The National High School Spirit of Sport Award is annually conferred to eight section recipients as well as one national recipient. The recipient must be an individual from a high school that is a member of an NFHS-member athletic or activity association.
As a youngster at Quaker Hill (Connecticut) Elementary School, Marissa 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.
Like most other students at Moose Lake, a school with only 184 students, Danny Lilya plays a variety of sports. Unlike those other students, however, Lilya was born with a broken back, is a paraplegic, and has been confined to a wheelchair his entire life. However, that has not prevented him from participating in the sports he loves. Among those are football, sled hockey, wheelchair softball and track. Last fall, Lilya was the holder on extra points and field goals for the Moose Lake/Willow River Rebels football team. He also plays left wing for the Minnesota Wild competitive sled hockey team, where he is 10 years younger than the rest of the athletes on the team. During the past three years, he has attended the USA Hockey sled hockey development camp in Buffalo, New York. A National Wheelchair Softball Association player with the Junior Rolling Twins in a Minneapolis suburb, Lilya has competed in Baltimore, Chicago and Nebraska.
Ashley Carson and her twin sister Andrea were born six weeks premature. Due to a blockage of an artery while developing in the womb, Ashley was born with numerous facial deformities that included a cleft lip and palate, no left eye or left ear, and deformities to her nose and jaw structure. In short, Ashley was born with little or no structural development on the left side of her face. To date, Carson has been through eight surgeries – the first one at six months. Carson played an integral role on the Ord High School varsity volleyball team that finished the 2015 season as the Nebraska School Activities Association Class C1 state runner-up. As a seventh-grader, she was a member of the 4x800-meter Nebraska Junior High Track Championship relay team with a time of 10:25.37. In addition to her athletic accomplishments, Carson excels in the classroom with a 4.456 grade-point average. Among her other activities, she has served as class secretary and as class treasurer, and currently is a member of the prom committee, including numerous other community service projects.
Since literally before she can remember, Grace Cummings of Daniel Hand High School in Madison, Connecticut, has endured life-threatening health issues related to her liver.
A highly accomplished three-sport student-athlete and a performing arts standout, she also is an excellent student with a 3.98 grade-point average while taking all honors or advanced-placement college-level courses.
Her liver situation gradually worsened as she was diagnosed with Sclerosing Cholangitis and showed evidence of portal hypertension and cirrhosis – all of which put her on a list for a liver transplant in May 2012.
With the assistance of the Yale Transplant Team, the Cummings family sought a donor. Using Facebook among other means, they located one within three months – a young man named Brady Dolan who was about to become a father. After Dolan underwent a battery of tests, the transplant took place August 14, 2012.
Cummings enjoyed a full recovery and now is a freshman at the University of Notre Dame, where she majors in engineering.
Zach Pickett, a water polo player at Shingle Springs (California) Ponderosa High School, has swum competitively since age 5, including three years as a talented player on the Ponderosa High School varsity water polo team. At an athletic 6-foot-1 with great upper-body strength, his athletic future appeared very bright.
That all changed forever on the hot summer afternoon of August 5, 2012.
With the temperature a sultry 100 degrees, Pickett and his longtime friends Hayden Cooksy and Frankie Kennedy were on break from their lifeguarding duties at Cameron Lake Park and dove into the water to cool off.
While Cooksy and Kennedy essentially belly-flopped, Pickett instead lowered his head into a diving motion and struck a sandbar submerged in the murky shallow water. That action crushed his seventh vertebra, compressing it into his spinal cord. As a result, Pickett was instantly paralyzed from the chest down.
Two Kentucky high schools from opposite ends of the state – separated by nearly 300 miles and until recently strangers to each other – are the 2013 recipients of the NFHS’ National High School Spirit of Sport Award.
Those two high schools – Magoffin County High School in Salyersville at the foothills of the Appalachians in the eastern part of the state and Logan County High School in Russellville out west – had not traditionally been opponents or rivals in sports, nor do they have much in common. However, they were brought together in a manner that changed both schools and communities forever.
Goldberg does volunteer work at an Alzheimer’s Day Care center, studies macular degeneration and diabetes under the direction of a doctor, and in 2007 cofounded with his sister, Rachael, “Together We See,” a foundation that has raised more than $45,000 to help send blind and disabled youth to summer camp.
Goldberg is extremely active within the school, as he is a member of several clubs, including the Pine Crest Beta Club, the Spanish Honor Society and the Math Club.
Umpire Bill Dithrich correctly called “illegal pitch,” which enabled Wilmington’s Ashley Gardner to trot home from third and score the winning run. In that split-second, Wilmington won the game, 5-4, and Valley’s perfect season and shot at the state title were both summarily dashed.
Shortly thereafter, the Valley High School booster club sought a keynote speaker for its June 29th year-end softball banquet. Eric Felack, an umpire and a Valley High School team booster, came up with what many might have considered to be a very improbable choice – none other than Dithrich himself.
Tori Clark, a student-athlete at Lake Park High School in Roselle, Illinois, has been selected the 2010 national recipient of the “National High School Spirit of Sport Award” by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
Dakota is one of the top wrestlers on the Star Valley wrestling team, which comes as no surprise to the community. His father, who grew up in the same town, also was an outstanding wrestler for the school.
On the way back from a tournament in Riverton, Wyoming, in February 2008, the Dana family vehicle was hit coming down a mountain by a semitrailer truck that had lost control. Dakota's parents and older brother Scott were in the vehicle at the time of the accident. Dakota's mother was killed on impact, and his father died several weeks later in the hospital. His brother was bedridden for several months, but is learning to walk again after the accident.
Tammy Dufford, cheerleading coach at Evergreen (Colorado) High School, and her freshman cheerleader, Megan Bomgaars, have been selected as the 2008 national recipients of the “National High School Spirit of Sport Award” by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).