Belle Vernon salutatorian honors community in speech
Three-quarters of the way through his commencement address, Belle Vernon Area Class of 2013 Salutatorian Geno Leone asked those students who were part of his Fell's Church preschool class to stand (and remain standing).
Next, he asked those graduating seniors who had ever played on a soccer team with him, from his U(nder)-4 to record-setting high school teams to stand. If anyone had been a member of either the Cub or Boy Scouts, they were next to leave their seats. Leone's Belle Vernon Area swimming and track teams' teammates were next to be singled out, followed by, in his words, “a proud, elite member of the high school sound and light crew.” Those students who were involved in other clubs such as his church youth group, band, chorus, National Honor Society, prom committee, the gifted program, Bible Club, Interact, Relay for Life and MIC/SADD were next to be recognized.
Finally, parents and guardians who watched over and guided those students, school leaders, teachers, coaches, Scout leaders, religious leaders and club sponsors were the next he asked and encouraged to stand.
“When Geno finished, there were maybe only about 15 people not standing,” said Lou Rood, Senior Class adviser for the past three years. But, Rood added, “I've assisted with graduation for more than 20 years and I've heard quite a few graduation speeches, but this was one of the best commencement speeches I've heard in my teaching career. The examples he used regarding the BVA family demonstrated how intertwined the students are with the school and community. This was an outstanding example of how the students and community are connected.”
Leone's sense of community may have been evident during his address, but an individual contribution will have an impact on many who were not at the graduation ceremony.
In achieving his Eagle Scout badge, Leone oversaw construction of a 10-feet-by-24-feet, two-sided plywood kicking wall for soccer practice, enabling especially youth-league players to individually practice their kicks without having to chase a ball to an adjacent pitch. On both sides of the green wall situated at the John Divirgilio Sports Complex in Belle Vernon is a white outline of a soccer goal, permitting players to practice accuracy as well as technique.
Through a virtual lifelong involvement with Belle Vernon youth soccer programs, Leone was approached by the Belle Vernon Youth Soccer Club regarding the project.
“They knew I was a Scout and asked if I would be interested in doing this for my Eagle Scout project,” Leone said, adding that he began formulating plans in April 2009 for what would become an 87-hour project.
With equipment and materials donated by the soccer club; lumber and related materials from Donora Lumber; and an auger to drill the post holes provided by Rostraver Township, Leone, his father, Joseph; brother, Mario; and fellow scouts from Troop 1543 in Belle Vernon cemented seven posts in the ground, attached the wood panels, and applied the paint, completing the project in March 2012.
“I've watched soccer players use it, both sides at once, and it's pretty cool to see them use it, knowing it was my project,” Leone said, adding that he received his award in May 2012.
Jeff Baker, Troop 1543 scoutmaster, has known Leone for five years and referred to him as a “role model for the younger scouts. Geno is a fantastic kid. He is organized and has stepped forward as a leader for our younger members. He is a focused young man and what he sets his sights on he will achieve. When Geno entered Scouting you knew from the word ‘go' he would reach for the top and become an Eagle Scout. From the beginning he had the characteristics to be an outstanding Eagle Scout and he has obviously done a wonderful job as a scout in our troop. In building the kicking wall for soccer, his project has augmented and enhanced the soccer complex and program. It was good thinking and planning on his part to construct the two-sided kicking board.”
At Belle Vernon Area High School, Leone created a resume that may be difficult to duplicate. Along with his No. 2 ranking in the senior class and 4.23 weighted grade average (3.9 unweighted), he was vice president of the senior class, treasurer of the National Honor Society, and head of the sound/light crew, responsible for preparing the auditorium and similar facilities for concerts, plays, musicals, and school-wide events and programs. Not neglecting athletics, Leone was a member of the Leopards soccer, swimming and track teams.
Outside of school, Leone, an altar server since the fourth grade, trains altar servers at the Church of St. Ann in Rostraver.
With his high school career behind him, Leone will attend Penn State University, Main Campus, where he plans to study chemical engineering. For his senior project, Leone shadowed a PPG chemist and plans on going into chemical research.
“Geno is a fantastic kid, bright, energetic, personable, yet humble,” Rood added. “In handling all the light and sound programs and equipment and electronics in the school, he has been my go-to guy since he came to the high school. He gets along with everyone, students and faculty, alike, and is well-respected by other students. I've never heard anyone say a bad word about him.”
Les Harvath is a freelance writer.