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Moon Area cheerleader wins award named for former student killed in crash

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Moon Area High School senior Shelby Harris, seen here Monday, April 15, 2013, is the recipient of the Spirit of Nicole Award. The award is named after Nicole Falbo, a cheerleader who died in an automobile accident in 1998.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Moon Area High School senior Shelby Harris, seen here Monday, April 15, 2013, is the recipient of the Spirit of Nicole Award. The award is named after Nicole Falbo, a cheerleader who died in an automobile accident in 1998.
Nicole Falbo: Spirit of Nicole Award at Moon Area HS
Nicole Falbo: Spirit of Nicole Award at Moon Area HS

When Moon Area High School senior cheerleader Shelby Harris learned she had won the Spirit of Nicole Award at the school basketball banquet last month, she said her first thought was “to see if my mom was crying, because she was on the verge of crying all night.”

“I'm the oldest of three, so this going off to college and making high honors” made her mother cry tears of joy, said Harris, 17, of Moon.

Harris, the daughter of Bill and Michele Harris, has an “endless smile,” the trademark of the young woman whom the award memorializes, the late Nicole Falbo of Moon, said Kelsey Currie, Moon Area High School's cheerleading coach.

“She just sparkles,” Currie said of Harris, who Currie said is known for her school spirit.

Candidates for the award must be graduating seniors who participated in football and basketball cheerleading; have a friendly, positive attitude; display poise, confidence and team spirit; and maintain a minimum 2.5 grade point average. Currie and Athletic Director Ricci Rich recommend the candidates.

Harris has other qualifications: She is a member of the National Honor Society, president of Christ in Youth and carries a 4.26 grade point average. She plans to major in chemical engineering at Penn State University and try out for one of the Penn State cheering squads.

“She is a genuinely kind and warm-hearted person,” Currie said.

Falbo, of Moon, died at age 19 in a two-vehicle accident in January 1998 as she was traveling back to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. An IUP sophomore majoring in media communications with a minor in dance, she had been a cheerleader for the Moon Area football and basketball teams, a longtime dance student and a model.

“She was just a very well-liked person and very vibrant,” said her mother, Anne Logan-Buzza of Independence, Beaver County.

“She was the person every girl admired and looked up to,” said Jada Capuano Portello, now 33, of Miami, who met Nicole when both girls took dance classes at Carol Leone Dance & Gymnastics in Moon.

“When you lose a child, it's forever,” said Nicole's father, August Falbo of Moon. “At the time, we wondered what we could do to perpetuate her memory.”

Not long after Nicole's death, Capuano Portello told the Falbo family at a sports banquet that something should be done to honor a cheerleader who exhibited the same vibrant qualities as Nicole.

Logan-Buzza subsequently wrote to the principal, asking that the school establish an award to memorialize her daughter's “team spirit, friendly demeanor and the ‘endless smile. She was compelled to do the best at everything she pursued.”

Now the award, which has honored a total of 15 Moon Area senior cheerleaders, is “carrying on the memory of my sister's spirit,” said Nicole's brother, Christopher Falbo of Moon. “She had the biggest spirit of anyone I know.”

Winners get a plaque, and their names are engraved on the base of a crystal tiger trophy, signifying the Moon Tigers' sports teams.

“I'm honored that I can be compared to her,” Harris said of Falbo.

Sandra Fischione Donovan is a contributing writer to Trib Total Media.

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