Connecticut) High School

2016 – Ashley Carson, student-athlete, Ord (Nebraska) High School

2017 – Danny Lilya, student-athlete, Moose Lake (Minnesota) High School

HEART OF THE ARTS AWARD

The National High School Heart of the Arts Award was created by the NFHS to recognize those individuals who exemplify the ideals of the positive heart of the arts that represent the core mission of education-based activities. This is the fifth year that the National High School Heart of the Arts Award has been offered.

At age five, Egan was diagnosed with Friedrich’s ataxia – a degenerative neuromuscular disorder that limits the individual’s mobility. Although confined to a wheelchair, Egan hasn’t let that prevent her from pursuing participation in theatre.

A freshman at St. Mary Academy-Bay View in Riverside, Rhode Island, Egan first joined The Bay View Players as a sixth-grader. Since that time, she has performed in countless theatrical productions. In many ways, she integrates herself into the cast without calling attention to her need for assisted mobility. Adding to her seamless integration into all aspects of the productions is the tremendous vision exhibited by director Christine Kavanaugh to incorporate her needs on stage.

While at first Egan’s chair seems like an extension of a character she’s playing, she often abandons it in favor of propping herself upon a variety of set pieces, such as a piano, a sleigh or a collection of trunks. To accomplish that, she is assisted by fellow castmates and a voluntary alumna aide. It is physically intensive work, but the focus is never on the equipment. In fact, only when the chair resurfaces later in a performance does the audience begin to appreciate the monumental coordination it takes for Egan to make costume changes, entrances and exits alongside fellow cast members. Egan’s smile, combined with creative choreography, helps to effortlessly integrate her wheelchair into the productions.

A dedicated student, Egan, carries a typical freshman academic load. Although she sometimes travels out of the state for medical appointments, Egan maintains good grades in the classroom.

Egan’s older sister, Emma, preceded her as a member of The Bay View Players. As such, Cecelia knew going in that committing to the program would require more from her than most. For example, even a routine task like completing the rehearsal sign-in sheet requires assistance from her peers.

A few years ago, Egan made the decision to stop working with a provided aide at school. In a self-initiated transition to greater independence, she turned instead to fellow members of The Bay View Players to ask for only the specific help she needed – a choice that both exposed her vulnerabilities and expanded her trusted support circle. A recent St. Mary Academy-Bay View graduate, Michaela Ferreira, stepped in to assist by attending all of Egan’s rehearsals and helping accommodate her needs and stage transitions.

In addition, fellow students attend to her physical needs, help her with hair and make-up, and do whatever is needed to help her feel included and fully involved. In those ways, Egan has been an advocate for expanding artistic and interpersonal access to the performing arts for students with physical disabilities.

Anticipating Egan’s needs has also benefited The Bay View Players, as they are challenged to think beyond personal preparation, and to prioritize cast goals. In that manner, Egan’s personal triumphs are shared by all who were part of her journey to the stage.

Egan’s impact on The Bay View Players ensemble and on loyal audiences has been felt by all. Through her personal courage, she has proven that the stage welcomes anyone with the determination and openness to showcase a love of performing despite physical dependence upon others. Egan’s not camouflaged on stage – she’s showcased in a manner that celebrates her daily victories over her challenges. Her story is an inspiration to those who already know her, as well as to those who have yet to see her in action. Most impressively, she has literally put her “wheels in motion” to make the performing arts more easily accessed and enjoyed by all. 

About the Award

In addition to the selection of Cecelia Egan as the national award recipient, the NFHS National High School Heart of the Arts Award Selection Committee chose eight individuals for section awards. Following are the 2018 National High School Heart of the Arts section winners:

Section 1 – Cecelia Egan, student, Riverside (Rhode Island) St. Mary Academy-Bay View

Section 2 – Joshua St. Hill, student, Charlottesville (Virginia) Monticello High School

Section 3 – LaFrancis Davis, director of bands, Montgomery (Alabama) George Washington Carver High School

Section 4 – Kevin Ferry, teacher, Monmouth (Illinois) Monmouth-Roseville High School

Section 5 – Georgina Simon, former student, St. Cloud (Minnesota) Technical High School

Section 6 – The Seguin High School Marching Band, Seguin (Texas) High School

Section 7 – Kenzie Hutchings, student, Richfield (Utah) High School

Section 8 – Emma Dobesh, student, Gresham (Oregon) Centennial High School

 

Nominations for this award were generated through NFHS member state associations and reviewed by the NFHS National High School Heart of the Arts Award Selection Committee composed of state association staff members. While the national winner will be recognized June 29 at the NFHS Summer Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, the section winners will be recognized within their respective states and will receive awards before the end of the current school year.

The National High School Heart of the Arts Award was started in 2014. Including this year, five individuals and one band have been chosen national award recipients.

The previous award recipients follow:

2014 – Leia Schwartz, student-athlete/performing arts student, Miami (Florida) Coral Reef High School

2015 – Ethan Gray, performing arts student, Chicago (Illinois) St. Rita of Cascia High School

2016 – Midland City (Alabama) Dale County High School Marching Band and Band Director Sherri Miller

2017 – Josephine Ross, student, St. Paul (Minnesota) Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School

About the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)

The NFHS, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, is the national leadership organization for high school sports and performing arts activities. Since 1920, the NFHS has led the development of education-based interscholastic sports and performing arts activities that help students succeed in their lives. The NFHS sets direction for the future by building awareness and support, improving the participation experience, establishing consistent standards and rules for competition, and helping those who oversee high school sports and activities. The NFHS writes playing rules for 17 sports for boys and girls at the high school level. Through its 50 member state associations and the District of Columbia, the NFHS reaches more than 19,000 high schools and 11 million participants in high school activity programs, including more than 7.9 million in high school sports. As the recognized national authority on interscholastic activity programs, the NFHS conducts national meetings; sanctions interstate events; offers online publications and services for high school coaches and officials; sponsors professional organizations for high school coaches, officials, speech and debate coaches, and music adjudicators; serves as the national source for interscholastic coach training; and serves as a national information resource of interscholastic athletics and activities. For more information, visit the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org.