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Connellsville girl valued team member, on the court or in a boat

When senior Ashlyn Fratto informed Connellsville Area High School girls basketball coach Kevin Bell she would be missing conditioning workouts last summer, she had a good reason.

Fratto was headed to summer workouts on the Allegheny River with Paddlers for Peace, a program of the Three Rivers Rowing Association.

"This program teaches us about working together," Fratto said, noting that she discovered the program after an aunt attended an open water demonstration.

"Members are between ages 12 and 18 and made up of different races and different ethnic backgrounds. This program teaches about understanding and accepting others and working together as a team. Team members are from throughout the Pittsburgh area."

In the dragon boats -- so named because a head of a dragon is in the front of the boat and a tail in back -- 20 paddlers, plus a steersman in back and a drummer in front "learn to appreciate each other and what each person has to offer to the group," Fratto said. "We learn to understand each other and work together."

In the first three benches (two persons per bench), referred to as stroke benches, in the dragon boat, the paddlers' job is to keep time, Fratto explained. A steady power supply is provided by the middle four engine room benches, and in the last three lounge benches, the paddlers' provide the fastest strokes.

Fratto paddles from either the stroke seat or engine room as all paddlers paddle to the same beat or rhythm.

Weekly dragon boat training sessions begin on the Allegheny River at Washington's Landing in June and culminate with a July 4th race in the Pittsburgh Regatta.

"We race in a 13-mile loop," Fratto said. "We compete against teams our age, but we've also raced against some adult teams and we have beaten some."

Glenna Wilson, coordinator of behavioral health services' Safe Start Program, office of community services, Allegheny County Department of Human services, added that "the program is sponsored by Communities in Action for Peace as a violence-prevention program for youth, partnering with the Three Rivers Rowing Association.

"Ashlyn stepped right in," Wilson said. "She is a quiet leader, dependable, and quick to learn. She is a solid, strong young woman who sets goals and accomplishes them. She is fun to work with and a good person to have in a leadership role in the boat. Our goal is a peace-building program encompassing nonviolence. In the boat, we learn concepts about working together and working in sync. Paddling is a team sport and Ashlyn exemplifies the peace building personality we support."

Bell chuckled as he recalled Fratto, his 5-10 forward, calling to miss summer workouts.

"She is a hard worker," he said. "She gets up and down court well and rebounding is her strength on the court. She boxes out well around the boards and her offensive moves are improving as well and she is showing improved footwork around the basket."

Fratto sees the comparison in paddling a boat and playing basketball for the lady Falcons.

"In both, we see that hard work pays off," she said, "but we can have fun at the same time.

But Fratto is used to the hard work.

She was the goalie and captain for the Lady Falcons soccer team, where she earned team MVP and all-section honors this past season. As a junior, she was the goalie on the first Connellsville Area girls soccer team that advanced to a post-season playoff berth.

A standout in the classroom, as well as in athletics, Fratto is ranked seventh in the senior class while carrying a 4.0 grade average. She is a member of the National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, and student council.

She will continue her soccer career at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, where she plans to study forensic accounting.

"This involves detecting white-collar crime, tax evasion, and illegal money transfers, among other crimes," she said. "I want to work with the FBI and this major will enable me to achieve that goal."

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